Bradwell graduate Ajilé Owens is studying abroad, learning about global health and about herself.
Owens graduated in 2015 and is a junior at Duke University, majoring in global health. She said she’s always been interested in diseases and set her sights on becoming a doctor. After starting college she said she realized she was more interested in how people are affected by diseases. That led her to foreign study programs in Africa and India.
During the summer, Owens was in South Africa. She travelled between Johannesburg and Kruger National Park, Africa’s largest game reserve near Zimbabwe.
“Most of the time I spent living with other students but I was fortunate enough to be able to spend three days living with a rural family in the village and I think that was one of the biggest highlights of the trip,” Owens said. “My host family was so welcoming that it really made me feel that they were generally excited to have us in their home.”
The children constantly asked her to play and the adults would invite the students to dance.
“What wasn’t so fun was hearing a wild leopard growl outside of our bedroom window in the middle of the night,” she said.
Owens is currently living in the suburbs of Udaipur, India, with a host family. Her course involves spending time in Udaipur and Bangalore. She makes periodic visits to a nearby villages, where she stays with a different host family.
“Both families have been incredible in literally everything. From their cooking to their acceptance and patience of my awful Hindi and anything that could possibly come in between,” Owens said. “So far, my favorite experience in India, aside from my weekly fancy chicken dinners, has been either sitting on the rooftop of my village family’s house eating corn and explaining the concept of natural hair in broken Hinglish, winning my first game of Carrom against my host nephew or maybe spending the night in a literal palace back when we were still in New Delhi. Honestly, it might also just be the weekly chicken.”
Being abroad, Owens said she’s realized it is hard to live where you speak none of the language and look different from the locals.
“I feel like I have a deeper respect for people who immigrate to America because surviving under those conditions takes an incredible amount of strength,” Owens said.
College hasn’t always been easy. She recalled calling her parents hysterical about a class, considering transferring to a school closer to home or dropping out.
“I struggled all the time feeling like I don’t belong at my university, often feeling like I’m not smart enough to do the things that I want to do in life. But I think it’s absolutely essential that you have people in your corner to pull you up and dust you off when you really need them to. And I really am blessed to have been given two people who do this constantly and without complaint for me,” she said.
Her trips have taught her about her own flexibility. She lived without Wi-Fi for a week in South Africa and went from eating three meals a day to about once a week in India.
“Basically, one day you wake up and realize the things you consider necessities actually are so far from it,” she said.
She also learned that she is just like her father when it comes to money. Owens found herself haggling over the price of cab fare. She believes he would be proud of her frugality.
Owens’ advice to other students is to constantly rethink what is possible and have several goals, big or small.
“I personally don’t think it’s enough to just have one goal because for me, if my only life goals was to be a doctor, everything I’m doing now would feel like a disappointment and deviation from the only thing I had my heart set on,” she said. “I’m reaching my goal of attending college, of travelling, of one day helping people and making my family proud.”
Owens is considering earning a Ph.D. in epidemiology and working for the Center of Disease Control or National Institutes of Health.
After finishing her semester in India, Owens plans to return home and rest for a month doing “absolutely nothing” before starting the spring semester at Duke, where she’ll likely start an internship.
“I definitely miss the sense of community. Back home, I feel like I’m surround by people emotionally invested in my success, even willing to help support and guide me to achieve what I want to do,” she said. “I’ve just not been fortunate enough to recreate that sort of environment anywhere outside of Liberty County. Of course, now that I’m in India, I also miss Zaxby’s.”