By: Caitlin Nelson
My time in South Africa was filled with moments that I will remember for the rest of my
life. This trip taught me how to be flexible and as open minded as possible. From the beginning we were informed of the taxi strike and we were not able to volunteer with the kids until it was safe to do so. The strike forced us to change our plans each and every day which was not easily done, some nights we would go to sleep not knowing what we were going to be doing the next morning. This trip showed me that even when things do not go as planned, it is still possible to have an amazing time.
After the strike was over, we were finally able to visit a high school and it was a very
enlightening experience. For me, I found it very interesting to see what the students learn . At a high school age, the kids were learning vowels and descriptive characteristics about a person. In the United States, as students, we learn these things at a very young age. However, I actually thought these kids were very smart and most knew two or more languages.
The most memorable moment being abroad was when we hiked up Table Mountain. I
never knew how beautiful South Africa really is, and seeing the view from the top of the
mountain made me fall in love with the country. There is a lot of stigma around what a third
world country looks like, and even though there are areas of high poverty, there are also
extremely beautiful areas as well. I have learned so much history about Cape Town in a very
short amount of time, I believe that a week is not nearly enough time to explore all of what the
country has to offer and I would definitely go back in the future to learn more.
By: Yanely Bohorquez
South Africa: a country I never imagined visiting.
Studying abroad while attending college was never on my bucket list. I heard others’ stories about their experiences, but it did not occur to me to join the party. Yet, here I am, reminiscing about my week in South Africa.
Prior to the trip, I had mixed emotions spiraling through my brain. I even had nightmares about getting stranded in a foreign country. Luckily, that did not occur. Traveling with strangers was safer than I expected – go figure!
Let’s get to what I learned while spending a week in an unfamiliar country. As a first-generation student, I understand how blessed I am to be a part of the Georgian Court University community. Education is the key to discovering new ideas and opportunities. However, while attending Calling Academy, a small all-boys school for grades 8-12, the value of education was taken to a whole other level. While the school is relatively new, the staff members are geared up to provide a meaningful education. They may not have high-tech resources like we do here in America, but they make the most of what they have. In America, students can take laptops home to finish assignments. Unfortunately, the learners at Calling Academy have to use their time wisely to get their work done efficiently. As a group, we learned that many learners cannot afford a laptop. They cannot take school laptops home because they run the risk of theft. In this day and age, one can understand the importance of technology. It’s a privilege to type this reflection on my laptop while I relax in bed. To add, most classrooms lack color, poster aids, and Promethean boards- all qualities/items found in a classroom here in the States. Instead, teachers projected their slideshows through their laptops and relied on worksheets. Nevertheless, students were intrigued and grasped the content. It is not how much one has, it is what one makes of it. Calling Academy may struggle to receive funds to provide resources, but the education they provide is more than sufficient.
In addition to visiting the Calling Academy, we toured the University of the Western Cape. While walking around, we came across a sculpture. Before I explain my interpretation, analyze it for yourself. What are your thoughts? My interpretation of the statue has stuck with me since and makes me look forward to this upcoming school year. The individual on the left leans back while holding a broomstick. The other arm is raised and expresses pride in the individual positioned on the right side. The right side shows a newly graduated scholar holding their diploma saying “I DID IT.” As I previously mentioned, I am a first-generation student. Within the statue, I see my mother and myself celebrating my college graduation next May. My mom did not grow up in a wealthy home, so she did not finish grade school. Later in her life, she became a house cleaner working day and night to make a living. The statue was a sweet reminder of my family’s reality and yet again, the value of education.
Moving on, the girls and I made memorable memories inside and outside of the guesthouse. My favorite memory while staying at the guesthouse is the night we gathered a bunch of snacks and a deck of cards. We hung out together on the porch deck. It wasn’t so much the card games that made it fun, but the mini-party we had. Melanie showed off some funky dance moves, Caitlin busted out the worm dance, Samantha flashed the lights and I was the DJ. You just had to be there!
My favorite memory outside of the guesthouse is our time at Table Mountain. We hiked for about 2 hours- those hours were ROUGH. As Jersey girls, we weren’t used to the altitude, so we were lucky to have Caitlin- a future nurse- by our side. I knew Caitlin would have our backs if anyone passed out! To avoid thinking about the pain and heat we suffered while climbing, we blasted One Direction music and transformed back into our 13-year-old selves. Once we reached the top of the mountain, we were rewarded with breathtaking scenic views. A memory I will cherish forever!
Although this blog post does not express ALL of the amazing memories from our trip, it is a snippet of what it was like. The experience helped me step out of my comfort zone and learn when to take a chance regardless of boundaries. Of course, this trip enabled me to grow some independence as it was the first time I was away from my family for that long. Most importantly, it helped me grow as a future educator. Everything about South Africa was great: the terrain, the food, the culture and the people. If you’re reading this, thank you for taking the time to learn about our adventure. You never know, maybe you’ll be the next on a 16+ hour flight to South Africa. Enjoy!
By: Melanie Muska
Traveling to South Africa for a study abroad experience has changed my life forever. Georgian Court University responded to and worked with my concerns and anxieties about being abroad for the first time, as well as sharing living space with strangers who have seemingly become closer than some family. I learned how to be more patient and trust the process when it comes to making decisions, taking chances, and trusting your gut.
