by Albrianna Jenkins
Class of 2022 University of Tennessee, Knoxville graduate, Becca Jernigan, is Texas-bound on the start of a journey that has been in the making since her sophomore year of college.
“Even before coming to college, I knew I wanted to study abroad,” says Jernigan. “Sophomore year, I decided to major in Public Relations, and saw that the College of Communications’ Honors program was taking a group of students to Sydney, [Australia].” After applying through UT’s Programs Abroad Office and affiliate ISA as soon as the program application was open, Jernigan was connected with Xena Pulliam, Director of Internships at International Studies Abroad (ISA) and The Education Abroad Network (TEAN). Jernigan finally felt that her dream of studying abroad would become a reality.
In the process of exploring internship options over a virtual advising session, Jernigan and Pulliam quickly connected over their passion for travel. “She and I ended up just really hitting it off. We ended up talking for two and a half hours! She was in Melbourne, Australia, and I was in Knoxville. It was so random!” says Jernigan. The two decided to stay in touch.
After Pulliam helped Jernigan find direction with an international internship placement, the program, which was scheduled for spring 2020, was cancelled due to the effects of the global pandemic. Even still, the Volunteer was determined to find another way. Jernigan reached out to Pulliam to see if there were other opportunities to do an internship, which is how a remote position with United Way Australia came about. “It was going to be unpaid, but I wanted the experience,” Jernigan admits – an experience than didn’t come without its culture shock.
Preparing for a Global Workforce
Reflecting back on her time carrying out her virtual internship with United Way Australia, Jernigan shares, “We would have weekly meetings, and I would meet at 5pm Sunday night, and it would be 9am for them Monday morning. There were also a few cultural things that we didn’t see eye to eye on, not because we didn’t speak the same language, but because – body language. We were not in the same room and were communicating from two vastly different continents.”
Not only were the time and communication differences an adjustment, but Jernigan also experienced a different attitude towards work itself. “I came in as an enthusiastic sophomore. I was excited to work with an Australian company, and so, I was energetic and perky and ready to work – I think I was a little too energetic for them,” Jernigan admits. As she volunteered to take on more work, Jernigan’s direct supervisors encouraged her to instead rest. “They would say, ‘Don’t forget to enjoy yourself,’” Jernigan shares.
Although Jernigan believes her enthusiasm for the job came across as a taboo American stereotype of the ‘workaholic’ mentality, she appreciates the Australian team’s prioritization of a healthy work-life balance.
“Even though I was remote,” says Jernigan, “I feel like I learned a lot from them [in understanding that] there’s an element to being enthusiastic about your work and job but…it’s definitely not everything.”
Fast-forward to Now: Why WorldStrides?
Even after the virtual internship ended, Jernigan stayed connected with ISA/TEAN Director, Xena Pulliam. It was this continued networking with her mentor that opened the door of opportunity for Jernigan after graduation.
“Travel has always been important to me. My mom is from Germany, and she’s always stressed the importance of keeping my mind open to explore other cultures. I knew that getting to work for a company like [WorldStrides] would allow me to help others gain that experience,” says Jernigan. So, after a semester-long job search and hours spent on her professional portfolio, Jernigan reached out to Pulliam to explore professional opportunities to work at WorldStrides, the parent company of ISA and TEAN, and recently received word that her job search was over.
In celebrating Jernigan’s professional achievement, Pulliam shares, “[Becca Jernigan] blew me away during our first meeting, and has continued to do so ever since, which is why I absolutely had to have her on our team. We are so excited to welcome her and can’t wait to see what she accomplishes with WorldStrides!”
As the newly graduated Volunteer travels to Austin, Texas this summer to work as a program management intern on WorldStrides’ Higher Education Internships team, Jernigan hopes that any students exploring options to go abroad will see it through. “Any advice I have is to just go for it! If there’s an opportunity for you to study or intern abroad, then take it!” she encourages.
Becca Jernigan: A Life-Long Learner
It is reflected on her LinkedIn post announcing her newly acquired position with WorldStrides and clear in conversation when she shares her outlook on life: Becca Jernigan is a life-long learner.
“Education shouldn’t stop after college,” says Jernigan. “But I do think it becomes more of a choice. It may be more effort because it’s not forced or right in front of you with tests, quizzes and assignments. It’s a different kind of education – an equally, if not more important, kind.”
For Jernigan, these life lessons reflect on one’s understanding of identity, and with it, responsibility as a global citizen. “Being white, Christian and in a sorority, there are certain biases that I’m very aware of. What it means for me to be a global citizen is to do my best to understand my biases, keep learning and trying to understand other cultures and backgrounds, do my part to bridge those differences and serve as an ally to marginalized groups within my community.”
“I don’t think you have to go abroad to gain a ‘global citizen’ mindset,” says Jernigan. “For people who have the opportunity, it’s an awesome experience to get outside of your comfort zone and the environment you were brought up in. However, you don’t necessarily have to hop on a plane to spend time with or learn from people that are different from you. The University [of Tennessee] does a great job of providing students with the opportunities to do so right on campus. It’s just a matter of taking advantage of them.”
As the state’s flagship and land-grant university, The University of Tennessee understands and seeks to uphold, at the institutional and individual level, the Volunteer responsibility with a global vision of “a world enriched by the power of ideas, made better through action, and inspired by the Volunteer Spirit of service and leadership.” As newly graduated Vols like Becca Jernigan move on from the hallowed halls of academia, the Center for Global Engagement challenges each Volunteer – current and graduated, student and staff person – to answer for themselves the question of what it means to be a global citizen.
For more information on UT’s Global Vision and CGE’s efforts to support this mission, visit https://cge.utk.edu/global-vision/ or contact the Center for Global Engagement at 865-974-3177. To learn more about virtual or on-site international internships, visit programsabroad.utk.edu or contact the Programs Abroad Office within the Center for Global Engagement at 865-974-3177 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Albrianna Jenkins (865-974-3177, email@example.com)