Category Archives: Study Abroad

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. 

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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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KLM Meet & Seat

Yesterday I received an email from KLM regarding my upcoming trip to South Africa.  The email was a well-timed marketing ploy for upgrades (seats, luggage, and meal options).  An additional option, at no cost, is Meet and Seat.  Where you can link one of your social media profiles to your seat choice and then other passengers can see a little bit about you.  This would have been a super cool function last year when I was flying with a big group, but my seat was always a random loner and not with the group. I signed up for it on this trip because, well, why not?! Only two other passengers on my four flights had also signed up.  On, one of my flights it was a young part-time Dutch DJ.  The second person, on a different flight was a young female, but she didn’t have much information.
Oh, and I did upgrade my seat on the last leg of my going and coming trips. So, good job marketing department.


CEO Sleepout South Africa – A farce

Poverty porn or poverty tourism is one aspect of my time in South Africa that was difficult to understand. Before I go any further I will state that the United States also has issues with poverty porn, which plays out on television for millions of viewers on a number of “reality” shows. The US entertainment industry has exported this idea to the UK too. You’re welcome.  No, really-I’m sorry.

I took a couple of tour trips into townships, two of them were with my school group on a city tour. When the bus pulled into the township children and men (unemployment rate is 26%) would come toward the bus. Some of the people smiled, but many of them flipped us off and yelled obscenities at the bus. I couldn’t feel mad at them because almost felt like we shouldn’t be there. Yes, going through the township helped me visualize the conditions, but it just felt wrong. It felt like the residents were, yet again, being exploited without their consent for the gain of the country. The people looking on our bus with distain did not know that we were students eager to learn about their country and trying to do it with a sense of respect. I think what bothered me the most on the township tour was that the tour was not given by someone who lived in the township.  People deserve the right and ability to tell their own story. Especially, when it comes to people from the continent of Africa because a single African story has been so deeply woven into the fabric of the Western narrative that the majority of westerners do not realize what a fallacy it is.

Billed as a themed B&B where “you can experience staying in a Shanty within the safe environment of a private game reserve. This is the only Shanty Town in the world equipped with under-floor heating and wireless internet access! The Shanty Town is ideal for team building, braais, fancy theme parties and an experience of a lifetime.”

dashcoco

This past week while parked at the robot, I saw two males walking towards the car in front of me. The driver handed each of the men a loaf of bread. They proceeded to cross the road, sit on the side and eat the bread. They looked most grateful and as I sat there in my car I felt the most horrible feeling of sadness and wishing I could help too. A few days later driving in the CBD I witnessed a man desperately trying to get every drop of food out of a small container while sitting on the side of the road with crutches.

Living in South Africa, these are the things we see on a daily basis. There are millions of homeless people who battle every day just to receive a meal to sustain them. This is their life, many being born and dying on the streets.

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Your lost airline luggage probably ended up at this store


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