Reflecting on 18 of Last 9: Ashleigh Dubois

By Megan Schulte, Communications Specialist 

Our final feature in the 18 of Last 9: Global Impact series is Ashleigh DuBois, a college advisor from San Antonio, Texas. During our interview, DuBois reflected on her study abroad experience in Haiti and how that experience inspired her to live and work in China after graduation.

Memories From Haiti 

During her time at Miami, DuBois took part in a trip to Haiti to help with its education system. Someone in one of her classes invited everyone on the trip, and DuBois knew that she needed to go. Despite not being a formal study abroad program, the group received a lot of help from the school such as passport assistance from the study abroad office, donations from the soccer and basketball teams, and curriculum from the educational community.

While in Haiti, one experience really stands out, and that was meeting a little girl named Shonda. When they arrived, Shonda ran up and jumped into DuBois' arms, and from there, a relationship was formed, and Shonda was attached to her hip throughout the rest of the week.

Through the program, they were able to pay for her to go to school for two years and to provide Shonda’s mother with supplies such as diapers and wipes. After leaving Haiti, DuBois has always made a point of keeping in contact with the family.

“I still have her picture on my Facebook, and it pops up every year like this memory from Facebook, and I’m like I remember that day so vividly,” DuBois said.

Life in China

After graduation, DuBois embarked on another international experience to help build a preschool in China and teach English to flight attendants. When she left for the trip, she was determined to learn more about the Chinese culture and to figure out ways to make the large Chinese population at Miami and other colleges feel more accepted. 

Just one short month after graduation, DuBois packed up her bags and moved to Guangzhou, China. Once arriving, she felt very different and out of place. She threw herself into the culture and asked all of those that she met to teach her and help her learn everything about the culture from 12-course dinners to 12-hour-long school days.

Beyond cultural aspects such as food, DuBois was particularly interested in understanding their education system. The Chinese school day is quite different, as they are in school all day long, with a three-hour shutdown from 12-3 p.m. that includes lunch and a nap. Because of this adjusted schedule, the students tend to spend a lot longer at school and focus more of their lives on their schoolwork.

"Being able to come back and use that in higher ed, has really helped me to start having conversations with students about 'so what makes you uncomfortable, have you talked to someone that is different from you, have you experienced something different,'" DuBois said.

Since returning back to the states, DuBois has been able to use those skills to better understand a new culture: the Spanish population at her school, which is located just ten minutes from the Mexico border. So once again, DuBois has thrown herself into another culture to best understand their needs in order to be as inclusive as possible. After experiencing this feeling for herself in China, she wants to make sure that no other student feels isolated.

“We can really build our ally-ship with other people who are different from us when we go to a different culture," she said, "because I may not fully understand it or will never be anything other than a black woman in this country, but I can say that I very much stand with my latino brothers and sisters for whatever they’re fighting for and their causes and their dreams because I’ve lived there, and I can see how to fix them. And with my Asian students from all various parts of the world’s populations and Asia to say I stand with my students and whatever is going to help you feel most supported in this country. And as they talked to me they say I think I stand behind your issues too and what makes you feel most comfortable to anyone wherever they are and I wouldn’t have known that if I hadn’t just thrown myself out there.”


Personal Development 

As far as personal development from her experiences, Dubois said: “It all changes once you leave the country. How you look at things, what angers you, or what fuels you starts to change when you experience something different. I remember coming back from Haiti and saying, I am so fortunate and so blessed and I complain about everything, when there are people living in literal tents, and that’s their real life.”

Dubois credits her study abroad experiences with helping her to talk to students that she would have never talked to before. Despite differences, DuBois has learned to reach out to everyone and anyone she can, to learn about both similarities and differences and to grow from those connections. 

Final Thoughts

The biggest advice that DuBois wanted to communicate was to do research and immerse yourself in the culture when traveling to other countries. She especially stressed communicating with the elders of the countries, as hearing the history of a country from an elder is significantly better and more eye-opening. She had the pleasure of experience this when she traveled to Yucatan. Her tour guide was an 85 year-old man who had been giving tours for over 55 years.

“He had so much in and out knowledge, and I wouldn’t have been able to experience it the way I experienced it had he not been the one giving my tour,” DuBois said.

DuBois also reflected on the importance of studying abroad in countries outside of your comfort zone. She noticed that a lot of students chose programs in Australia or Western Europe, as they seem more comfortable in those places. She hopes to see more students involved in third-world countries, so they can really see a difference and really give back.

“Miamians have a lot of heart, and we have a lot of grit," she said, "and I know we can do it if we were just given the opportunity.”

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