Tag Archives: Graduate Student

Happy (Birthday to me!) Cape Town


5 Years #TBT

I keep saying, “Wow! What a difference 5 years makes.” Then I stopped, thought about it. And damn! If I wasn’t completely right about this one!

Five years ago…

I was still reeling from the effects of 2008. In the short span of those 12 months my mother died, my sister and her family moved out of state, I relocated to Durham, got laid off from my job, went back to university for the last 9 credits of my bachelor’s degree, and graduated.

This time in 2009, I was bracing for my first birthday without my mom. It was the first time that I didn’t feel any joy on that particular day. It felt more empty, her absence amplified. Honestly, I do not even remember doing anything special for my own birthday. I took a trip to visit my sister and helped her celebrate her big day. It was my way to compensate for our mom being gone. She did an amazing job, even as we got older, to make our birthdays feel special. We were lucky to have our birthdays around Easter and almost every year we were all together at some point close to our birthdays.

But 2009 was the start of putting together new traditions with our smaller family. Her birthday was really great! Our dad and step mom came up for the day. My nephew really enjoyed so many of “his people” being at his house for the day. And there was lemon cake (always a win). As 2009 progressed things impoved. I was able to celebrate my nephew’s 3rd birthday with him. In September, I started a new job that I was good at and enjoyed. Double bonus! I got rid of all the notes, articles, and papers from undergad because I had no plans of going back to school! I was d-o-n-e!

Five years later, I not only changed jobs but careers. Moved to Minnesota, I still don’t know if its natural that people live this far north. I went back to school and I’m about to graduate with my master’s and start a PhD program in the fall! What? In 2009, I was still dreaming of Africa and now I’ve not only been here but I’m living here for 6 months.

None of what I’m doing now was on the agenda then. I’m in awe of my life and loving it!

Is it wrong to have favorites?

Today, my favorite regular appointment brought a writing assignment, due next Friday, so we could outline it together.  The topic he is to write about?  The effects of globalization on Africa.  Oye, these professors and their broad topics slay me.  After talking for a couple of minutes he narrowed the topic down a bit to “The effects of globalization on West Africa”.  He was thinking about Nigeria and Ghana but mainly his home country of Nigeria.  The outline went as follows:

  • Introduction
  • Political Globalization

The United Nations

  • Economic Globalization

World Trade Organization

  • Cultural Globalization


  • Technology

He was going to think about a subtopic

  • Conclusion

Opinion-Is it more positive or negative?
Can it be changed?

All this in a 10 page paper!  That’s a lot to talk about but he felt good about his outline.  He said he was going to go home and continue mapping the subtopics for his paper.  This was the same student that at our first meeting he got excited about writing and left early (I love that!).  We briefly discussed BRICS and MINT countries, he was surprised that I knew about the Nigerian economy.  (Thank you BBC Radio Documentaries!) I also knew about Africa’s Richest Man, Aliko Dangote who is from Nigeria.  Honestly, I love the learning that takes place in and around the writing center culture.  I have been reading about Nigeria because of the students I work with and I think it pays off in dividends.

imageAs we talked about his paper and what he was interested in, he asked me my opinion about globalization and Africa.  Back at SCSU I would have totally shied away from giving my (always strong) opinion because I would not want to sway the student or I might have the feeling they were trying to get me to do some of the work on their paper for them.  However, in Mr. Samuel’s case I just felt like he was testing me a bit.  I think he wanted to see who he is working with.  Still, I was taken a back by him actually wanting my opinion and I double checked, “You want my thoughts on the effects globalization has had on the continent of Africa?” He replied that yes, he did.  I told him that it is difficult to measure the effects because globalization hit Africa 400-500 years ago.  How can we measure the impact that the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade had on Africa?  We can see how normal projections of population growth has hit those countries especially hard but the people themselves being gone impacted the area.  What if Booker T. Washington’s genius was applied to problems in Africa instead of the United States?  What if Frederick Douglas’s brilliance was railing against colonial domination in Africa instead of abolishing slavery in the United States?  How might the continent have developed if the human capital had remained in place?  Then I mentioned the economic devastation that was Apartheid in South Africa.  How can people regain the economic power they once possessed before they were forcibly removed from their homes and businesses as they were relocated to townships?  All of these single events had devastating impacts on the whole continent.  Now, there are companies from the EU, America, and China who come into African countries offering short-term financial benefits, which may not be in the best long-term interests of the country but who can blame them.  They are still trying to modernize and reap some benefit for each of their countries.

When i finished, he had a big smile and he said that he agreed with me.  I felt like he trusted me more after this little exchange.

He went back to the concept of globalization’s effect on culture, this is the area he is most concerned about.  He talked about food, language, and clothes.  How those have all changed in Nigeria because of the European influence.  I mentioned that in the US accents are flattening out and everyone wants to sound like a news presenter.  Also, with the growth of chain grocery stores we are all getting the same food, which flattens out choice and regionalism.  He told me that here in Port Elizabeth he hardly ever eats out because he does not like the food here.  However, there is a Nigerian food market where he can get ingredients to make the types of dishes he likes.  I then introduced the concept of “comfort food”.  He’s never heard this term before and I explained that it is food that feeds your heart and soul.  Therefore, comfort food is different to each person because it depends on the foods you grew up with.

