Education & Health Care to Transform Lives: Thoughts on Global Citizenship from Sydni Williams

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IES Abroad
August 16, 2018

For many, Spain is a destination. For Global Citizen of the Year, Sydni Williams, it was a launch pad.

While studying abroad in Madrid, Sydni (Academic Year 2016-17 | University of Michigan) chose to explore her passion for education as an intern with the Social Services Center of Los Yébenes. She assisted their Asociación Edúnica program in providing academic, psychological, and social support to students from non-traditional families.

Sydni knew her work in Madrid was by no means the end of her global citizenship. A year later, we’ve caught up with Sydni to hear how her passion for education has grown and aligned with her career aspirations in the medical field.

IES Abroad: The theme of the 2018 Global Citizen of the Year application is all about finding your place in the world. How did studying abroad help you find yours?

Sydni Williams (SW): I found my place in the world by being myself and following my passions. To me, finding my place in the world meant discovering my "why." Study abroad forced me to think outside of the box, live outside of my norm, and live a life that was sometimes uncomfortable. In my uncomfortable moments abroad, I found comfort in knowing that I was changing the community in which I was situated, and that my students would soon go on to change the world. It was these moments that made my "why" very clear to me and made my place in this world even clearer.

IES Abroad: Was making a difference something that you set out to do during your time abroad? Or did it unfold while you were there? Tell us about it!

SW: I believe that everywhere we go we leave a lasting footprint. One that will forever have an imprint on the places we go and the people we meet. I didn’t go abroad with the intention of impacting the students of Los Yébenes, but what I did know was that I had to make my mark! I always make it my mission to help the communities that are often forgotten about, those who have nothing left to give. When I read about the disparities that existed in Madrid, I knew I had to help. I knew that I’d found my purpose for going abroad!

IES Abroad: You mentioned in your Global Citizen of the Year personal statement that you were going to be a Servant Leader Intern at the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) Freedom School. Tell us about that experience.

SW: CDF Freedom Schools changed my life. During my time at Freedom Schools, I realized just how much the youth need someone to advocate for them. I was reminded of the greatness that exists in the younger generation and of the potential that they have to change the world, but I realized that in many communities students aren’t equipped with the tools necessary to do so. Too often, children’s education is put on the back burner and many underestimate their futures.

Our children need a leader. Our children need someone who will push them when they no longer want to fight. Our children need someone who can show them what it means to be a global citizen. During my internship, I realized that it was my life purpose to do just that.

Before interning with the Children’s Defense Fund, I knew that I was passionate about education and that medicine was the field for me, but I wasn’t able to see how the two connected. While at the Detroit Service Learning Academy I realized that the fight for education and health disparities were, in fact, one in the same. I realized that one could not be overcome without the other and that being a Servant Leader for me means being a doctor, a mentor, a tutor, a student, a child advocate, and a global citizen.

IES Abroad: You also wrote about your motivation to create change for disadvantaged communities around the world. What long-term steps are you taking to achieve this goal?

SW: Since returning from abroad, I have had my hands in a lot of things! One of the greatest long-term steps that I have taken has been continuing my journey to medical school. I am passion about education, but also about health disparities and how the two are interconnected. Thus, finishing my studies and matriculating into medical school have been my top priorities. Outside of the classroom, I have been completing a retrospective chart review study with the goal of determining how health disparities play into liver disease outcomes.

I have also spent a lot of time volunteering with the Spanish-speaking community of Washtenaw County by tutoring ESL students as well as sharing my love for the Spanish language with the youth. Last, but not least, I have begun developing a health literacy program that will serve as a link between my University’s hospital and the Spanish-speaking community of Washtenaw County. This project will be one of the greatest things that I have accomplished thus far and will allow me to make an impact on my community that will live on even after I am gone.

IES Abroad: How did being named IES Abroad’s Global Citizen of the Year Winner change you and/or the way you view your place in the global community?

sydni williams with ies abroad madrid studentsSW: Being named IES Abroad’s Global Citizen of the Year, changed the way that I saw myself. It wasn’t until I received this award that I realized just how much I have touched the communities that I’ve been a part of and inspired change in ones that I’d never seen. This recognition provided reassurance for me and showed me that evoking change isn’t always about being the one to build a school or implement policy. Sometimes it’s about helping to cultivate future change-makers. This award wasn’t about me, it was about showing the youth of my community that all things are possible with diligence, dedication, and drive.

IES Abroad: In your own words, why should future study abroad students care about the world?

SW: My answer is simple. Student should care about the world because the world NEEDS people like us – individuals who have what it takes to be change-makers, advocates, and world leaders!


Where will you find your place in the world? Read about 6 Ways to Discover Your Global Citizenship While Studying Abroad.

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