ShaLuJuan Williams loved education but never felt she belonged in school.
“My second-grade teacher shortened my name to ‘Shay,’ and told me my name — ‘Sha’ — was misspelled,” she said. “I didn’t like limitations. I got in and got out of school as fast as I could.”
Williams graduated from Foss High School last month and began a summer internship in Seattle. Like most of her peers, she sent out college applications early in 2013.
“My mom is big on education,” the 18-year-old said. “But I realized I didn’t want to go to college yet.”
So Williams asked the colleges to which she had applied to consider her for 2014 classes instead — and she went snooping on the Internet for something to do in the meantime.
She found an international program based in Oakland, Calif., that was looking for young Americans willing to spend most of next year in a foreign country.
“I found Global Citizen Year online and applied,” Williams said. “I didn’t tell my mother until I heard back from them in April. I got a full ride.”
Her mother, Carmetrus Parker, was surprised but adjusted quickly.
“She didn’t tell me until she got the full ride — and then what could I say?” Parker asked. “I said ‘Congratulations, baby girl!’”
On Aug. 21, Williams will go to Stanford University in California for a week of training. On Aug. 29, she will fly to Brazil, where she will remain for eight months.
What will she be doing?
“Immersing herself in the language and culture,” said her mother, who researched the group online after hearing about it. “What she does won’t be focused until she’s there. It will be based on what the need is.”
The mission statement for Global Citizen Year is to recruit, train, support and connect “the next generation of Americans to approach the rigors of higher education and the challenges of the 21st century with innovative, insightful, and effective leadership.”
In practical terms, Williams and 18 others will go to Brazil and backpack through the area near Santa Catarina. Another 60 will travel to Ecuador.
“It’s a crash course on language, culture and the needs of people we’ll meet,” Williams said. “I’m going to make a documentary of what I see and learn, and they want us to blog so others can see what we’re learning.
“Each of us will be taking an issue or topic and trying to apply to it to the United States. For instance, in Brazil, 16-year-olds can vote. Maybe I’ll connect that to the system here.”
There were two requirements after she was accepted. One, she had to raise $2,500 for future fellows and, two, she had to recruit at least 50 followers to her blog.
“I’ve got about 45 followers who’ve signed up already,” she said. “Money-wise, I’ve got about $165. The problem is, most of the people I know are in Tacoma where I grew up, and I’m spending the summer in Seattle.”
Williams is interning with Washington Bus, a political action group that registers voters, among other things. She’s getting a stipend as a fellow, but it won’t put much of a dent in that $2,500.
Whatever it takes — bake sales, car washes, a telethon — Williams insisted she will raise the money.
“I’ve got this opportunity because of those who went before me,” she said. “So I want to put my share in for the next group.”
Once she flies to Brazil, Williams won’t return for eight months.
“She won’t be able to come home at Christmas, but maybe I can save enough to visit her at some point,” her mother said. “I’ve saved money for her to go to college, but that’s for college. She knew that when she applied, which is why she went for the full ride.
“The only disappointment I have is that they don’t provide her with international communication, other than her blog. We’re working on that.”
Mother and daughter have always been close. Carmetrus had ShaLuJuan when she was 15, and her brother, Tyree, at 18.
“That’s probably one reason I’m not upset about a gap year between high school and college,” Parker said. “I’m still working on my education.”
When she returns to Tacoma next May, Williams will once again start looking for colleges, though she’ll do so with considerably more worldly experience.
“It’s a great opportunity for her, and she found and pursued it herself,” her mother said. “She’d had enough of school and needed to do something else before going to college. She found it.”
FOLLOW HER BLOG
Go online to: globalcitizenyear.org/author/shalujuan-williams.Larry LaRue: 253-597-8638 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/larue