We are meeting next Wednesday to review his draft.  Hopefully by then he will have his other grade back.  I’m still on pins and needles waiting to see what grade he received.

Its not just about the trip

One piece of advice that floats out there for all new bloggers is to “focus your blog.”  This way people who are interested in a particular topic can find each other, create community, and flourish.  Or if you are blogging for income you can market yourself easier to generate hits, ad revenue, and income.  Either way, it is all about focusing.

However, when you’re studying abroad it is difficult to focus because your experience is not just about the trip.  The trip itself is, of course a huge portion of your experience.  I am fortunate enough to be able to take weekend excursions while I’m here which broaden my exposure to my host country of South Africa. I get to experience new food, climate, and animals while I’m here.  We have also gone on cultural tours of the city since we’ve been here. These help to provide us with a deeper understanding of the place we are living by giving us a richer context to place current events.

Another aspect to my study abroad is my internship.  I’m working with students and faculty on their academic writing.  My work with students focuses on specific writing assignments that they are currently working on.  While the work done with faculty is focused on administering those writing assignments.   So, everyday I’m learning about a distinct academic culture, which is different from the one I grew up in.  These differences range from the student/teacher dynamic, the types of writing assignments students are given, or the  base knowledge about academic writing that the majority of students lack.  All of these are topics (plus more) are topics that I’m reflecting on and trying to understand from the perspective of someone who has been airdropped into this country.

Equally important to these other areas of discovery is the experience of traveling in and living with a group of students again.  Group travel is just its own special animal that will make you examine all of your quirks.  I was surprised how much the group travel aspect of my trip last year impacted me.  Something became glaringly obvious to me and that was you have so little control over events when you’re traveling, which becomes compounded when its group travel.  I am once again living with people that I didn’t know prior to the beginning of this semester.  We’re learning how to live and travel with each other while overcoming cultural barriers between international students.

Finally, study abroad students face the stress of life continuing back home and needing our attention.  Seniors are trying to find and apply for jobs.  Continuing students are struggling with slow and intermittent internet to file their FASFA and scholarship applications.  We are all dealing with being out of touch with people we could reach at a moments notice back at home.  Time differences and lack of technology can really make you feel the miles.  We have all left behind family, friends, and pets to have the experience of studying abroad; each one of these impacts us when we are home and now we struggle in their absence becoming and changing through the process.

So be patient if you are following this or any other study abroad blog.  I am trying to share the whole spectrum of my experience, not just the trip.

Now I have a plan

When I boarded the plane for South Africa on 27January, I didn’t really have firm details on anything past the plane ride over. I didn’t know where I was going to be staying. I didn’t have my internship exactly worked out and I for sure didn’t know what I was going to be doing once I got back to the states.

Things have come together piece by piece. When I finally arrived in Port Elizabeth I found out from the student who met me at the airport that I would be living with the rest of the SCSU students at the Summerstrand Hotel. Unlike the rest of the SCSU students, I had no concept of the living conditions here. When I first got here and the staff person was showing me around the hotel, I was still in a jet-lag induced daze. However, after my first night’s sleep I ran around the hotel snapping pictures because I could not believe how nice our accommodations were.

The internship on the other hand took a little while longer to figure. But like Shahzad told us by the time the Spring Break trip came a long the getting started bit would be in the rearview and he was right. Last week I started the second portion of my internship and I’m fast getting acquainted with the academic support services and teaching support services. Yesterday, the teaching support services (and ex-writing center) staff had a welcome tea for the new staff member and me. It was fun because the crew reminded me of other writing center people I’ve met in the Minnesota area. We sat in a circle and each person told about themselves. Afterward the director told me the staff had learned a lot about each other because when you’re at work, you’re focused on the task at hand. There were quite a few people who’d traveled back in the States, Europe, and all over the content of Africa. After hearing my new co-worker describe her time in Ethiopia, I really want to travel there now myself. Not only is it beautiful, the food is delicious but also the people there have a completely different mindset since they were never colonized. Each day I get deeper into the work the former writing center people are doing with teaching development.

Then yesterday morning the final big chunk fell into place when I received my acceptance email from George Mason University! I’m headed to PhD land!!! Of course I don’t know where I’m to live in DC or any of those pesky details yet but I’ve got until August to sort those bits out.


If you’re gonna be sick, at least do it by the pool

I’ve got a little travel crud…I came back to the hotel after our city tour and took a nap. My room has direct sun and so it felt much better to lay next to the pool, nap, and enjoy the breeze. As the afternoon has gone on more people joined us as they got back home from classes.

South Africa’s Talent Gap

Twitter Africa-How Africa Tweets

Ethnographic Emergency

Quick, call an anthropologist!


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