For Solomon Davis, stepping out of his comfort zone has helped him find his path in life. From studying abroad during the pandemic to participating in events like Competitive Advantage, Davis has continued to push himself, preferring to learn from experience.
Currently a senior religion major at Wabash College in Indiana, Davis recently spoke with us about his experience studying abroad, his thirst for learning about other cultures and how his global experiences have altered his perspective.
Where did you grow up, and how did it shape you?
Although I was born in Bloomington, Ind., I consider myself born and raised in Washington, Ind.. For a large portion of my life, I felt a sense of shame whenever I told anyone where I grew up. I ran into challenges with race when I was younger that forced me to become comfortable in my own skin. Those challenges shaped my perception of what Washington had to offer me. I let these interactions shape my opinion of an entire town. However, as I got older, the population in Washington became more diverse, and while I wasn’t always around people who looked like me, I was around people who weren’t judging me based on my skin color. It took me a while to realize that where I grew up has shaped me into the person I am today. This small town in the Midwest has given me many of the values I hold to this day — most importantly, an appreciation for diverse cultures and an understanding of the importance of surrounding yourself with a supportive community.
You are currently a religion major but have dabbled in business and law. So, what are your plans when you graduate? Where do you ultimately hope to land in your career?
In my senior year of high school, I knew that when I chose Wabash College, I was going to be a religion major. I was never interested in studying religion to continue on to seminary school. Instead, I wanted to pick a major that reflected the culture and community in the United States. America is incredibly diverse in many ways. My religious studies at Wabash have exposed me to a lot of the diversity in America. Studying religion has become my bridge to understanding various cultures and peoples. I knew that studying religion could become a tool for me to use in my career.
After I graduate from Wabash, I plan on attending business school to earn my MBA. In the two years leading up to business school, I hope to volunteer for the Peace Corps or obtain a fellowship to teach English in another country. After business school, I see my career headed toward the nonprofit or startup industry. Ultimately, I am looking for a career in which I can help people in any capacity, whether on the grassroots or national level.
You participated in Competitive Advantage in 2020. What led you to seek out that experience, and what impact did the event have on you?
The biggest takeaway from Competitive Advantage was that I could succeed at a top business school. Since then, I have approached every challenge, regardless of how small or meaningless, with the mindset that I should exceed expectations. There, Vice President of Program Administration at The Consortium Dr. Janice Wells-White spoke of the “quiet fire.” I have never been the loudest person in the room, but I will always work to be the most passionate and hardworking. I sought out this experience because I wanted to surround myself with a network of like-minded people who would push me to succeed; they also serve as a network of people who can understand the challenges I have experienced and celebrate the barriers that get broken down.
How have you used what you learned at Competitive Advantage?
Competitive Advantage made me realize the importance of flying 4,500 miles from home to immerse myself in a new culture. I use what I have learned at Competitive Advantage to push myself to grow and make the most of every opportunity. Something we discussed at Competitive Advantage was the importance of articulating one’s name. [Because] every person I met abroad was new, I learned the importance of articulating my name. My name is a representation of who I am and where I am from.
You studied abroad in Austria this past spring and early summer, at a time when most programs were shut down because of COVID-19. What drove you to pursue this opportunity, and what did you learn through the experience?
I knew that I had to travel to Austria because I believe that experience is the best teacher. I could have easily chosen to stay home and participate in this program virtually; it would have been a comfortable experience learning about a foreign culture in my little corner of America. Yet, I decided to challenge myself because of one idea that seems commonplace in Europe and throughout the world — the idea that Americans as a whole are dumb. I find this generalization to be unfair. Sometimes, it is understandable where this sentiment comes from. Yet, I’ve recently learned that it is much better to say that Americans aren’t as experienced.
It is a common idea that you should be a global citizen and not just a citizen of your home country, regardless of where you live. The average American — especially those of color — has not had the opportunity to become a global citizen. As a representative of both America and people of color, I knew that I had to become “experienced.” I’ve already encountered people who have challenged me to redefine what it means to be black and American. Living here in Europe has allowed me to come back and push more Americans to become global citizens.
I understand that you took the initiative to find and secure an internship in Austria. What was your experience like, and what did you walk away with?
After securing an internship at the Austrian Economics Center, it fell through due to COVID. I quickly adapted by finishing an internship with the Salzburg Ducks, an Austrian football team, and securing a spot on ASV Salzburg, a soccer team in the fourth division of Austria. This allowed me to stay in Austria until the beginning of July. Through both of these experiences, I learned to be very adaptable. I learned to appreciate a different language, new ideas and beliefs. To succeed in this new environment, I had to adapt to a workplace and sports team.
[Because] the world is constantly changing — as new technologies and ways of thinking hurl us toward new horizons — adaptability is going to be a critical trait in the future.
What have you been doing since your return to the U.S.?
When I returned at the beginning of July, I continued my global education. I knew traveling abroad again was not an option but wanted to continue my journey in understanding other cultures, so I explored virtual internships. I was selected to participate in a virtual summer internship with the South Africa Virtual Internship in Diplomacy, Conflict and International Relations. It focuses on issues related to conflict resolution, human rights and international relations. I have learned about multilateral diplomacy and strategic decision-making, as well as non-western perspectives on international relations, south-south diplomacy and the politics of the African Union.
For my internship task, I chose to help interview young African leaders on Agenda 2063 with the consideration that by 2063 they would be African leaders. One woman who I interviewed really resonated with me when I asked how I could help her and her organization’s mission, even though it feels as if I am worlds away. She told me to just speak about what they are doing to anyone and everyone who will listen. She reminded me that being in the U.S. is to be in a position of incredible power. The whole world looks to the U.S. when it makes decisions so we must make sure we are agents for good so that the world will follow us.
My experiences during this internship have pushed me toward a career in which I can travel and speak with people on the grassroots level. The experience showed me how much power belongs to the people and that they only need to be shown how to access it in order to create change.
What advice do you have for other young people of color?
Reach out for help; there are people who know how to navigate spaces that are typically not accessible for people of color — like studying abroad. Only a quarter of the study abroad population is non-white. I was able to afford to study abroad because I was selected as a Gilman Scholar. The Gilman application required me to reach out for help. I found support from people like Susan Albrecht, Wabash College fellowship advisor, who helped me discover the right place to study and supported me through numerous rewritings of the Gilman essays. If you are passionate and work hard, there are people who will help stoke your “quiet fire.” Ask for help, take the risk and study abroad.