Bernell’s Immersive Journey to World Awaits Cultural Tours [Part 2]

2000 Professional development

Back home in the USA, I became the first student, the first woman, and the first African American to graduate Clemson University in Japanese and International Trade. But my career choice and the job market would soon disagree. After much prayer and believing it was not the direction for me, I turned down two job opportunities to teach English in Japan. Most Japanese companies were more technical or engineering focused and since I did not have a technical degree, I could not find suitable opportunities in business. I was even told by an American executive working with Japanese companies, “you are a woman trying to enter business in a Japanese company.” I even turned down an opportunity to be a bilingual assistant to a Japanese executive also believing this was not my path.

I turned to general business jobs and American companies, including the FBI, that said I was overqualified because of my language, culture and study abroad experience or they were looking for more traditional majors–that is until 9/11 happened. I was now an enigma. I couldn’t find any job opportunities. One employer flat out said, “we don’t think you will be loyal to the company should you find an opportunity to use your Japanese language ability.” I was now broke, destitute, and had no clue what to do with my life.

Being a new Christian, I prayed and trusted God to lead me to whatever is clever. One day, indeed, ‘clever’ came! It came through Dr. Debra King to whom I was introduced through miraculous connections to strangers. Having opened up to her about being dismayed, that first meeting, Dr. King asked if I had considered entrepreneurship. It was the one thing I had not thought or let alone considered. How could I? I didn’t even know what entrepreneurship was and I needed a job! I needed money to just survive!

With Dr. Debra King

In faith, however, I immediately followed her instructions to (1) get a mentor (2) do an apprenticeship even if unpaid (3) and update my resume to the new direction or career I was considering in management information systems. Remember, I had a knack for computers and management information systems seemed like the perfect bridge between computing and business. 

One night in August 2000, while I was preparing for bed, God literally gave me the vision for Visions International, my first company. From 11 pm, all through the night, I was popping up with these amazing ideas; writing down things that I had never considered before and that my degree had not prepared me for. Born of an epiphany from God, Visions International, which is the parent company of World Awaits Cultural Tours, began to take shape.

While pursuing how to become the person of my vision, I got down to my last $100. I prayed and beseeched God for direction. I was even willing to give my last $100. God told me to keep my $100 and to call Dr. King to ask her to be my mentor. “I know you’re busy,” I said to Dr. King. “But would you be my mentor?” Dr. King responded, “I’m never too busy for that. I would be delighted to be your mentor.” She has since been my mentor for 22 years–growing me, developing me, supporting me and challenging me constantly. I thought she was teaching me about entrepreneurship, but most importantly, she taught me about people, relating to others, serving and leadership.

I served Dr. King in her private counseling practice, entrepreneurial projects, and community economic development partnerships. I was literally with her everyday learning from her in her environment. At this time, I was still applying for jobs but was getting neither interviews nor jobs. Though there was no monetary payment, the value of what I learned and experienced from Dr. King is incalculable. 

Up until 2010, Visions International was a one-person organization specializing in professional coaching, consulting and training for microbusiness and language and culture for expatriates. By 2003, I had expanded into language and culture training in English and Japanese for visiting foreign executives, managers, expatriate families and local students and professionals. We specialized in training people how to communicate and relate successfully and how to live and work across other cultures. In 2007, Visions International was 50% microbusiness coaching and training and 50% language and culture coaching. 

Training Visiting Brazilian Executives in partnership with Anderson University, Anderson, SC, USA

In 2010, as the company started to grow and grow beyond me, I had to start hiring a team. I realized that we were valued more on the language and intercultural side so I shifted the company to focus more on those services. We eventually grew to a team of nine employees and contractors in language and intercultural services.

Visions International Team 2017

My work with Visions International and our community contribution was recognized in several local publications and awarded several distinguished awards including;

  • Clemson University Multicultural Achievement Award
  • Clemson Polyglot Alumni Features
  • Clemson World Magazine Clemson Women Firsts
  • Greenville News City People Features
  • WJMZ Radio Station Upstate Black History Maker
  • Greenville Magazine and Greenville First’s Best & Brightest 35 and Under Class of 2007
  • Gone the Distance Clemson University Women’s Leadership Award
  • Michelin Americas Research Company (MARC) Award of Appreciation
  • Women in Business and Politics: Getting A High Heel in the Door, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. Rho Zeta Chapter
  • Clemson 2010 Young Alumnus of Merit Award
  • YWCA of Greenville Women of Achievement
  • Greenville Chamber of Commerce Minority Business of the Year Finalist

2013 Ah-hah Moment

In 2013, Visions International established an Executive English Immersion Program for visiting foreign executives to come and study language and culture in an intensive program for 2-4 weeks upwards of 60 hours per week in Greenville, South Carolina. They would take a mix of English classes, as well as experience the culture through immersion with the local community. They would attend business meetings, conferences, networking events, lunch and dinner with local professional hosts, theatrical performances, festivals, and whatever was an enriching experience in our local community. The program was highly successful because it went beyond classroom learning. We received consistent five-star client satisfaction ratings from each of the students without fail.

Executive English Immersion Program

It is during this Executive English Immersion Program that I realized I was offering concierge services and building custom itineraries, booking accommodations and creating unique, tailored experiences. As an entrepreneur at heart, I thought, wait a minute…I should be getting a commission on these services. And that is the moment that spurred my pursuit to establish a travel company specializing in cultural tours and travel.

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2 thoughts on “Bernell’s Immersive Journey to World Awaits Cultural Tours [Part 2]”

  1. Suzanne Atkinson

    Bernell, I so enjoyed reading your story and being amazed and again very proud of you and your accomplishments. Still you have the most beautiful smile, Girl!
    Took me back to some good years at CU. Thank you for sharing the story of your spiritual journey as well.

    1. Suzanne! It is indeed a pleasure to reconnect here! It’s been a long time. I pray you and your family are well! Thank you for always being one of my greatest, constant supporters and encouragers since Clemson University days. Thank you for following my journey and being a part of it!

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