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Wednesday, January 23, 2019

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D’Erryl Williams and McKynzie Fort play basketball with kids in the Domincan Republic. D’Erryl Williams and McKynzie Fort play basketball with kids in the Domincan Republic.

D’Erryl Williams Finds Perspective Studying Abroad

Former SDSU men’s basketball player D’Erryl Williams traveled to the Dominican Republic as part of his major’s international requirement.
By Michael Klitzing

“You never forget the experiences you have abroad. They change you as a person. They also make you value and cherish all the little things you’ve taken for granted.”

From the Hawaiian islands to the Carolinas, D’Erryl Williams has crisscrossed the United States more times than he can count—that’s life on a nationally prominent men’s college basketball team.

The last time you saw the San Diego State University guard in action was in Las Vegas in March when he played in the Mountain West Conference Tournament. Sin City was the end of the road for the Aztecs, but for Williams, a new journey was about to begin.

During the summer, Williams embarked on a study abroad program in the Dominican Republic. Despite the thousands of air miles he’d racked up domestically, Williams had never before needed a passport. He admits that if not for his kinesiology major’s international requirement, he would not have considered studying abroad.

Being immersed in a developing country for two weeks was new, and even for a man steeled to performing in front of thousands of screaming fans, it was a bit daunting.

“It was kind of scary at first—I’m open to saying that,” said Williams, a pre-medical student who earned his bachelor’s degree in kinesiology from SDSU in May. “I remember sitting in the airport wondering what I was walking into.”

First impressions

The street signs and billboards in Spanish jumped out at him first. Then there were the drivers he observed on the highway, aggressively cutting through traffic with reckless abandon, using horns as de facto turn signals.

“Sometimes the cars would even bump into each other, but it’s not like the drivers were going to stop and share insurance,” Williams said. “As long as the crash isn’t fatal, they’ll just keep going. That’s when I knew, I was really not in America.”

Fortunately, Williams had people that helped ease his transition into the Caribbean island nation of 10 million people.

He was travelling with a group of fellow SDSU students taking a College of Extended Studies course, Global Leadership and Diversity Identities in Santo Domingo, led by Aaron Bruce, SDSU’s chief diversity officer.

The program’s activities ran the gamut. There were fun outings, including a visit to the famous El Limon waterfall. But there were also sobering visits to bateys, the notorious slums where poor laborers live in often squalid conditions. People in these slums lack reliable shelter, water and other basic services.

Throughout the program, students explored the culture, history and politics of the Dominican Republic, with an emphasis on the influence of West African culture.

“It was amazing,” Williams said. “It turned out to be everything I wanted and more.”

Pushing boundaries and gaining perspective

During the excursion to El Limon, the SDSU group was to trek to the falls on horseback. Having never even considered climbing atop a massive animal before, Williams wasn’t so sure.

“It was one of the craziest experiences of my life, just being on that horse and going 20 miles per hour,” Williams said. “I went from not wanting to get on, to being the last person to get off my horse.”

If El Limon helped Williams embrace pushing his boundaries, it was a visit to a batey in the city of Samana that opened his eyes to the realities of the developing world.

The SDSU group helped paint a community center in Samana, a town of 100,000 residents on the Dominican Republic's northeastern coast, and spent time with local children. Williams and SDSU women’s basketball player McKynzie Fort even delighted the kids by challenging them to a game of pickup basketball.

Williams enjoyed the interaction, but he also came away from the experience with something he wasn’t necessarily expecting—guilt.

“You really don’t know how bad it is until you experience it for yourself,” Williams said. “It’s really hot and they don’t have shoes on, so kids are out there stepping on hot rocks. It made me mad at myself; I have all this basketball gear. I could have brought some and made their day.”

Learning to slow down

Patience has never been a strong suit for Williams. Consider it the byproduct of a life as a student-athlete, where every moment of every day is structured and there is never an offseason. So perhaps the most important lesson Williams learned in the Dominican Republic was how to slow down.

“When you go to dinner in the Dominican Republic, you’ll be lucky to get your water within 30 minutes of sitting down and when you order something to eat, it won’t come for a while,” he said. “But then there will be a live band and people are dancing. They’re all about embracing their culture. That’s why I loved it so much.”

Williams said that thanks to his time abroad, he is now passionate about embracing the little things in life. Another new passion is trying to become fluent in Spanish. He stayed in contact with Dominican university students he met during an English immersion activity, and they’re helping him practice.

Williams, who is pondering career options, including sports medicine, family medicine and pediatrics, also wants to travel more internationally to, as he puts it, “dabble in everybody’s culture.”

“Study abroad opens your mind more than you would think,” Williams said. “You never forget the experiences you have abroad. They change you as a person. They also make you value and cherish all the little things you’ve taken for granted."

Students can explore their international options at the SDSU Study Abroad Fair, taking place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sept. 12 on the North Library Walkway, or by following SDSU Be International on Instagram and Facebook.