Hi everyone, My name is Kerry Johnson, and I am a 2021-2022 Gilman Alumni Ambassador from Memphis, TN. I graduated from The University of Memphis in 2017. I studied economics and international studies with a minor in Spanish. As a Gilman Scholar, I studied abroad in San Jose, Costa Rica in 2017 at La Universidad de Costa Rica.
My mother would always instruct me to be “slow to speak and quick to listen” as a child. Maturating in a world that often seems to reward the person who speaks first, especially on social media platforms, that advice did not seem to align with the times. Early in my collegiate career, I allowed my academic performance to be fuel to exalt myself and walk down a path of arrogance. At first, receiving the Gilman was another log on that fire, but soon after, it served as a tool that demystified the blurred lines of confidence and arrogance while drawing me to humility.
When I landed in Costa Rica in the summer of 2017, so did twenty other students from across the United States of America who would be participating in the same program. On the first day of class, we walked on campus and got to know one another. Now that I reflect on the experience, it is as if I envisioned a battlefield as soon as I saw the classroom. To offer context, I felt uncomfortable while in Costa Rica until classes started, adjusting to the new environment and reflecting on the finality of my decision to be there for two months. I felt unsettled until I sat in the classroom for the first time, and instantly my discomfort evolved into hubris. It was like going from zero to one hundred in seconds! Honestly, I turned my classmates into my adversaries. I was eager to display that I had received the Gilman because I was the best. I allowed my sense of pride about being a Gilman scholar to shift into becoming prideful.
For about two and half weeks, I kept my head buried in the books not solely to perform well but to overshadow others. I rejected opportunities to connect with other classmates to separate myself from the pack. Not to mention I had this compulsory need to have all the answers to every question. Luckily, we did not have a group project assigned within the first two weeks because I may have never built relationships with my classmates. However, I soon realized that other students were beginning to form bonds, go out to lunch together, and travel together. Once I lost the taste for loving to hear myself speak, I realized that my classmates were just as serious about their studies. There was no pressure to be the most interesting person in the room or possibly, at that time, the most disliked person in the room. As soon as this realization unfolded, I instantly heard the sage words of my mother, “be slow to speak and quick to listen.” Truly her words served as an elixir for the relationships that started on the wrong foot.
I had no earthly idea that studying abroad would serve as fertile soil to grow my soft skills and improve my Spanish speaking abilities. While in Costa Rica, I built bonds, went on trips with classmates, and made memories and still performed well academically. I regret that it took about two and half weeks to heed my mother’s advice while abroad, but I am immensely grateful that the proverbial light bulb did eventually switch on during my time in Costa Rica. Being slow to speak and quick to listen is not an invitation to self-deprecate but rather an opportunity to illuminate the value of engaging the world with humility and curiosity.