Nichole is an Ambassador who studied abroad in South Africa
Why did you choose to study abroad and how did you decide on this program?
I chose to study abroad because I was curious. I'm a science nerd, so studying abroad in the country with one of the highest biodiversity rates in the world was a chance I couldn't pass up. I also wanted to choose a program in a country that I wouldn't have a chance to visit ever again.
Briefly describe a specific cultural experience you had on your trip that made a lasting impression.
Music and community is a huge part of black South African culture. I volunteered at Pendla Primary School where the students enroll in a choir competition every year and often win. We learned about singing and its importance in everyday South African life in our music class, but I didn't really understand this concept until Pendla's Parent Night at the end of our semester. Parent's night was an opportunity for the parents to meet with the principal; two classrooms were combined and ever chair in the school was used, but there was still people standing outside. I was standing along the edge of the room waiting for the principal to begin to speak when suddenly a lone woman's voice rose over the noise of conversation. She began to sing a song in Xhosa, and not 30 seconds later every adult in the room was singing along. For the next hour, every time there was a break in the program the lead singer would begin a new song and the rest of the room would follow. It was probably the most beautiful singing I have ever heard because the people poured their heart and soul into their voices. This experience represented perfectly how tightly woven South African communities are.
Describe your overall study abroad experience.
Studying abroad in South Africa was the best and the worst time of my life. On one hand, I saw some horrible things in South Africa. The poverty and racism is shocking, and nothing can prepare you for it. Youth unemployment is 80% in some areas. People live in tin shacks and public hospitals are understaffed and inadequately supplied. This experience shattered my reality in the U.S. of three square meals a day and a roof over everyone's heads.
Even thought my experience was heartbreaking at times, I would not trade it for the world. I got to live across the street from the Indian Ocean and ran along the beach every day. I made lifetime friends, went on safaris, and bungee jumped off the highest bridge bungee in the world. I spent 8 hours a week with 24 wonderful second graders at Pendla Primary School. Even though I couldn't change all of the social problems I saw in South Africa, I was able to help these students, which gave me a sense of satisfaction that nothing else could ever give me.
Based on your experiences abroad, what are some of the benefits of spending a semester abroad?
Studying abroad has widened my world view, as cliché as that sounds. I'm more curious about other people's personal experiences, because now I know I can learn from them. The rest of the world seems like a much more tangible place now. I've found that I'm much more self-confident and assertive, especially in situations where I'm outside of my comfort zone.
What advice can you offer for CSB|SJU students who are considering or planning to study abroad?
Do it! Before I studied abroad, I was terrified of going somewhere halfway around the world away from my friends and family. But it was extremely worth it. The good times and the bad times abroad will help you grow as a person. Challenge your beliefs, because you may learn something new.