Tag 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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Reccomend One Book

My sister sent me an interesting article of book reccomendations from 22 Ambassadors to the United States from various countries. The premise of the piece was for the ambassadors to reccomendone book everyone should read before visiting their country [click here for the article].

Of course as a lecturer, I assign required reading all of the time. Additionally, as someone who teaches a study abroad program, I do require students to do quite a bit of reading before getting to South Africa. However, if I was going to reccomend a single book that everyone should read before visiting South Africa it would be Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime (2016). born-a-crimeNoah’s ability to tell his personal story while at the same time teaching the reader about South Africa’s complicated history, makes this book a great read. For an extra treat, get the audio version of the book because its read by Noah himself.

 

What one book would you reccomend for people to read before visiting your country? Either your home country or the country you currently live in?


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.


Curation or Creeping Africanism (Orientalism)

A few days ago I read a blog post called The weird questions I get asked about Africa. The post was written by a young Ghanian who (rightfully so) was at a boiling point for ignorant questions about the continent. She’s developed a little trick when talking to people about Ghana or Africa more generally. After tiring of explaining from the start she is from a country in West Africa named Ghana etc. She now has a tactic of

“when someone asks where I am from, i just say Africa. Whilst some people are content with it, others who appear to be learned will then ask which country in Africa, then i smile and know, i can actually have a conversation with this one, cause basically who wants to keep explaining themselves over things which are easy to come across on the internet when you really what to know”.

Who wants to be a constant Wikipedia page for people?

Back in January I ran into more Americans my first weekend in Johannesburg than I ever have before. I’m sure that’ll keep happening because AfroPunk now has a festival in South Africa. But  I kept getting asked about “traditions” and in my head I’m thinking, “Um, people are just living their lives. Not everything you see is ‘an old ethnic tradition'”. For me it was a good reminder before I met my students that I need to be mindful of the exoctification of Africa. Its the difference of traveling and helping my students mindfully learn about South Africa, from a place of identification and closeness. I think its a delicate balance because in order to do that students need to be uncomfortable, but not so uncomfortable that they shut down.

One of the many pieces I have my students read is “Can a Trip Ever Be ‘Authentic'”, that examines this idea of how global-localization has changed the very idea of what it means to be in a place. But this is the new and authentic reality people everywhere are struggling with and against. So often I’ve found that people’s idea of “authentic” is actually finding experiences that match their preconceived notions of a place. This past year I tried to push against that notion each time my students mentioned that visiting a township was ‘real South Africa’. The next program I’m designing has more space for me to facilitate those conversations throughout their time within the country. I want to try and disrupt their ideas of who and what South Africa is and keeping them engaged throughout the entire program.

I want students to understand, even if it is only in matters of degrees, that South Africa is every bit as complicated and complex as the United States, Virginia, or even their university. As Taiye Selasi argued in her fantastic TED talk [click here] you may say that you are from the United States of America, but does anyone really have a relationship with the United States, all 50 of them? Our experiences are local, specific, and more complicated than we remember.

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I would love to hear from other study abroad instructors how how to keep students engaged in these difficult “in between” spaces. Any thoughts, writing prompts? or suggested readings would be greatly appreciated!


Going back to the country

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“Going back to the villiage”

Johannesburg is famously easy to navigate this time of year because people have traveled home for the extended holidays.  The Northern Virginia and D.C. metro areas experience this as well because so many people have moved there for work but are not from that area.  One of the Instgram accounts I follow posted a picture from Accra showing a taxi rank from before the holidays and during the holidays with a dramatic difference between the two photos. While this story is known and the proverb is widely accepted, there are other people who travel back to their country in this same spirit.

Yes, this is another blog post about people I met on the plane. Just like these previsous posts…this one from my second trip over [click here] and this one from last year’s trip [click here].

