OpportunitIES with Jannella Pérez Torres: Being a Catalyst for Change

Janella Perez Torres Interview Header Photo

Throughout each year, IES Abroad connects with student and alums on explorations of identity, highs and lows of their adventure, wisdom and takeaways, and more. OpportunitIES: Expanding the World of Study Abroad is a chance to share that study abroad is a personal revolution in action, a decision to do something brave, exciting, and world-changing. We would love to say life-changing, but the truth is, when students study abroad it not only changes lives, it changes the world. From meeting new parts of your identity, connecting with like-minded people, and challenging views you've held, study abroad with IES Abroad has so much to offer.

Jannella Perez Torres Headshot 2024

To kick off this year of expansion and opportunity, we connected with Jannella Pérez Torres, Howard University alumna and IES intern (IES Abroad Barcelona | Summer 2023). As a fellow of the Patricia Roberts Harris (PRH) Fellowship at Howard University, Jannella ventured abroad with us for an internship at Superacció in Barcelona, Spain. Jannella shared her thoughts on the importance of providing access to study abroad opportunities for students of color, challenges she faced, opportunities that IES Abroad and the PRH fellowship brought to her, and emphasized the potential impact of sharing these experiences for other students contemplating studying abroad. 

IES Abroad: We are so excited to talk with you. Jumping right in, can you tell me about the Patricia Roberts Harris Fellowship and what it means to you?   

Jannella Pérez Torres (JPT): The Patricia Roberts Harris Fellowship (PRH) is an amazing program for Howard University students who are looking to serve either domestically or internationally. The program is run by Mr. Jerome Haynesworth, who has really helped me professionally and especially in my career. Jerome was able to coordinate the stipend for 16 students to intern abroad. Usually, when these students are interning abroad, they have to pay to get there. 

Through the PRH Fellowship, we were able to go abroad. I interned in Barcelona, Spain with Superacció [through IES Internships]. I got the internship over the summer and internships here in Washington, D.C. are very competitive (so you need some guaranteed help to elevate your resume and the PRH fellowship is amazing for that). After that, I went to Superacció where I was a Youth Integration Language Intern. That's kinda how I would describe what I did. And then after that, I did a Paragon One internship and then I was able to find a Pathways program with the Department of Labor. So, I have all my thanks to the PRH fellowship for that.

IES Abroad: Could you speak on how the fellowship connects with IES Abroad & Internships and with Howard University? 

JPT: I don’t want to say they exclusively do stipends because they do work with professionals to mentor students, find opportunities, etc. Essentially, with how I understand it is that IES Abroad works with Mr. Jerome Haynesworth, the Program Coordinator for the PRH Fellowship, to let students know that interning abroad is a possibility—which I don’t think a lot of people know that—and also trying to gear students towards service internships in public service or working in the government. 

It's really made the process for Howard University students getting into IES Abroad a lot smoother just because there is a focused group. So, I think the support that IES Abroad provides to students because of the connection with PRH makes it feel like I can intern abroad like as soon as I'm connecting with IES Abroad. It definitely eases the friction with application and questions and of course the finances—[IES Abroad] took care of that. So that it was a seamless process for a student.

IES Abroad: This entire campaign orients around raising awareness to such opportunities. We want all students to feel like they have the access to study abroad, but especially those from underrepresented groups who aren't aware. Sometimes it takes someone like Jerome, who's exposing you to what could be, or a guidance counselor in high school that might have first like pitched the idea that you could be in Spain at some point in time.

With that, what would you say has been one of the key factors of receiving access for you, not just with the PRH fellowship but more so, who has been a key role in the access that you've received?

JPT: I really feel like this is just a tribute to Mr. Haynesworth. I feel like I would attribute a lot of what I consider myself possibly doing in each space to Mr. Haynesworth. I didn't know what an ambassador was. I had no idea what different people did in the government. I didn't know what legislation meant but I knew that I wanted to work in the government. I feel like because I've had to work a lot in my school—like in high school or just in college period I've always been working—it has given me less opportunity to be exposed to those things on a regular basis. 

I really felt like I had a little bit of imposter syndrome or a little bit of embarrassment or insecurity because I wasn't part of the Mock Trial team. I didn't do model UN, I just didn't have the time. And that's just been a reality for me for a long time and I feel like a lot of the times people who succeed in government have more time on their plates and that means more money. Because money is time and a lot of the positions in government are unpaid. It requires a large time commitment and it’s not realistic for students working on the side as well as going to school to work an unpaid internship—especially here in D.C., which is very, like I said, very competitive. 

