A short-term study abroad program offers many benefits for students and instructor alike, however the experience can be quite emotional for all involved. There’s quite a few articles written about what to expect as you enter a culture often referred to as the “stages of homesickness” but should more accurately be called the types of homesickness (just like the “stages of grief” bs should be re-named but that’s for another day!). Even if students are not feeling homesick they are still feeling a wealth of emotions that are complicated and often contradictory. This is especially true when the topic and place is difficult.
I would not imagine that students going to London to study public relations would have the same difficult emotional journey that student going to South Africa to study social movements may face. Yesterday was a difficult day for my students because we did a township tour in Khayelitsha. While students had spent the day in Soweto they hadn’t done a walking tour and the parts of Soweto we were in were quite wealthy compared to Khayelitsha. Honestly, I was surprised again by the townships and expected to find more areas of entrepreneurship.
The tour experience for the students was a high level of discomfort because they didn’t feel appropriate going into people’s houses on a Sunday afternoon without warning. A couple of the students who were in the front of the group saw the woman heading the tour pay people to let us into their homes. We went into a barber shop and the men made appropriate comments to my female students. My students felt on display as much as the people in the townships were on display. One of the girls was asked if someone could take their picture with her and she was uncomfortable because she was unsure what he was going to do when he posed for the picture.
At one point on the tour one of the men in a house we were visiting said that the girls looked scared. He compared the students to visitors from other countries who’ve visited the township and, evidently, are very flamboyant while they’re visiting the township. The girls weren’t at all scared but they felt like people’s private lives weren’t for touring. People don’t drive through our neighborhoods, want to come into our homes, and randomly take pictures.
Also, I felt like our tour guide wasn’t as passionate or considerate as her mother may have been if she’d been the one to take us on our tour. The mother was the one who started the tour business and bed and breakfast about 15 years ago. She briefly spoke to us before we went to church and she told us about studying in the United States in the 1990s. She wanted to come back and help women start businesses. She wanted to be the one who would train them in entrepreneurship and help facilitate their start-ups. But when she came back to South Africa she wasn’t able to get loans from the banks to start that type of business. So, she started her B&B. She was very proud of her house, which they’d expanded to a quite large home with a garage. She now works with a lot of universities from the US and hosts students in her home as they volunteer with NGOs in South Africa. She really seemed to care deeply about the townships and giving people an experience. I didn’t get the same feeling from her daughter as she gave the tour. There seemed to be a class divide between her and the people whose homes she was asking to come in.
My students had a lot to say about the day too! Here’s links to a couple of their blogs:
If you have thoughts about touring townships please leave your comments or feedback below! Do you think that tourists should go into these spots? Why or why not?