The first person I met was on the flight from D.C. to Atlanta.  We didn’t speak at first because he was busy texting before we took off. I figured He just wasn’t chatty and believe it or not I do try not to chat with people who aren’t interested in chatting.  But then he saw me sorting through my boarding passes and showed me his phone where he’d typed out his question for me asking me if I was going to Johannesburg. I pulled my phone out and we had a little chat.  He told me that he was going back to South Africa for his brother’s birthday. His brother is turning 50 and wanted to go back to South Africa, where they were born to celebrate.  He told me they left South Africa in 1989, but he didn’t elaborate from there and I didn’t ask. When we boarded the plane in Atalanta I was sitting close to his brother and the rest of his family.  I think all of the men in the family were deaf. I eventually caught his brother’s attention and wished him a happy birthday before we de-planed. I saw his brother from the back of the plane letting him know how I knew!

My seat mates from Atlanta to Johannesburg was a South African couple who had left  the country in 1988 because they were classified as Indian during the Apartheid government and did not have full opportunities and freedom.  They have dual citizenship as Canadians and South Africans and have been traveling back to South Africa since they left. They still have family here and now that they are both retired they can escape the unfogiving Canadian winter by traveling here during January and Febuary, which they told me they do every year. Toward the end of our flight we started a conversation about South Africa and why we were all going. They were facinated that I was bringing students from the United States to study social movements in South Africa.  Our conversation wound around various topics from Robert Kennedy’s 1966 visit to South Africa to Cyril Ramaphosa and the complications (baggage) that come with him, and his respect for Thabo Mbeki and regret that he was pushed out of the presidency by Zuma. He told me that he still has hope for South Africa, but that he doesn’t expect South Africa will reach its potential for 30 or more years.

These brief encounters gave me a different framing for travel at this time of year and for the type of travel my students are about to embark upon.

 


Beginner’s Mind

beginners-mind-image-newAs instructors sometimes it can be difficult to remember how disorienting university life can be to students. First year students have unique challenges that differ greatly from the transfer students, while first generation students have their own challenges throughout college.  However, as professors we are quite comfortable in this environment with our own specialty.  The corporate speak for what happens too often in these environments is silo thinking, each person operates in their own silo without interacting with other people. So, how can professors get the feeling of a beginner’s mind? Culture shock.

For two weeks I taught students a short-term study abroad program in South Africa and the theme of the course was social movements in South Africa. This was my 5th time in South Africa, but my first time teaching and leading a study abroad program.  I did not have culture shock while teaching my students. I did have new experiences and of course just visiting the country in this new role was a new experience, but I did not experience culture shock.  I knew the money, local customs, and had done almost all of the activities on the itinerary for my students, which is how it should be for the academic leader of a study abroad. It can make it difficult to remember what the feeling of culture shock is like both for the study abroad student and the new university student.

I felt disorienting culture shock my first time in South Africa, which was only a nine day visit.  I was trying to absorb every single sight, sound, and smell. I didn’t know the currency and felt unsure with each encounter. But! South Africa was a place I’d wanted to go for a long time and I knew a lot about the country. Before my trip there I read everything I could, watched all of the movies about South Africa on Netflix, and scoured YouTube for South African music.  Also, South Africa itself is very British still and you only have to be as uncomfortable as you want to be. You can always retreat into the comfort of familiar food, music, and TV shows.  I mean, I even made pimento cheese spread while I was in South Africa. When I traveled to Namibia and Botswana I was slightly disoriented, but not full on culture shock.

Then I traveled to Tanzania.

I left the massive O.R. Tambo International airport in Johannesburg and I flew into the country on lovely South African Airlines.  I had not fully researched the country because this was a vacation and not a work trip.  I did what most people do for vacation.  I looked up things on Trip Advisor, talked to friends who’d been here, or had connections to the country.  I had my accommodations booked for my time in Zanzibar but I didn’t have a detailed plan because I only booked 3 full days. I thought I was totally good. I had the taxi booked from the Zanzibar airport to the other side of the island where I was staying. I was totally set.

lol…I was not prepared!

