Northern Ireland Student Receives Top Award
Ben Williams left his hometown of Belfast with little idea of what he wanted to do after graduation. After spending an academic year at Alma College, he gained a whole new perspective on life — and an award.
Williams, who is in his final year of studying geography at Queen’s University Belfast, is the Business Education Initiative (BEI) Student of the Year for the BEI Class of 2009.
The program, which sends 100 students from Northern Ireland each year to study in the United States during their junior year, aims to equip Northern Irish students with international experience and business skills while raising the profile of Northern Ireland.
Williams, who spent the 2008-09 academic year at Alma, decided he would use the opportunity to experience as many new things as he could. He ended the term near the top of his class and on the Dean’s List twice. While he still can’t spin on his head after a hip-hop dance class, he learned through his experiences that he could do anything, not just dream about it.
“I had this scholarship, and I thought, what’s the point if I don’t use it for all it’s worth?” says Williams. “I didn’t know anyone at the start, so I had to figure out what to do with my free time, anyway.”
This meant getting involved outside of the classroom. Williams participated in Model United Nations, theatre and choir. He also went on an Alternative Break during Christmas where he worked with Habitat for Humanity, a favorite memory of his time in the United States.
In addition to seeking out experiences, Williams also created his own. He organized a campus-wide dodgeball tournament, which raised more than $1,000 for These Numbers Have Faces, a charity that empowers young people in South Africa to reduce poverty in their communities.
Williams credits the “infectious” American work ethic for influencing him to take on these challenges.
“People in America, at least on the face of things, are very confident and up for things,” says Williams. “There’s a belief in yourself, especially in business, and a desire to get things done.”
His adventure didn’t stop after Alma. He and a fellow BEI student took an 8,000-mile road trip across America last summer. The pair went from Indianapolis to Portland and to Los Angeles and Kansas in six weeks with some friends, all to raise awareness for the charity.
“We had been planning this for a year before we went to America,” says Williams. “It was a big dream. We used a 25-year-old car that was quite rusty.”
With his new sense of optimism, Williams plans to fulfill yet another dream — working in the film industry after graduation. He hopes to make TV shows and movies.
“Trying to get a job in the film industry is something I never would’ve attempted to do before coming to America,” says Williams.
Posted: Mon, November 16th, 2009 at 8:49AM