Reflecting on 18 of Last 9: Benjamin Walker

student stands in front of sunset

By Megan Schulte, Communications Specialist

The next feature in the 18 of Last 9: Global Impact series is Benjamin Walker, a math instructor and director of advanced studies at a school in Chicago. Walker discussed many international opportunities, including study abroad in Costa Rica as well as an annual trip to South Africa with his students. In the interview, he reflected on how these opportunities have helped him grow personally and professionally.

Experiences in Costa Rica

Walker’s first international experience came during his sophomore year at Miami when he studied for a semester in Puntarenas, Costa Rica. When choosing his program, Walker wanted to pick a Spanish-speaking country as he knew that he wanted to teach in a major urban area. Now that he teaches in Chicago, he is glad that he developed those language skills while abroad. Another takeaway from the experience was getting the opportunity to live with a Costa Rican family and to have a whole range of meaningful experiences with them. Having this opportunity allowed Walker to return to Miami his junior year feeling more centered and much more ready to take advantage of all that Miami had to offer.

The Value of Independence

One of Walker’s most impactful lessons from his study abroad experience was learning the value of independence and being uncomfortable. With this lesson, his time abroad prepared him to be successful as an educational entrepreneur. Since he went on a program with no other students from Miami, Walker learned to get comfortable with being uncomfortable very quickly. This was also a challenge that he had to overcome by himself.

"Being abroad was for sure the most uncomfortable experience in my life at that point," Walker said. "And I felt incredibly terrified at first, and I’m so grateful that I had that opportunity. I was definitely by myself, but I was able to have these experiences that made me see the power in independence and see the power in being on my own.”

Throughout the semester, he focused on resilience and continuing to put himself out there in uncomfortable experiences. 

“[It has] helped in my education career to have the courage and the frame of mind if something isn’t working with my students or something in the system isn’t working. I have that experience from study abroad to fall back on where I know I can figure something out and I can kind of go it alone. It was a time where I built a community and a set of language skills from scratch, found a way to integrate into a community, and built connections, and without these skills, I wouldn’t have the same courage to do things on my own.”

Entrepreneurship in South Africa

One of the unique international opportunities that Walker has now is planning an annual trip to South Africa for seniors from his school. After getting so much value out of his own study abroad, Walker knew that he wanted to provide this same experience to his students. For the past two years, Walker has taken a group of 18 seniors to learn about social entrepreneurship in South Africa. During the trip, the group traveled to the African Leadership Academy in Johannesburg, where they learn about the tenets of social entrepreneurship and the philosophical framework of what that looks like. They also traveled to Cape Town where they met with various social entrepreneurs, community organizers, and activists in the community of Cape Town who are doing the work of social entrepreneurship.

With this trip, Walker mentioned how they were able to experience in a more tangible way what they were learning int he classroom.

"My students described it was transformative and the best learning opportunity they had in their entire high school career, and I think I would not have done that had I not studied abroad in undergrad," he said. "There’s no way I would have had the courage or the frame of reference or the mindset that this thing would be possible and that it would be so valuable to students to motivate me to create something like that, which again, I created from scratch. I’m really proud that that trip exists and when I think about how much I value travel in my life now, I can trace a lot of that back to my experience being on my own in Costa Rica."

Final Thoughts

Walker said he found a sense of independence from his study abroad experience.

"I think there’s a lot of great ways to study abroad, but if you’re interested in developing skills that help you succeed in situations where independence is key, choose a study abroad experience that helps you foster those skills," he said.

Enjoyed this story and want to read more like it?