When we landed in Dar es Salaam I could tell the airport was smaller than the one I’d just left, but the size of the airport only scratched the surface.  So, with the little research I’d done I didn’t think that I needed a visa for Tanzania upon arrival, but you do.  Thankfully, the visa can be obtained upon arrival and you don’t have to go through your embassy.  The fee for the visa is $150 in USD. And they want those dollars! So, when I walked into the airport I noticed the wall of customs and immigration forms.  “Okay” I thought, “You’ve done this in several countries. No problem.” I was even excited at this point that I had the address for my accommodations.  I thought that it was going to be smooth sailing from there.

However, I started to feel overwhelmed as I tried to make sense of the mass of people in front of me.  There was no organization to the lines. There was obvious confusion with little care being taken to impose any order on the situation.  I stood in one line and a guy came up to me and asked if I had my “yellow card”. No, but I have a letter saying that I don’t need it. He told me that he was just sent from one line to another to get vaccinated. He was coming into the country for business and I thought well, maybe I’ll pass since I’m just here for a few days. Then a man in a military uniform came up to me and asked if I was here for business or pleasure. I told him just three days of vacation. So, he sent me directly to customs. I finally reached my turn for the booth and she went through the process of taking my finger prints. I could barely hear her and she didn’t seem to have any desire or intent to make being understood by me (or anyone else) a priority. We went through this whole process and she asked, “Visa?”

“No”, I replied “I’m just here for only three days.” I tried to de-emphasize my time here as much as possible in that one sentence. It didn’t matter I needed a visa. Like I stated above the visa was $150 in USD. I don’t carry cash at home much less while traveling. So, I asked the lady where to get cash and she told me the ATM. Sounds simple, yes?  Again, I was SO confused. By this time I was shuffled over to the visa area and another man in uniform took my passport. I asked him where I could get cash because I did not think that I could go outside. Well, that’s exactly what I needed to do. So…before even getting my passport stamped I went in and out of the immigration area twice and outside of the airport once.  I went into the ATM room and there was a big dude hunkered over one of the machines.  I walked in and said, “I am so sorry and I hope this doesn’t make you too uncomfortable, but how much money equals $150 USD? I have NO idea!” Without looking up he walked me through what I needed to do. Then I went back inside, asked someone else where to exchange my Tanzanian shillings for USD, and proceeded to complete the transaction.

It was about this point when I thought, “This is how our students feel.”

I know not everyone can travel to a foreign country, but teachers do need to find ways to get outside of their comfort zones and navigate new spaces and systems. If we can be reminded of what it means to be a beginner we do a service to our students.

 


Emotional Scramble

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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?

 

 


Travel isn’t magic

“Not all those who wander are lost”-J.R.R. Tolkien

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I’m not sure if you can read a study abroad blog without, at some point coming across that quote.  However, not all those who travel are seek to have their minds broadened. Sometimes travel is just about a nice trip.  I’ve had profoundly moving experiences domestically as well as when I’ve traveled internationally. I’ve also encountered people

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad/Roughing It

almost seemed to be determined not to change despite of the evidence around them. I’ve met a lady who in some ways confounds me and in others ways I feel like I’ve known her my whole life. She’s been living in South Africa for 8 years and came on two mission trips to the country before moving here. She lives in the house where we are staying in Cape Town and encounters/works with people from all over the world.  However, when she talks about current political issues in South Africa she does not sound all that different from how the majority of white people in America talk about #BlackLivesMatter. She is one degree removed from saying “those people” but the phrase feels embedded in her thoughts, the language she knows better than to say.

When she started talking about the current university protests from last year and simply how wrong the students were, everyone in my little group (me included) just let her talk. It was only our second day at the house and we had five more to go.  South Africans are quite open about controversial topics, but Americans are not and this was an American speaking. The Dutch couple eating with us did not have the same social constraints because they were leaving later that same day. So, when the American woman stated how wrong the students were for their demands of free higher education because “no one in the world gets that”, they quickly challenged her on the facts of the matter by stating the countries in Europe that do, indeed, get free bachelors education. I wondered if she was accepting the new information or if she was re-calclulating why the students were still wrong even given the new information.

