Senior Uses Documentary to Share His Journey in Botswana.

When Leron West learned about Botswana and its culture in an anthropology class, it piqued his interest enough that he decided to study abroad there. And like most students who study abroad, he assumed the opportunity to learn a new culture would only benefit his personal growth.

The senior sociology-anthropology and criminal justice major from St. Louis, Mo., had no idea that spending a semester studying abroad in Botswana, Africa, would completely change him and inspire his future.

“I gained more than just bringing back souvenirs,” said West. “It was more of a personal experience of acquiring intangible things, rather than physical things.”

And like most travelers, he took along a camera with the intention of sharing photos and videos with his family and friends back home.

On Wednesday, November 20, those photos and videos will be shared in the form of a new documentary, “Journey: The Realization.”

West is the first Nebraska Wesleyan University student to study in Botswana. He said he completely immersed himself in the culture while studying at the University of Botswana, located in the capital city of Gaborone. He explored the cities, and got to know the people and their values.

West’s study abroad experience was made possible through a Benjamin Gilman International Scholarship, which covers the costs of a student’s study-abroad experience. NWU students have won 35 Gilman Scholarships since the award was created in 2001. Each winner is required to carry out a project at the conclusion of the experience to help promote the benefits of the prestigious scholarship to their college campuses.

While many scholars choose to give a campus talk, West said he was so moved by his experience that words alone wouldn’t do it justice.

“By the end of my trip, I decided to use the footage to create a documentary to communicate the depth of my experience,” he said.

The documentary includes six episodes — each addressing the various roles West sees in himself: The Dreamer, The Actor, The Dancer, The Singer, The Student, and The Academic.

“As reflect on my experience I relate back to my past, as well as America's past, to help me to appreciate what was happening to me,” he said. “I am extremely excited for this project. It’s something that has not been done before, and I also get to apply my education and sociological theories that I have studied, as well as my own.”

Creating the documentary developed a new passion for filming, said West. He has minimal film experience, but plans to improve his skills in graduate school in Los Angeles, Calif., following his graduation from Nebraska Wesleyan.

He is interested in visual sociology, a new field in filming, which combines sociological research and data with visuals. He would like to someday use visual sociology to educate the public about social issues.

Sarah Barr, Director of Global Engagement, said she is not surprised by West’s study abroad experience. Many NWU students return to campus with new aspirations and worldviews.

“Studying abroad in a new country and culture helps us to see our own culture and country with new eyes and it can help us to understand the other,” said Barr.

West’s documentary, “Journey: The Realization,” will premier on Wednesday, November 20 at 6 p.m. in O’Donnell Auditorium. It is free and open to the public.

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Leron West used his camera to capture the personal journey he experienced while studying abroad in Botswana.
West won a Gilman Scholarship to study abroad.
West's documentary premiers Wed, Nov. 20 at 6 p.m. in O'Donnell Auditorium.