Laura is an Ambassador who studied abroad in South Africa.
Why did you choose to study abroad and how did you decide on this program?
"Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living." -Miriam Beard
I decided to study abroad because I wanted to experience more of the world. I also wanted to learn more about myself and who I wanted to become. I felt as if I had lived in a bubble my entire life, and I wanted to see the world outside of my comfortable bubble. I thought that the South Africa program would allow me to do just that. It would put me outside of my comfort zone and make me become a stronger person. That was very important in my decision making process, but to be honest, the primary reason I chose South Africa was because the idea of working with children or doing service was something that I was and still am very passionate about. The minute I realized that there was a service component to this trip, I knew it was the program for me. No more questions asked. I wanted to serve others. I wanted to love the little kids and feel their love in return.
Briefly describe a specific cultural experience you had on your trip that made a lasting impression.
On a random Friday afternoon, my roommates and a few of our new friends from Finland decided to go on a township tour. We ended up having the opportunity to go into one of the homes. It belonged to Mama Regina Mngadi. She was an activist during the apartheid and even spent time in prison with some of the same people who were imprisoned with Nelson Mandela. When we walked into her home, I was shocked. We were in a run-down neighborhood where poverty was prevalent. The roof was made of metal scraps and wooden boards held down by old tires and bikes. But the inside was a different story. There were beautiful, brightly colored curtains, fancy couches and a china set in a nice cabinet. The kitchen had a microwave and a large refrigerator. I don't know what I expected to see inside of the shack, but I definitely did not expect it to be that nice. Mama Mngadi's home may not be what all of the homes in the township are like, but it still made me realize how much I had been assuming about things I knew nothing about. I wasn't doing this on purpose, but now my eyes have been opened a little more and I have realized how little I know about what surrounds me.
Describe your overall study abroad experience.
South Africa is great. It is beautiful. It is fun. The country has so much to do and to explore. It helps you find yourself. It helps you learn about history. It teaches you its story, its pain, its struggle. You learn to appreciate the struggle and pain that so many people went through because of apartheid and poverty. It made me appreciate where I have come from. It has taught me to trust, to love, to have faith, to be patient, and to be present.
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?
You know, I am not even sure if I can put it into words. I feel I am a very different person than the girl I was before South Africa. I now know so much more about myself, about my strengths and weaknesses, about my beliefs, and about my culture. The laid back South African time taught me to relax and enjoy life's little moments, instead of stressing over every little thing. I learned the importance of being present in the moment. I got to practice being spontaneous and taking chances that challenged me. I went surfing, I climbed mountains, I swam with crocodile-like mystery animals, and I went skydiving, to name a few. I fell in love with the beauty of the country and the beauty of the people. I met 15 of the world's most adorable heartbreakers and my heart now physically aches for the kids at the House Orphanage. Africa stole my heart. I have been bitten by the travel bug. I want to explore the world, more specifically I want to explore Africa and help the people of the land I now love.
What advice can you offer for CSB/SJU students who are considering or planning to study abroad?
Embrace it. Live it. Be present. Don't try to plan out every moment or anticipate. Relax, breathe, and let the unexpected happen. AND be grateful for it. But most importantly, you should follow one of the significant sayings of the Zulu people, and that is "I see you with my heart." Do not look at the world or at the people you meet or the places you visit with your eyes. Anyone can do that. View it all instead with your heart. You see so much more that way.
Do you have questions about studying abroad in South Africa? Email Laura at email@example.com.