Melissa is an Ambassador who studied abroad in South Africa
Why did you choose to study abroad and how did you decide on this program?
Coming into college I knew that studying abroad was on my must do list. In fact, it is one of the reasons I decided to go to CSB/SJU. I believe that my education extends past the walls of this institution and that having an abroad education would allow me to experience things unlike that of any other situation. By studying abroad I knew I would be introduced to cultures very different from mine, making me more receptive to differences. My main pull to the South Africa program was the service learning aspect. For me I knew I could not have a program that was solely dedicated to studying and traveling. I wanted to have the personal relationships with the community I would be living in for four months. South Africa's history also fascinates me and as a Peace Studies major I knew it was perfect for truly combining what I had learned in the classroom with what I experienced on a daily basis while abroad. It also didn't hurt that I lived right on the beach, got to play with lion cubs and elephants, go on safaris, and bungee jump off the highest commercial bungee!
Briefly describe a specific cultural experience you had on your trip that made a lasting impression.
A cultural experience that had a huge impact on me was the couple nights I was able to spend in one of the townships outside Cape Town. Townships are typically the poorer areas around the country, but also the place where I believe culture is most vibrant. For two nights I spent the night with my host family. My "mama" cooked dinner for us (with some help from us!) that was more traditional. I stayed in a house with limited electricity and running water, which made me very aware of how much water I do use. Community and family are so important to South Africans and so being with my host family I was able to get just a taste of what it means to be a part of something bigger than just my immediate family.
Describe your overall study abroad experience.
South Africa stole my heart. That is probably the best way to sum up my time there. I feel so blessed to have been able to meet the people I did and experience every day in this incredible country. My service learning site and the children I worked with will impact the decisions I make the rest of my life. Being able to see the diverseness and beauty of not only the land but also the people made this experience complete. The level of poverty I saw on a daily basis is a sight that is not easy to forget, but makes me value my family and my opportunities that much more. South Africans are some of the nicest people I will ever meet, with huge hearts always willing to share their story. Now all I have to do is wait until I can go back!
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?
In my opinion a semester is the perfect time to spend abroad for a college student. It is enough time to meet locals and make connections that are sustainable. It also furthered my education and provided me with those academic opportunities I would not have had if I had never gone abroad. Academically, I was able to use what I had learned in the classroom in my everyday life abroad. Knowing the history of Apartheid and then being able to walk the grounds and meet people who had been affected by this turmoil was extremely powerful. It brought my classroom experiences to life. I was also able to fulfill some requirements, such as fine arts, in a fun and exciting way that actually interested me. This was through my South African Jazz and Popular Music class. Professionally, studying in South Africa verified for me what I want to pursue after graduation. Volunteering in the AIDS Haven gave me the opportunities the use my background of psychology to develop skills that will be very helpful in my professional life. It also helped me realize what I am truly passionate about. I cannot even begin to explain how I personally developed while in South Africa. I learned things about myself that I never knew and was put in situations I did not know I was capable of dealing with. I have become much more courageous in my daily life. Most importantly though, being abroad in South Africa and working at my service site has taught me to value my relationships and to value humanity.
What advice can you offer for CSB/SJU students who are considering or planning to study abroad?
First of all, it is not possible to choose a bad program. Each program brings something unique to the table, but no matter what, it is what you bring to the program. For those that are still considering a program, think about what you want out of a program. What are your interests? What are your comfort levels? How willing are you to go outside your comfort zone? There is a program for you, and it becomes easier to choose once you have a little more idea of what you want to accomplish by studying abroad. For those who know for sure they want to study abroad: just live in the moment. Take every opportunity you can. If going away for a weekend means a few extra late nights of homework, I promise the weekend of traveling is worth it. Do not get caught up in the school work. While it is a big part of the experience, it is not the only part. Live in the culture. Try not to get caught up in things you cannot control back home, but live in every moment you are given abroad, for it is then that you will not have regrets.
Do you have questions about studying abroad in South Africa? Email Melissa at email@example.com