She steps off the plane and into a bustling, unfamiliar airport. People walk by, chatting with each other in an entirely different language. She’s all alone in a new country, but she’s not afraid. On the contrary, she’s excited—excited to learn, to meet new people and to appreciate a new culture.
Noa Watkins ‘18 has had many opportunities to practice this attitude. As a student at Le Moyne majoring in Peace & Global Studies and Anthropology, she spent six months studying abroad in Spain, learning new languages and developing new skills. Post-graduation, she taught English in Brazil, Italy and Austria. And now, for the past year and a half, she has served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in South Africa.
As a Schools and Community Resource Project volunteer, Watkins works to address issues in unemployment, education and women’s rights. She collaborates with educators at the primary level to help strengthen their classroom practices, and she worked to create a library program to combat illiteracy. “Apart from being a teacher, I believe that my role as a volunteer is also to be a part of my community,” says Watkins. “I have created lifelong, lasting relationships with my counterpart, my colleagues, students and my host family.”
Before embarking on her two years of service, Watkins had hoped she would leave a positive impact in someone’s life; now, as she nears the end of her two years, she realizes just how much the people she has met have changed her own life. One of these people is her host sister, Asimbonge, whose name means “let us thank her.” While Asimbonge speaks Zulu and Watkins speaks English, the two are nevertheless able to communicate using a mixture of broken English and Zulu. Watkins reflects on their relationship, saying, “We can laugh, joke, play and have serious conversation. All these things I took for granted when interacting with others back in the United States. Asimbonge has taught me patience, persistence and compassion.”
As a sophomore at Le Moyne, unsure of what exactly she wanted to study, Watkins found her calling while taking a Peace and Global Studies course. It made sense—as someone who is deeply passionate about public service and social justice, Watkins realized her goal was to become an ambassador who “has an understanding and appreciation of intercultural engagements that will strengthen relationships within global communities.” Her volunteer position in South Africa has continually pushed her to develop those skills and relationships necessary for her future.
After she finishes her service this coming August, Watkins plans to attend graduate school in an International Education program. She sees herself spending the rest of her life engaging with people from around the world and “actively working with them to improve living conditions, increase education resources and learn from each other culturally.” She credits her time at Le Moyne for helping, in part, to expand her horizons. “I came from a small rural town in Western New York and during my time at Le Moyne, my eyes were opened,” she says. “Le Moyne encourages us to take classes that allow us to think outside the box.”
For current students, she gives the same advice that she was given to her by her brother when she was a student: “Heart and soul. I live by following my heart and enriching my soul. I think it is so important to have experience and step outside of your comfort zone, whatever that may be. Find something you are passionate about and stick to it. Don’t give up.”