Ashley 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 was born and raised in the Midwest and have never had the chance to travel outside of the country before. Looking back, I struggled with deciding which country to go to but know with absolute certainty that I chose the correct program for me! South Africa is a country I likely would never visit on my own, so the opportunity to go with other CSB/SJU students and faculty definitely helped with my decision. The chance to volunteer and truly immerse myself within the culture through volunteering was a major factor, and definitely made my experience once-in-a-lifetime. I have always been a big animal-nerd, so the nature and wildlife of South Africa was a huge plus! Finally, I cannot deny that the chance to live right next to the ocean was one I simply could not pass up!
Briefly describe a specific cultural experience you had on your trip that made a lasting impression.
My absolute favorite part of studying abroad in South Africa was volunteering at Pendla Primary School. I wrote about one of the most incredible, heartbreaking moments that occurred at Pendla in a blog post:
"On my last day of service learning, one of my 1st grade students Yanga brought me a letter with a note and her address on it. I only glanced over the words quickly because I knew I risked crying, then quickly put it away in my bag. Nontobeko, the teacher I worked with, saw that Yanga had given me a letter and told me a bit about her background and showed me the house she lived in. Within this conversation I learned that Yanga lived with her grandparents and father because her mother passed away from HIV/AIDs a few years earlier. It pained my heart hearing that then, but when I read over the note again later everything really hit me. Yanga had always come up to me many times a day to tell me how much she loved me, and she continued to do so in the note. The line that absolutely stung, however, went like this: "You are like a mother to me." When I read that for the second time, after hearing that she no longer had a mother, I realized exactly how true that statement may have been."
Describe your overall study abroad experience.
Studying abroad was the best choice I ever could have made, and I cannot credit CSB/SJU's education abroad office enough. I feel I was able to partake in so many different experiences while studying abroad and truly open my mind and heart. Studying abroad allowed me to partake in daring adventures (bungee jumping, zip-lining, surfing...), experience the beauty of the South African landscape and wildlife (safaris, mountain climbing, beach days...), meet some of the most incredible, positive, loving people, and SO much more! I have never felt more open, accepting, and alive as I did while studying abroad. It was truly the most amazing experience of my life!
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?
Studying abroad completely opened my eyes to the world outside of the United States. I was challenged to think from a different perspective and actually live differently. I know myself as a person better than ever before, as studying abroad pushes you out of your comfort zone, where you HAVE to figure out exactly who you are as a person. In the future I wish to volunteer teaching English abroad, and this definitely increased my skills as a teaching assistant. Eventually I hope to return to school to obtain a Master's in Occupational Therapy, and working at Pendla helped me not only decide that this was definitely what I want to do, but also gave me the confidence that I CAN do it.
What advice can you offer for CSB|SJU students who are considering or planning to study abroad?
Use your resources! I struggled for months trying to decide where to study abroad, but after attending the study abroad fair and meeting with advisers and study abroad ambassadors, I was certain that South Africa was the program for me! After choosing a program, use resources like the writing center and career services to help with the application process, it really does help a ton! Once you have chosen your program, research and learn about the country and also look into activities you may be interested in. Time FLIES by while you are abroad and you don't want to end up wasting any time at all! Get involved while you are abroad as well, it helped me meet so many people! I participated in ballroom dance club and volleyball and met some great people! Finally, don't have too many expectations going into your experience -- live each and every day to the fullest, but know that things ARE different abroad and nothing will be exactly as you expect it to be.