Category Archives: Study Abroad

Travel as rhetorical listening

I firmly believe that travel itself can be an act of rhetorical listening. Listening to the questions people ask you about yourself and your home country. Listening to what people reveal about themselves. And listening to the the culture as a whole when you travel.

Last night I heard a news report about the advertising awards and the winner of the gold prize was a radio advertisement for the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg. I had to hear this advertisement several times to really process and listen to the message that was being conveyed.

Now, in an award-winning advertisement for the Apartheid Museum, called “Verwoerd”, Trump’s words have been cut together with H.F. Verwoerd, known as the “Architect of Apartheid”.

Hearing the audio clips back-to-back is jarring, but it does provide some new context for Trump’s words and actions that he has taken since becoming president. There is a part in the add that I think is supposed to be Trump that doesn’t sound like him and I’ve never heard that clip anywhere else. However, I think it does speak volumes to how this US president is perceived abroad and provides an interesting point of discussion for students who are learning about South Africa, but also America through another country’s eyes.

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Travel Tips: but not that kind

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If you search for travel tips you can find all sorts.

  • How to book a flight to save the most cash
  • What you pack depending on where you’re traveling
  • How to eat like a local
  • Where to find the off-beat curioities of a particular area
  • Or safety tips depending on when and where you’re traveling

However, there are apects of travel that most people don’t talk about opening. Parts of travel and experiencing a new place can be difficult or a challenge. A lack of preparation for these challenges can make the traveler feel like they are doing something wrong or that something is wrong with them. Intercultural differences can definetly be a form of culture shock and if you aren’t prepared you could start becoming judgemental and closed off to your new location.

So, I wanted to write a post about some of these unspoken travel challenges.

  1. Space: Interpersonal space is not a universal concept. People from the US are used to having large amounts of personal space, even in a crowd. Our understanding of space and interpersonal space is a cultural concept.
    • Here’s a few articles that get into this concept a bit more:
      • “What personal space looks like around the world” [click here]
      • “How personal space boundaries vary in different countries” [click here]
      • “Which countries have the smallest personal space” [click here]
  2. Silence: Not just silence, but also when is it culturally approprate to speak and when are you expected to be quiet. Silience is a luxury that people living in most cities do not have. When you relocate to a new country or study abroad country you may find people talking when you would normally expect quiet, but noone else around you seems to be bothered by the noise. No, you aren’t alone or the first one to experience a struggle with this issue. Places that I’ve experienced this includes: movie theaters, conference presentations, airplanes, government offices…The funny thing is that when you do a search for “Why are [insert nationallity here] so loud?” You can find an article for almost every single country. Which just proves that its what we’re used to and then someone from another country or culture comes along and violates this norm. How we regulate noise levels or modulate our own voices is a cultural construct. So…here’s a few articles I found that speak to this issue.
    • “My cultural noise threshold is being violated” [click here]
    • “Cultural differences in percieving sounds generated by others” [click here]
    • “Why are Americans abroad so loud and obnoxious” [click here]
  3. Smiling: Okay y’all. I’m just going to be totally real on this one. Americans are a little obsessed with happiness and a bit too cheerful for the rest of the world (see the article above about us being loud and obnoxious). I mean, we really do smile, a lot. Is everything really awesome?! In your new country strangers probably won’t exhange smiles with you on the street (I still can’t help myself most of the time and that’s okay). But this doesn’t mean that they are being rude to you, its just not part of their cultural practice.
  4. Table manners: How we eat varies widely from country to country. We use different utenciles and the types of food that we consider to be staples varies. So, it makes sense that the idea of what is rude or not at the table would vary from culture to culture, as well.
    • Here are a few articles to help you understand how table manners are constructed around the world:
      • “A guide to table manners around the world” [click here]
      • “What proper etiquette looks like around the world” [click here]
      • “Dining etiquette around the world” [click here]
      • “Renaissance table etiqutte and the origins of manners” [click here]
  5. Public transportation: Now that you are in the other country, how are you going to get around? What looks like public transportation varies from country to country and you may be missing out on a budget friendly transportation option.
    • What are the some of the varieties of transportation options?
      • “Around the world in 30 unique modes of transport” [click here]
      • “Top 12 world’s super authentic means of public transport” [click here]
      • “8 unspoken rules of public transportation around the world” [click here]
  6. Alcohol: Buying alcohol around the world or even just from state-to-state within the US, can vary widely.
    • Are you old enough to drink? A guide to the min. drinking ages in 190 countries around the world [click here]
    • Is drinking even legal where you’re traveling? Here’s 14 countries where drinking alcohol isn’t legal [click here]
    • Okay, you can buy it here, but how expensive is it? Here’s a guide to how much alcohol costs around the world [click here]
    • Now, you know if its legal, if you’re legal, and how much its going to set you back, but what should you drink? Here’s a guide to the best booze to drink in 43 countries [click here]
    • If you’re going to have ‘one drink’ how does the alcohol content vary around the world? Good question [click here]
  7. Food labels: If you have dietary requirements that make reading food lables a normal part of your shopping experience, you may not be ready for how other countries label their packaged food.  (Also, you may want to get a metric converter app for your phone to help make sense of international food lables)
    • “Differences between EU and US nutrition lables go far beyond ounces and grams” [click here]
    • “Food health labels around the world” [click here]
    • “Global plan to streamline ‘use by’ labels” [click here]
  8. Operating hours: When are businesses open?  In the US we are acustomed to businesses being open early and staying open late with many stores not changing their hours of operation for the weekend. However, this is something that varies widely from country to country and even within a country, if you move from a large city to a small town or village. For example: in the US if a store is open on Sundays it will most likely open later in the day (noon is quite common) and it will likely close early (6 p.m. is still common). However, in South Africa a lot of stores will open at the standard time, but close early.
  9. Work/life balance: If you are living abroad for an extended period of time you are probably working in a new culture. But working and living in a new country can be very different from working in the US. I’m not fully going down that rabbit hole here, but in general understanding how your new country places work into their overall cultural understanding of life will help you undertand your new neighbors and friends even if you aren’t working directly in the new country (I’m looking at you digital nomads).
    • “Working hours around the world” [click here]
    • “The 13 countries with the best work-life balance for expats” [click here]
    • Women in the workforce worldwide (Pew Center) [click here]