So, I remember Mr. Haynesworth, he invited me to the Bacon House and I was exposed to so many people. And I was like, “Wow, this is like, this is really amazing that Mr. Haynesworth has these connections that overlap. “I didn't think I had this kind of opportunity or even imagined myself being an ambassador. I didn't know what a foreign service officer was. I had the opportunity to meet with the Diplomat in Residence. The year prior with Darion Akins and then John Dinkelman now and so it's just given me a lot of diplomatic literacy and government connections and just familiarity with domestic and international service.

IES Abroad: What do you feel international education or study abroad could offer to you at this point in your career post-graduation?

JPT: It felt like my opportunities ended right where the U.S. borders were. I thought to myself, "I don't know what exists outside. I don't know how common or easy it is to live abroad, to work abroad, or to have a career and family abroad." When I joined IES Abroad [Barcelona], they brought in different speakers who'd recently worked at the Peace Corps, and then another gentleman who was doing IT. We were able to see and hear from their experiences about how they have made a living in Spain and how normal it has been, how much they have loved the experience of living abroad. 

Then I also met people while I was there, my host family, their friends, and learned what they do and how they have traveled. I think it's just laid out the plan for me to work in the Peace Corps and then eventually be a Foreign Service Officer hopefully in Africa or Latin America, or wherever—just outside of the U.S. It's made that lifestyle realistic to me and less foreign and uncomfortable. I'm honestly proud sometimes to represent America because I'm not usually what people think [America] is.

IES Abroad: Are there aspects of your time interning abroad in Barcelona that were notable to celebrating your identity?

JPT: I don't want this to sound negative- I think that microaggressions were definitely something that didn't catch me off guard because I was expecting it coming in. IES Abroad kind of gives us the rundown. And I have studied abroad previously but I felt like, you know, I'm here for only two months...I'll say what I have to say so that the next person doesn't have to do it so much. It was interesting for me, but I didn't really take it too personally. I guess I'm not indifferent, but I'm just aware that this is their reality, and this is their life. I'm not going to go home crying and wishing that that they had thought differently, but it would be taxing for me if I was [abroad] for a long time and I wasn't seeing anybody else like me and not really talking to anybody about it. That would be really, really exhausting for me. 

IES Abroad: A key point of what you said is that you probably couldn’t be around it for a long time without people who like you can talk to about it. And I think that's what maybe a lot of students of color need to hear.

JPT: Yes, and I’m thinking ‘Oh my gosh, I can't believe I made it here.’ And there's so many different layers of that that are fine for few months and then you can reflect on it for the eternity.

IES Abroad: What would you say to students who want to do this; who want to take this journey abroad to intern, to study, etc; who are aware of their identity? What would you tell them they could do to support themselves or what would you encourage them to do?

JPT: I think the best thing that they can do is connect with their friends on the phone. Show people what you're doing back home. That's really, really inspiring because you think of those people, and they want you to be there so bad; representing and advancing your career because that's what you're there to do. That's bottom line what you're there to do. And I think also having a self-help book on hand was good. I brought a couple. Making sure that you're surrounded by Black authors, or your favorite music, or you're still watching your shows that don't make you feel like you're the only one. I think that's good.

IES Abroad: Is there anything else you'd like to add that we haven't already touched on?

JPT: What else I want to say? Is that when people see you and they see you being comfortable being in your power, just acting yourself just being happy, they want that for themselves. They want that for themselves, and they will either tear you down, or they will shine too. And seeing that out in other places, not here in America, it feels like I’m genuinely connecting with somebody because they're like, “Well, they're an outsider. Maybe I feel like an outsider too.” And then they see, “Wow, this person is really shining, this person's really graceful, or really kind, or really funny, or likes to smile. It brings out something in me too.” 

I was working with a lot of kids. A lot of them that were Moroccan kids. But, you know, also among my classmates, if I spoke up, other people would speak up, you know, or I smiled, other people would smile. And it felt good to kind of be a role model. It just feels really good because it helps weed out the people that just don't like you. Because you're not doing it to tear people down. And you're not there to hurt anybody. So, but I think that's the best highlight of going abroad. It really inspires people; really, really does.

Jannella was kind enough to share a list of her recommended self-help books for those journeying abroad! Find her recommendations below:

We want to thank Jannella for her time, authenticity, and her commitment to being a catalyst for change in her time abroad and beyond. Jannella is going to on to apply to the Peace Corps and continue her work as a global leader and world traveler.

Study Abroad Self-Help Books Recommended by Jannella Pérez Torres: 

Learn about how IES Abroad Scholarships & Aid, as well as aid from your school or external sources (Like Jannella’s PRH Fellowship stipend) can apply to a study abroad or internship program.
This interview was transcribed from a meeting with Jannella on January 23, 2024.
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