Hey everyone! So this summer I spent seven weeks in South Africa! I have never been abroad before, except for a short three-day trip that I’m not sure counts, so I was really excited! What did I do?

First I spent one month in a city homestay in Umlazi. I had a mama, baba, sissi, and broet. Umlazi is a black and indian middle class town in Durban, South Africa. My sissi took me to a South African club! The music is different but not really from what we listen to in the states. Kind of like techno. And people actually *danced* in this club.

Then I spent a week in a rural area, a name which escapes me at the moment. It was beautiful. There is this large, pristine ocean and white sand. The largest beach I’ve ever seen!

We also spent a lot of time in museums and exploring towns within South Africa- Soweto, Joburg, Southcoast, and Graemstown, home of the largest arts festival in South Africa, where artists, performers, and otherwise talented individuals come from all over the world to display and perform their art. Throughout all this exploring, I got to spend time with both locals and the 15 other students from schools across America.

There was also, very important, an academic component. The program I went on, called Education and Social Change, strove to help us Americans understand the various challenges and successes of South African education. Because of apartheid regime about 18-19 years ago, which separated people into townships and separate government entities by race, the schools were made vastly unequal. Bantu education, which served to create a minimally educated working class, vastly disenfranchised blacks in South Africa, as well as pitting various other nonwhite classes against each other. A minority white group controlled interactions among the various races, making it difficult for whites against the regime to fight against the status quo. Though a combination of blacks, whites, indians, and national and international organizations saw their efforts to fruition by the ending of apartheid, educational inequality still remains. Now, us Americans, needing to drop our own American context and the accompanying biases, assumptions, and prejudices, needed through this program to understand a national problem within South Africa’s own terms.

I learned a ton! I learned, for instance, that there is a serious teacher shortage in South Africa. I learned as well that there is a struggle to balance South African culture with a westernized views of success and superiority. I learned that there are many things I appreciate about America, such as unfettered, nearly limitless internet access. I also appreciated many things about South Africa, such as their vastly superior constitution (it promises, among many things, the right of the woman to choose, the right to housing, and the right of gay marriage). Yes, though many of these rights aren’t being fulfilled (there is still a housing crisis in South Africa, and homophobia is ok in many rural areas), the fact that such a liberal constitution exists points to a sort of visualization and foresight that isn’t quite there in the all parts of the U.S.
The people are also really friendly. People were so helpful to me and the friends I made in my group, and often gave me their number to call if I got lost. This has never happened to me in the U.S. so far…

What I learned in South Africa is something I can’t learn in a book, and that’s the experience. Yes, there is poverty. But there are also millionaires in South Africa. There are towns that look exactly like Beverly Hills. South Africa has problems, but South Africa isn’t all bad- their advertisements are much more diverse, including lots more people.

Why should you study abroad? To get another perspective and experience. I was able to talk to people who lived through apartheid. How amazing is that? I learned that ketchup and tomato sauce are the same. I learned that tea should be had at every meal. And I learned more about myself and how my own assumptions frame my thinking. You can’t really know that until you visit another country. I’m also getting credit for this course, so yay! More time for thesis research!

So, what you need to do once you get to college is find out about your study abroad resources. Is funding available? Will you get course credit? What are the deadlines? What kinds of programs are available? What kinds of trips should you go on depending on your major and/or career interests? Do you want a structured, academic program or an informal one where you decide what you do? Do you want to go hiking in the swiss apps? Learn from foreign professors? Volunteer with an NGO or in a rural village? Learn a new language?  Research? There are tons, TONS of things you can do a study abroad program.

I loved my experience, and no one ever says “I wish I never studied abroad.” It really is a life changing experience, so def consider doing it.

CSO love! <3