Honors professor reflects on experience abroad, importance of a global perspective

March 23, 2021

Dr. Wendy Williams (back row, far left) poses for a photo with Honors students in Japan in the summer of 2019.

Wendy Williams grew up in Texas and attended Baylor University. “Everyone said that’s where smart people go so that’s where I applied!” she reflected with a laugh.

After grad school, Williams left the comfortable confines of her home state – and country – and spent six years teaching in Japan, an experience that completely shifted her perspective of the world.

As a white female, Williams stood out as an outlier in Shimonoseki, a coastal city on the western side of Japan’s main island, Honshu, where she resided.

She recalls quickly learning that “my way [of understanding] of being in the world was just one tiny way.” Because it was uncommon to see other foreigners in Shimonoseki, Williams noted that her initial adjustment came with some difficulties. “I never knew if I was a celebrity of a zoo exhibit,” she said, referring to the stares of Japanese strangers on the street.

Nevertheless, she fully immersed herself in the culture and made friends with Japanese locals who helped her learn and understand. “I came to broaden my perspective of the world by living in another country and being the person who was ‘othered’ in the sense of being an outsider (a foreigner),” she said.

In the summer of 2019, Dr. Michael Strausz and Dr. Wendy Williams (far left, back row) took students to Japan for an Honors abroad program.

Her tenure in Japan also allowed her the ability to travel a lot – mostly alone. She reflects that her flexible teaching schedule allowed her to visit more than 45 countries in six years, where her experiences with varied cultures helped shape her outlook on the world. The most common – and lasting – theme she discovered during her travels? “It’s very important to put ourselves in places where we’re really uncomfortable because that’s where we truly grow.”

She hopes to pass that perspective onto the students that take her Honors courses, along with the importance of an open mind.

“Don’t assume that you have all the answers,” she said, adding that vulnerability is pivotal in connecting with others.

“You cannot have a connection if you’re not willing to be open with somebody,” she said. “You have to be open to their ideas, their differences, their truths.”

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