Yesterday afternoon I brought her up to our guide that’s been with us since day one. But in that delicate way you have to do when you are not sure how the other person feels about the situation.  He responded in the same delicate way but letting me know that he did not agree with her. Once I saw an opening then I stated flatly how I was a bit shocked that someone could live here for eight years and coming here for two more years before that and still not know very much about South Africa. He said that they “just let her talk because she knows everything already.” Honestly, it seems as though she has moved from one small bubble in the United States to another small bubble in South Africa.


Regina Mundi Church

img_2895When one museum is closed God opens the doors to another. I know that’s not exactly how the adage goes but it seems fitting for how we ended up at Regina Mundi Church.   We were supposed to go to the Hector Pieterson museum but it was closed. The sign said for an emergency…I’m half suspicious that it was just closed for the last of the holiday. Either way, when the guide saw that the museum was closed he thought of the church and I’m so glad he did.

We were able to rush to the church and get a tour before it closed at 5.

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Our guide for the church has been giving these tours for a long time and he was perfect for our small group. He was soft-spoken but funny (grandpa joke funny). While Robben Island is called the “university” of the struggle Regina Mundi church is the “parliament” of the struggle.

Life pre-democracy did not simply mean segregation and all that goes along with that, but because life was basically outlawed for any non-white in South Africa it was a police state, even before the official “state of emergency” was declared in the 1980s.  Since the ANC (along with other political parties) was a banned organization then people found creative spaces to meet (i.e. churches).  However, the police caught on (tipped off) and became aggressive towards parishioners.  After the uprising by the high school students on June 16, 1976 the people of Soweto gathered to mourn those who were killed by police and rally for the cause that they would not die in vein.

As people were inside the police gathered outside.  People began coming out of the church confronting the police (with words and their fists raised) and the police responded with violence.  They began arresting students (people who seemed about the age of the high school students that had organized the original protest) present. Don’t misunderstand. These were not orderly arrests. Rather police were violently grabbing people by whatever part of their body they could get a hold of. Police were also using dogs, wood billy clubs, and rubber billy clubs on the protesters. The rubber ones were especially viscous because of how long the instrument was and how it would conform to the body it was being used on. The video of this is incredibly difficult to watch. One of the parents told the news crew that was there, as Soweto’s children were being driven away in the back of a police truck, “How will they ever know justice when they are being treated like this?” As I watched the video I wondered how many of those children never came home again because dying in police custody was common practice.

As we toured the church we saw bullet holes still visible in the ceiling from where the police fired into the church. We were shown two window by our tour guide which showed where bullets were fired from both inside and outside of the church.  His argument was that police were inside of the church firing on the people.  But nothing prepared me for standing in the front of the church and seeing the marble cracked and broken from the panicked people trying to escape the bullets. Imagine the crush of people it took to break marble? Standing in that space I could feel waves of emotions rushing towards us and running through us as we stood there.

On the way back to the hotel I mentioned that not fixing the church seemed like an act of defiance. Our guide quipped that they didn’t fix the church so they could make money from tours. I responded that they weren’t making money from tour groups in 1980 or 1986. Rather it reminded me of Jackie Kennedy’s famous quote after her husband, President Kennedy, was assassinated. In the plane she was still wearing the suit she’d been wearing in the motorcade as it was attacked. The pink suit had the President’s blood spattered all over it. Someone asked her if she wanted to change her clothes and she responded, “Let them see what they’ve done.” As we stood in the church with bullet holes in the ceiling and marble that had been crushed by people trying to escape the police, I imagine people from the “parliament” discussing if the church should be repaired or not and people saying “Let people see what they have done!”

We were here and we bore witness.

  


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