Originally from Waukegan, Illinois Jasmine left for college in Alabama at 18. Upon graduation, she got a job as an educator and stayed in her college town for 8 years. Wanting to venture out of her daily routine, she moved to Saudi Arabia to pursue a different education role. Jasmine is currently teaching in a charter school located in San Antonio, Texas. Besides her full-time job, Jasmine balances several tasks including running her own business (Imani’s Innovations), where she designs and creates accessories. We sat down to talk about her love of travel and passion for jewelry design.
How did you decide to move to Saudi Arabia?
All of my life I’ve worked around kids. At 15 I volunteered with our park district program in my hometown. So naturally, when I moved to Alabama to teach, I decided to work part time at the Boys & Girls club. One summer, one of my co-workers was like, “Do you wanna teach abroad?” and I had never gone abroad so I said, “Why not?” So I started looking into it and I was like, maybe this isn’t me. Another co-worker made a bet with me and said, “If you go I’ll go,” and next thing you know I’m on a plane to Saudi Arabia. It’s one of the most daredevil thing I’ve done. I’m normally planned, and strategic about everything. It was one of the most spur of the moment things I’ve done.
How did your trip to Saudi Arabia change you?
It led me to go more with the flow and let things fall naturally. It also made me more culturally aware. I thought I was pretty culturally aware coming from the suburbs of Chicago and traveling to Chicago all the time. Chicago is a melting pot and people are from all over. In spite of this, I realized I didn’t have a good cultural sense, especially living somewhere so culturally different from what I was use to. Muslim culture is the complete opposite of Western culture so this was really eye-opening and led me to be curious about the other differences out there. It also providing me with opportunities to learn more about cultures around the world.
Were you able to travel, and what did you learn from the experience?
I was able to travel to several different countries. I got to travel to Bali, Thailand, Egypt, the UAE, and Kenya. Traveling was amazing! It also was a very surreal experience coming from the background I come from where statistically you did not see brown people traveling abroad. For this reason, I really encourage people to just go. Find a reasonable ticket and go.
I want to travel more. Going overseas, I got to see the impact of a teacher. You sometimes only think you’re impacting one type of kid, but your very presence in a child’s life is more impactful than you could think. When I got to Saudi Arabia, I didn’t think that my students and mothers were going to accept me as much as they did. I was bold, passionate, assertive, and confident, traits that if done arrogantly, could be offensive. However my students accepted me as me and soaked up all they could from my “funny western ways”. My apparent cultural differences did not matter to them. All they were concerned about was if I was genuine and did I care. It was then I realized, it didn’t matter how “different” I was to them, all they wanted was a teacher who was concerned about their well being and overall success.
What are some of your interests and hobbies?
Besides for traveling, I have a small jewelry/accessory business called Imani’s innovations (Imani meaning faith in Swahili). I love the feeling of “self expression” in accessories. I think clothing in general gives you a small insight on who a person is. Accessories add to that insight. In Saudi Arabia (and most Muslim countries), it is customary for women to cover their body and hair in public places. However, their jewelry and accessories are so beautiful, you’re in litertal awe. It made me focus on what their accessories were saying to me about who they were. I had started my jewelry business before, but when I experienced the women in Saudi, I was inspired to turn Imani Innovations from my own personal hobby to something that other people could experience and enjoy.
My accessories are mostly created by hand. Traveling to various countries, I got a lot of different materials. A lot of my accessories include bits and pieces of these materials, and inspiration from all of my travels. I try to do vendorships at least once every couple of months to get my name out there. I do have a full time job so having a support group is everything to me.
You must be so busy, what helps you throughout all of the work?
That’s still something I’m still looking into–how to run the small business properly. I follow small companies, I read, and see what they’re doing, and I see people that I look up to. My friend Ravon, I look up to her, even though we aren’t in the same field, essentially she still has a small business. I try to keep up with things that are going on recently. I try to have those mentors that really inspire me. Thank you to our day and age, YouTube has been very helpful, too. It’s hard since I was never taught how to run a business and didn’t study business or marketing at school, but I find different ways to learn and grow to improve Imani’s Innovations.
The biggest thing you’ve learned?
As cliché as it sounds, stop thinking and do. We overthink so much on a day-to-day business. Half the time spent overthinking about A, B, C, D could be used to be gaining different experiences. I had no plans to go to Saudi Arabia, and I just did it. In turn I now have a small business, friends who live abroad, passport stamps, and a better sense of living in general. Half the time the stuff we plan, we don’t even do it because we get caught up in it. I feel like we as a society, if we stop thinking so much, and just do things, we would be much happier. As a planner, this concept seems like an anxiety attack waiting to happen, but as one who is trying to live life with less stress,I now make “just doing” a weekly priority.
What does it mean for you to be powerful?
For me to be powerful, it means that I’ve left a positive impact somewhere, somehow. How did you leave your memory? How did you improve something? Being impactful is very important for me. Being an educator, my impact is my overall goal. What they remember, how they changed, how were they inspired, this is my driving force. Even if it’s something minor, for me impact is my literal strength, my power.