Rachel is an Ambassador who studied abroad in South Africa
Major: Global Business Leadership
Why did you choose to study abroad and how did you decide on this program?
I wanted to study abroad for many reasons. My main reason was to expand my thoughts on the world and grow through experiencing a new culture that was completely different than mine. Additionally, I wanted to for my major, and I liked how I could apply it to my major in many ways without the specific focus of the trip being business. It was so clear to see how each and every person lives as a global citizen, and that put a large responsibility on me to be an educated global citizen. While so much of what we learn on campus is geared to help all CSBSJU students to become global citizens, I found myself learning an ability to someday be a leader in this changing world, which could happen because I was able to learn outside the classroom in a way that simply cannot happen in traditional college settings.
My favorite part and the most appealing part of the South Africa trip was the concept that combined both academics and service. I saw the value of working alongside people in order to truly allow me to understand how complex the world is, in both good and bad ways. Service learning has long been a part of my philosophy, also, because I so enjoy it, which is why South Africa stuck out to me more than every other program.
Briefly describe a specific cultural experience you had on your trip that made a lasting impression.
There are so many moment that it is so hard to share just one. One story that will always stick out are the people that made us feel right at home the very first day. Every person who will go to South Africa will love every cool feature and part of the program that the school provide, guaranteed. But one thing that often gets overlooked, although it is so special to each and every South Africa study abroad-er are the market friends that live across the street from us. First of all, when most people think of someone selling items at a market on the pavement, it is easy to think they like to beg you to buy their items and that a lot of the stuff they sell looks homemade, but in reality it from the city and they just resell it. One of the biggest things I learned abroad is to stop assuming things about others and learn to surround myself with people who are not so similar to me and here is why- when we arrived in Port Elizabeth, there were probably around 6 workers across the street decked out in Bennie and Johnnie gear. These people were SO SO SO excited to welcome our school back and they greeted us with hugs and high-fives and by the next day, they knew almost every single person's name. It is amazing to think that these strangers' love and energy could be the ones who made me fall in love with the country right away. One of the workers, Cliff, and myself and a friend on the trip became so close the entire trip, eating at least 1 or 2 meals with him and his family every week. He had three little girls who loved to relax in the hammock and join us in the beach. We learned so much about how they have grown up and stories from the past. Cliff was also able to teach us how to create some of his artwork one day. As he taught us how to make his creations, he also shared some harder experiences he had lived through. You can read all about what South African history is about, but it makes a very big difference when you are able to be so close to someone who had to experience it. We are able to still keep in touch and I am so thankful those random people were able to gain such a special spot in my heart.
Describe your overall study abroad experience.
I could not have loved my abroad experience any more. I am so sad to have left my home there, and would have stayed if I could. That being said, not that I am return, I can smile and cry both at all the amazing and hard things that I got to experience and am overall just so thankful that I was able to be on the most amazing abroad trip ever.
Based on your experiences abroad, what are some of the benefits of spending a semester abroad? How has studying abroad contributed to your personal, academic, and professional development?
Study abroad is so good for everyone in so many ways. It can be a challenge and the best thing for so many people and that is okay. Study abroad teaches you how to have around 30 brothers and sisters, which is an adjustment for a lot, but so cool to constantly be with so many people you did not know about much before. Study abroad reminds you what life is all about. It teaches you that the small things in life can make the biggest difference. It taught me to be generous, as we were often surrounded with people who had close to nothing, but offered everything it could. It can teach and remind you that every day may not be good, but there is something good in every day. It teaches you how to find out what you love about yourself. It reminds you to take moments for yourself. Study abroad allows you to see a life in ways that is so different than yours but find common things about it, which is so special. It teaches you that family is so important, whether it is the people you are missing from home or the people you are lucky enough to call family across the world. Study abroad pushes you out of your comfort zone and every single person can walk away saying they tried something they never thought they would (whether it is a unique food or bungee jumping off of the tallest bridge in the world).
Study abroad has shown me what it really means to be a global citizen. Our courses were amazing in the sense that I learned so much, and I would have never got to read some of the best books I've ever read, since it was outside my major. I was able to see how business worked there and how jobs were distributed.
Professionally, I know I want to travel for my work. There are so many places that can use improvement and I hope that my business skills will be applied helping the world be a better place, working to fix the inequalities that exist around the world. I always knew I wanted to do something along those lines and work with social entrepreneurship, but I absolutely know that will lead me to loving the job I have one day, and I can 100% thank my abroad experience for that.
What advice can you offer for CSB/SJU students who are considering or planning to study abroad?
My biggest piece of advice is to constantly remember that you have this 4.5 month gap to live up every second for yourself, a bigger chunk of time that you will almost never get back. My favorite experiences abroad were the little moments that were unplanned, or the people you met because you took a walk outside instead of laying in your bed. Get involved and be adventurous and I can promise your time will be the best 4.5 months of your life.
I advise people to journal. I am not a writer at all but the memories I wrote down can make my day so much better now being home, and it is helpful to not forget.
I advise people to surround yourself with people you normally would not. One of my best friends on the trip is someone I never thought I would see myself being close with and I am so beyond happy they are now in my life. Additionally, make friends outside of the CSBSJU community. South Africa is a trip of relationships, including the people you meet at service, the team you join for the University, the friends you meet at the beach, the homeless bundles of joy outside the flat, or the market friends. We were able to meet some of the greatest, most special, kind-hearted, fun people that I have encountered and every person I had met was so completely different that I was and would not have been able to be close to them if my guard was up.
Take pictures so you will always have memories, but also remember to put your phone down and take in every moment for yourself and not for others. There are amazing views and amazing people and crazy things you will see and experience in different ways if you are not focused on the screen.