Starting this summer, Johnson will spend a year immersed in German culture, language and study with the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange program (CBYX) program.
Johnson will live and study in Germany, where he will get career experience in a German organization through CBYX, an exchange fellowship funded by the German government and U.S. Department of State.
He hopes to intern at the Bundestag, the German federal parliament, while mastering the language and learning more about foreign policy.
This will be Johnson’s second time studying in Germany, after participating in an exchange program in high school. And although he has spent quite a bit of time on German, he didn’t plan to study this specific language.
He had originally signed up for French class during his senior year of high school, only to learn that the instructor had retired, leaving German as the second-language option.
“I was so focused on learning French, when I found out I’d be studying German instead, I was disappointed,” Johnson says.
After his experience studying abroad, however, Johnson was hooked on the German language.
“I spoke German when I could and actually communicated with people there,” he says. “I realized I could really make something of the language, and I left the program knowing I wanted to study German in college.”
His journey to UofSC followed a similar course. Johnson is honest about the fact that he originally set his sights on attending an out-of-state university, and it was only affordability that brought him to Carolina.
But through opportunities in the classroom and beyond, Johnson has found a deep appreciation for the university and the possibilities that he found here.
“When I first had to make the decision [to attend UofSC], I really didn’t feel like I belonged in the Carolina community,” Johnson says, “but all that has changed, and I’m very grateful for my time here.”
The connections and opportunities have been endless for me here.
— Jahleel Johnson
Johnson took on a double major in German and political science, and he also joined the South Carolina Honors College, where he found many opportunities that made him feel more at home.
He applied and got accepted into the Washington Semester Program his junior fall semester. There, Johnson worked closely with Congressman James Clyburn and solidified his own interest in domestic and foreign diplomacy.
Johnson’s internship with Congressman Clyburn had him working closely with the majority whip answering constituent phone calls, taking memos for staff, escorting important people to meetings and getting a general sense of what goes on in the Capitol.
Johnson says his biggest takeaway was learning humility and integrity.
"If you’re humble, you will grow,” he says. “When you know you don’t know everything, you’re willing to learn and treat everyone with respect.”
He says he’ll follow the Golden Rule into his career in politics, which is his long-term goal. Johnson says he may pursue international relations and diplomacy in positions with the CIA or the United Nations.
But he’s keeping his options open, too.
“I’m not trying to be too structured, because I don’t want to limit myself,” Johnson says. “I like to grow, and my generation has mastered the art of maximizing our talents and not staying too long in one area.”
One definite plan, though, is running for elected office. It’s a dream he’s had since 2007, after he overheard a teacher mention voting in the upcoming election.
That night, he went home and watched a presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. It was the first time he’d seen the image of Obama.
“I saw him on TV, and it stopped me in my tracks,” Johnson says. “I had never seen a Black person running for president; I didn’t know it was possible before then. I said to my dad, ‘I want to be president.’”
Before he embarks on his political aspirations, Johnson may pursue an additional year at UofSC to apply for opportunities like the Fulbright program, which would allow him to teach English in a Chinese-speaking country like Taiwan or go back to Germany to teach.
Wherever his efforts and life take him, Johnson continues to appreciate the foundation he has built during his time at Carolina.
“I know that if I had gone out of state, I would not have had these same opportunities,” Johnson says. “The connections and opportunities have been endless for me here.”
Students seeking national scholarships like the CBYX are assisted by National Fellowships and Scholar Programs. For more information, visit the National Fellowships and Scholar Programs website or call 803-777-0958.