The itinerary had a perfect balance of tourist experience as well as work experience. Days before departure, we learned of a political crisis with taxi strikes that shifted what I was expecting and forced me to understand and trust while still carrying fear. I was always in the best care and part of decisions that kept my safety top priority. In fact, while being abroad, if I hadn’t learned about the taxi strikes, I’d have no idea they were going on. They were, however, right in the center of the communities where our program of work was located. Towards the beginning of the trip, it felt great to get the tourist activities “out of the way” so that once the strikes were scheduled to be over, perhaps we could have spent even more time with the children in the schools. Though that wasn’t the case, I started to feel a little guilty knowing that I came for a purpose to teach and learn but all I was doing was seeing. Choosing mindfulness while being out and about on walking tours as well as traveling in our vehicle taught me so much. The poverty was indescribable and the determination and effort that people put forth to build their shacks for their families was like no other. Even the living conditions for us, finding a bathroom that had all three parts I’m used to at home – a toilet, sink, and shower – wasn’t always easy. The adjustments I had to make mentally, emotionally and physically forced me to slow down, listen, appreciate and bring and have more kindness immediately.
In my classroom this fall, I know I will approach all students and families with a different element of grace. I saw firsthand struggle and perseverance with the communities in Cape Town and have been more mindful and patient with that since being home, although it may be most important in a classroom. I understand more thoroughly the element of readiness that students and families have and achieve and how to form and foster relationships that flourish once you meet folks where they are at. South Africa had a beauty that has been imprinted in my heart, and my goal is to bring that print to the people and places I encounter until I can get back there again!
By: Samantha Lonseth
If you had told me a year ago that I would be going on a Study Abroad trip to South Africa, I would have thought you were crazy! As a very introverted individual, the simple decision to even go on this trip was a huge accomplishment, let alone leave my family and spend a week in a different country with a group of people I didn’t know. But here I am on the other side, writing this reflection about a trip I will remember forever!
I don’t even know where to start in my journey to describe my time in South Africa. The beginning was rough, with over 16 hours of flying, insomnia, and tears as I missed my family. I started to wonder if I could make it through the week. However, the other students, professors, and employees at the guesthouse allowed me to get my feelings out alone while being supportive. They never made me feel like a burden or that my feelings were not validated; instead, they became a second family for the week. Melanie, Caitlin, Yanely, and I instantly became very close friends. There was a connection between us that allowed the conversation to flow, telling each other about ourselves and our families back home. Whenever we returned to the guesthouse at night, we talked, danced, and played cards. No matter what, we were there for each other. I am grateful that this trip has allowed me to open up and make friendships that will blossom outside of this trip.
Unfortunately, we could not volunteer at the two schools in Khayelitsha that we were supposed to visit due to a taxi strike. As a result of the taxi strike, it was unsafe for us to travel to this area of South Africa, causing us to make many changes to the itinerary and focus on more tourist sites. Although this was saddening and drove us to be flexible, I would not have changed anything. Regardless of what changed, I was still in South Africa, safe and partaking in an opportunity of a lifetime.
Now you might be wondering what my favorite part of the trip was. Cape Town is beautiful, with mountains, blue oceans, colorful buildings, and historic sites everywhere. My favorite part was eventually getting the chance to visit a school. Even though it wasn’t the original ones we had picked out, it was amazing to see the difference between schooling in America and that of South Africa.
For two days, we briefly visited Calling Academy, an all-boys school for grades 8-12. It was a tiny school located in the farmlands of Cape Town. If you were walking or driving by, you would have no idea it was a school. And for me, that is the beauty of it. Schools don’t need to be big and flashy for students to receive an education; what matters is that teachers are willing to teach, and students are eager to learn.
Classroom sizes were down due to the strikes, where 30 or more students in a class dwindled to about 10. Speaking and sitting in on some classes gave me a bigger picture of how schooling differs between America and South Africa. For instance, they have several recess periods where they play soccer, rugby, boxball, or cricket. These breaks allow the boys to play with one another, especially since many are unable to do so at home due to the area, they reside in. We were fortunate enough to interact with the boys during this time, teaching us how to play both boxball and cricket. Also, the boys take classes such as Afrikaans, Xhosa, and a whole class dedicated to learning about careers, allowing the students to explore their options early in their education. In this class, I spoke to two boys regarding their aspirations in life. One caught my eye as he wanted to be a paramedic or vet and end gang violence. Just from that small encounter, I could tell that this young man was kind-hearted and would achieve his goals in life.
When visiting a math class, I was intrigued by how they referenced to a “receipt.” In South Africa, a “receipt” is considered a “till slip.” Melanie and I explained to the two young men that in the United States, we call their “till slip” a “receipt,” and that we also have a till slip inside the register. After hearing this information, you could see on their faces that they were a little confused but fascinated at the same time. I was also very shocked that when speaking to one of the boys, they referred to us as ma’am or stood up and welcomed us when walking into the classroom. This differs entirely from the United States, where manners have become less prevalent. These young men made us feel welcomed and appreciated. I think the United States has some learning to do regarding manners.
Overall, this Study Abroad trip to South Africa was full of changes and the need to be flexible; it’s a trip I will never forget. There is no way to articulate how grateful and fortunate enough I was to embark on such a fantastic opportunity. I can see myself visiting again, hopefully with my family. I have gained friends, more self-confidence, and a new perspective on our world. A place that, although poverty-stricken, has some of the kindest and most welcoming individuals and a school system that genuinely cares for the student’s well-being and future. To many more adventures!