Traveling can be fantastic! And anyone who knows me knows that I’m always trying to find yet another way to go abroad. However, its best if you’re aware of the many variances between countries that could catch you off-gaurd. Don’t be too hard on yourself when you encounter a difficulty that you weren’t expecting when you travel or relocate to a new culture. Culture shock is real and sometimes you don’t know when its going to show up!

The items I included in this post were things that I’ve encountered and caused me some stress as I acclimated to my new environment. What did I miss? Please comment with things that were an unexpected culture shock for you when you studied or moved abroad.

 


2019 Study Abroad Promo

I’m excited for the Winter 2019 study abroad program! The planning for this program is in full force and the program is completely re-vamped from the first two years. This video was made from pictures I took on the 2017 and 2018 programs.


Meet South Africa

Meet South Africa and discover yourself.

After yesterday, I think my students feel like they are finally meeting South Africa.  Yesterday, we spent the day in Soweto and really saw the city. This was the first time I felt like I had an appreciation for the true span and scope of Soweto.  I’ve had the typical experience in the past of first the Apartheid Museum, then driving to Mandela’s house, taking a tour, and seeing the street performers who make a living from the tourist coming through. Then next it was Hector Pieterson Square.  But this time we took time to spend the day there.   The difference is like an appetizer sampler at a restaurant or sitting for a full meal.


First, I wanted to make sure we had plenty of time at the Apartheid Museum and so we blocked off 3 hours.  Our guide said that we could block off three hours and at the end of the three hours we would still want to come back another day.  I think some students definitely came away with that feeling. There’s an interview with Winnie Mandela that always amazes me. She’s asked by the interviewer if South Africa will ever have one man one vote and without a single hesitation she replied, “Yes.” Interviewer, “Who will be the first black president of South Africa?” Winnie Mandela, “Nelson Mandela.” Period. I believer this interview took place in the 1970s, when Nelson Mandela was still imprisoned on Robben Island. There were no signs then of the Apartheid government falling or letting Mandela out of prison. Her resolute response floors me.

Second, we went to lunch in Soweto at a lady’s house who does this as a business. On the itinerary it was simply labeled “lunch with locals”.  However, it was timed perfectly because I think we all needed this lunch after an intense and emotional morning at the museum.  When you’re in a museum space sometimes you only come away with the heaviness of the past. The oppressor can still reach through the exhibit and grab a hold of you and drag you back.  However, the South Africans that we meet lived through those experiences and are here, now, and looking forward.  The food was expertly prepared. The mamas were so warm and welcoming. After we finished eating we sat in the circle where we asked each other questions (the visitors and the hosts). It was an interesting dialogue. Like everyone else I’ve encountered they wanted to know about Trump…we all felt a little closer with both country’s political situation feeling disconnected from the people in the cities. By the time we left I didn’t realize we’d been there for several hours, but  I think we would have been happy to stay for several more!


