Why Kia Young, Founder of hbcutravelers.com, Supports Student Travel Experiences
Kia Young walks the walk when it comes to getting out one’s comfort zone for personal growth through traveling abroad. As the founder of hbcutravelers.com, her vision is to “inspire at least one student to take a step towards cultural exploration. I want African American students to understand the importance of expanding their horizons.”
We were so inspired by Kia’s passion, we decided to reach out and ask her a few questions on how she’s put her global education to use as an entrepreneur and what’s she’s learned along the way from her travel adventures.
Q: What first inspired you to travel?
I grew up in the Houston, TX area, but my family always took road trips to different places around the country. It started at a young age, which is why I’ve always had a wandering and curious spirit. I absolutely love Texas, but I’ve always lived with the realization that there is more beauty beyond its borders.
After my freshman year of college at North Carolina A&T State University, I did a co-op (basically a 7-month internship) with Toyota in Georgetown, Kentucky. While there, a senior coworker expressed that he’d never left the state of Kentucky- not even for vacation. After that conversation I wondered how he could live his entire life without ever exploring the world beyond his hometown! That’s when I decided I could not live my life that way.
The experience I had with Toyota, living and working full-time in a place where I had never been before, helped me mature and learn how to adapt to ambiguous situations. Since I did the co-op at the beginning of my college career, it set the pace for the years after that and I began to search for additional experiences that allowed me to travel to new places.
The fearlessness I adopted, along with my unwavering curiosity, gave me the courage to leave the country and still drives my wanderlust today. Since starting college, I’ve traveled to nine different countries: Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, Cambodia, Mexico, Italy, Germany, France, and Spain.
Q: What advice do you have for a student ready to start a travel adventure?
Just pick a place an interesting place and go! The world isn’t as scary as it appears in the news/media and living in an unfamiliar place with an unfamiliar culture is the best way to discover one’s true self. Nothing exposes strengths and weaknesses like having to navigate through a foreign country with a foreign language.
Pick an uncomfortable place. Go alone. Go for an ample period of time. It will challenge you, it will push you, and you will never think the same way you do now. You’ll return to the United States with a transformed mindset, ready to leave again.
Q: How important do you feel experiencing another culture is to overall personal and career development?
Being immersed in another culture and country pushes a person out of his or her comfort zone, and forces growth mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. I’ll never forget the overwhelming rush of feelings that came when I first stepped off the plane into the airport in Bangkok, Thailand.
I didn’t speak Thai at all and I had never left the United States before then. I couldn’t read the signs and I could barely communicate with the airport staff to figure out where I needed to be, but I figured it out. That experience was the first of countless times during my five months in Thailand where I just felt completely lost, literally and figuratively. Nonetheless, every time I kept myself together and handled the situation.
Our personal lives or careers often place us in ambiguous situations where we may seem lost and confused. After being alone in a foreign country, you will realize that you’re capable of handling whatever problems life throws your way. You will also learn how to adapt quickly to changing environments.
Living in a foreign country and culture teaches people to think differently about the world and other people in general. Travel will teach you to be open to operating in different ways than they’re accustomed to. You’ll learn not to judge others. You’ll learn how to accept, befriend, and work with people from all walks of life. You’ll learn the importance of tailoring one’s speech or behavior out of respect for other cultures.
Furthermore, international travel will teach you that humans are the same underneath skin color, hair type, traditional clothing, etc. and that all people deserve respect and love regardless of race, gender, or religion.
Q: How have your travels helped you overcome challenges that come with managing hbcutravelers.com?
My experiences in Thailand sparked the passion that I have for encouraging others to pursue the same opportunity that I did. Every time I reminisce on all the fun memories, I realize how much I wish other students could have the same experiences. Studying abroad changed my life, and it’s harder explaining how than inspiring students to go feel it for themselves. This passion ultimately pushes me to overcome the challenges associated with managing hbcutravelers.com.
If I quit, I risk not reaching students who could benefit from experiencing the world. When my peers come up to me with questions or comments about how I inspired them to study abroad…that motivates me.
Q: Do you have a favorite quote that inspires you to get out of your comfort zone?
I have a couple. A quote by Maya Angelou reads:
“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all people cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we understand each other, we may even become friends.”
This powerful quote supports my belief that international travel amongst all races and ethnicities is the key to cultural acceptance, international awareness, and world peace.
However, baby steps must always come first. I met students from all over the world while studying abroad. For some, I became their first Black friend. My roommate (also an exchange student) came to Thailand from Japan and we both shared our own cultures with each other (the positive and the negative). To this day, she is still one of my closest friends.
My other favorite quote says: “It does not matter how slow you go, so long as you don’t stop.”
The Internet today makes it easier to notice others achieving milestones or traveling to different places around the world. Discouragement overcomes people who waste time comparing their present lives to others.’ Trust your own journey. All successful people start somewhere!
Q: If a student wasn’t sure about taking a gap year or traveling somewhere new, what would you say to persuade him or her to go for it?
Studying abroad or taking a gap year will allow students to discover who they are and where their passions lie, as well as develop personally and professionally. With today’s job culture becoming increasingly international, experiences abroad produce the type of students company recruiters hunt for.
Although I will graduate college a year later due to my co-op and semester abroad, it will be worth it once I start applying for jobs!
Studying abroad will not always cause a student to graduate late, however. Select a host university that offers the courses needed to stay on track.
Talk to a study abroad coordinator or departmental advisor for assistance on choosing a university and picking courses.
Q: Any other additional thoughts you would like to share?
Money usually holds people back from traveling. However, there are resources available to assist students financially. Dig for them! Search online for scholarships, talk to a faculty member in the financial aid office about reallocating tuition fees to study abroad at another university, create a fundraiser.
Start by spending less money on clothes, shoes, and other material items. Create a budget solely for travel. You’ll be surprised how much you save up for your next trip!