The mamas talked openly to use about their experience with the xenophobic riots.  One of them had a migrant worker renting from her in 2014 when violence broke out. She said that she protected the man by telling the guys that they just were not going to harm him, period. This echos what I’d heard from Mama Aziba, when I stayed in the township in Cape Town. It was also interesting to hear how the women are all practicing Christians (some in church some not) but they all also honor/talk to their ancestors.  One lady said, “Why would I forget them? Without my ancestors I would not be here.” True for all of us. I’d asked them if they were Christian and still practiced their cultural traditions.  All of them said some degree of both. If they’d asked me I would not be able to answer the same way because my people assimilated too well.

Once the conversation reached a natural lull the mamas said that they were going to give us Zulu names.  I felt and still feel deeply uncomfortable with this. I talked to our guide about it, but communication was not clear between all the groups and it happened.  I haven’t completely sorted through the many reasons why I find this deeply problematic, but I know I will marinate on this, talk through my thoughts aloud with some friends, and write more about it later.

No matter what, when you leave South Africa you’ll be a different person than when you arrived. 


The Ripple Effect

“ I come here this evening because of my deep interest and affection for a land settled by the Dutch in the mid-seventeenth century, then taken over by the British, and at last independent; a land in which the native inhabitants were at first subdued, but relations with whom remain a problem to this day; a land which defined itself on a hostile frontier; a land which has tamed rich natural resources through the energetic application of modern technology; a land which was once the importer of slaves, and now must struggle to wipe out the last traces of that former bondage. I refer, of course, to the United States of America. ” -Robert F. Kennedy, Day of Affirmation speech, June 6, 1966.

This is the begging of the “Ripple of Hope” speech given by Sen. Kennedy gave at University of Cape Town just over 50 years ago.

The most famous quote from the speech came about 3/4 of the way through the speech:

Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.

When I visited the Voortrekkers monument it seemed as though we were coming face to face with the representation of the “mightiest walls of oppression” that represented the Apartheid government. Our guide for the site was great. He went into great detail about the design and construction of the monument, even including the careful rhetorical argument that the architect needed to make to the Calvinistic government since he included elements of North African religions into the monuments design.  As we went inside he carefully went through the detailed history that each panel represented. img_2838

He took care to tell us which pieces were not historically accurate and he paid great tribute to the Afrikaner women for their strength and perseverance throughout the “great trek”. However, I kept thinking of the chevrons at the top of the monument and on the marble tile on the floor inside.  Our guide told us that these represented a ripple or wave going out from the monument into all of South Africa.  It seems to be the most understated and most prolific part of the entire monument. Annie Coombes argues in History After Apartheid: Visual Culture and Public Memory in a Democratic South Africa that

the Voortrekker Monument has a significance of all South Africans.” She continues, “Historically, then, the Voortrekker Monument is of critical significance for the foundational myths of Afrikaner nationalism-in particular the idea of the Trek as the moment of emergence of the Afrikaner as the founding ethnic group of a new nation, ‘the white tribe’, and the ‘divine right’ of the Trekkers to the land. These myths are embodied through the structure of the monument itself- first through the seductive resolution provided by the narrative of encounter and conquest represented by the interior freze, and second through the fact that the edifice houses what amounts to a cenotaph on its lower level, replete with ‘eternal flame’, to the memory of Trekkers killed en route.

The monument is almost perfect in its support of the Great Trek and Afrikaner myth as the chosen people for South Africa. The monument is a contested space and I agree with Coombes that the monument is significant to all South Africans but not for the same reasons.  I would argue that the majority of South Africans would see the monument as a direct representation of “the mightiest walls of oppression” Kennedy spoke about at the Day of Affirmation.

 


DCA–>ATL->JNB

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I leave this afternoon for a unique trip and I’m SO excited!

I’ll get to Joburg just in time to check into my accommodations, freshen up, and get dressed for New Year’s Eve. For the first few nights in Johannesburg im staying in my hometown neighborhood of Maboneng at Curiocity Backpackers. Hopefully this will give me a chance to get over my jet lag, get a bit adjusted, and do some reading before Tuesday.

Tuesday is when the study abroad program starts. I’ll check into our hotel that morning, get settled for the week, and meet our guide for tea before heading to the airport and collecting the students. We have a jam-packed 14-day program in Johannesburg and Cape Town (don’t worry there will be plenty of posts!).

Once the study abroad program is complete I’m taking a long weekend in Zanzibar before heading back this side for spring semester. There will be much to write about over the next month…stay tuned!


Orientation (What do you wish you’d been told?)

Today the Mason Study Abroad office hosts an orientation for all of the Winter and Spring Break programs. They’ll go over general safety and insurance, culture shock and mental health while abroad, and behavioral expectations while abroad. After the general orientation I’ll meet with my students, as a group. This will be the last time I see them as a group until January 3rd when we pick them up from the O. R. Tambo airport. 

This morning I’m still trying to figure out the balance between what I should tell them and what I should let them discover on their own on the trip. I’m wondering what other people who’ve studied abroad which they’d known before their trip?


A step closer

11403446_10153500936899887_3506925557172214450_nI wanted to revisit my first post. I thought that I had actually started this blog for my first trip to South Africa in March 2013. But my first trip to South Africa was SO fast! I took time to write in a paper journal but not in an online blog.
It makes sense that this was my first posting about the internship and semester long program I was about to embark on. There were many ups and downs getting to the point where tickets were purchased.
Initially, my proposal was denied, but then I was able to meet with the head of NMMU’s international office and make an argument directly to him. But the “No” I received from SCSU’s study abroad office seemed final when they sent me the email. But…when have I EVER taken a no like that?! You’re just gonna tell me no when this is something that I know can be done and that I am the one to do it? lol! I don’t think so!
Now, the student is becoming the teacher (literally). And the pattern repeats itself. I didn’t want to start blogging about my experience starting a new study abroad program until it was actually going ahead. There were plenty of ups and downs creating the program, going through the proposal process, recruiting students to apply, hoping that I had enough students for the program to get the green light.
Finally, it happened! Green light! We are a go!
The first study abroad program that I created, from the syllabus to the itinerary, is going to South Africa in January where the students will study Social Movements in South Africa!
Rarely, does life come full-circle in such a short period of time. My first trip to South Africa was in March of 2013 and was only nine days. Now, just under four years later I am going to lead a study abroad program.

Star Thrower

Tickets have been booked! Today, I got an email notifying me that my reservations had been made for South Africa! I need to pick my seats on the plane and then I’m set. One step closer to leaving for the semester abroad. We are flying out of Minneapolis and connecting to our international flight at Dulles Airport in D.C. From there we fly into Joburg which is a 14 hour flight. I’m really excited because right now we are scheduled to spend a day in Joburg. Hopefully, all of our flights stay on schedule so we can keep the day of sight-seeing. I know previous groups have visited Soweto, Mandela‘s house, and other historical sites.

Before I left St. Cloud for winter break, I got a thick envelope from NMMU. It had my acceptance letter from the university, information about health insurance and other items…

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What will be your South African story? — Social Movements in South Africa

I woke up to a powerful and unsolicited endorsement this morning for why students should study in South Africa. Having lived and studied in South Africa for six years, unsolicited, I’d attest to ‘Social Movement in South Africa’ by Prof. Ferguson, to have the prospect of providing a priceless opportunity to any student or person […]

via What will be your South African story? — Social Movements in South Africa

On the first day of school every semester there are students and instructors who appear slightly lost as we all try to find our classrooms. The first few weeks are a bit disorienting, but soon a pattern develops and routine settles in. However, there are students who bravely challenge themselves to breakout of their campus routines and find learning experiences that defy routine. Study abroad turns the world into your classroom and short-term programs offer students a unique academic experience of a focused instructor-lead program where every aspect of the trip is geared towards achieving learning objectives.

Explore South Africa and discover yourself.


The Meaning of the Flags Worn by the Suspected Charleston Killer

TIME

A profile photo taken from a Facebook page thought to belong to the FBI’s now-captured suspect the killing of nine people at a black church in Charleston, South Carolina, offers the strongest clue yet as to what might have been his motivation. The photo, thought to be of Dylann Storm Roof, shows a young man wearing a black fleece jacket. Affixed to the right breast are two flags, one for apartheid-era South Africa, and another for the former colony of Rhodesia, which is now known as Zimbabwe.

The short-lived state of Rhodesia, which was never recognized internationally, is closely identified with white supremacy. It was born in 1965 when the predominantly white government of what was then known as the British colony of South Rhodesia refused to transition to black majority rule on the eve of independence. Instead, the government issued its own declaration of independence, raised its own…

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