Ashley Gengler

Ashley is an Ambassador who studied abroad in South Africa

Major: Accounting


Why did you choose to study abroad and how did you decide on this program?

I chose to study abroad because it offers a once in a lifetime experience to learn about another culture in depth. Choosing to live in another country for nearly 5 months has changed how perceive things, and has taught me so much about myself and others. I decided on South Africa because it has a very different culture than I am used to and I wanted to experience something altogether different. The service aspect of our trip was also a huge factor in my decision because no other trip offered an opportunity like that.     

Briefly describe a specific cultural experience you had on your trip that made a lasting impression.

While on a 14-mile hike on the West Coast of South Africa a group of about eight of us were walking with a guide from the rural village we were staying in. We were getting near our destination and saw a nice resort nestled into the mountainside, and I was quite relieved to be almost done with the hike. When we asked our guide if that was our destination he replied that the resort was actually not the place we were going to because they wouldn't allow him because he was black. We were shocked that the resort could do this when it was illegal and he told us how the resort had dogs that would chase us away if we tried to stop there. We continued on for nearly 2 miles before we reached a camp that would allow a black man in. It was one of the most disturbing things to witness how effects of the apartheid are still woven into the culture in South Africa today, and how although the laws have changed there, many of the mindsets haven't.

Describe your overall study abroad experience.

Studying abroad in South Africa was one of the best decisions I have made in my education thus far. Being there taught me how to think about things differently, learn about a new culture, and still have an amazing, fun experience with friends that I will keep for a lifetime. I was able to see some of the prettiest sights in the world, and also some of the most poverty I have seen. This trip offered the perfect balance of adventurous experiences: hiking, camping, markets, and beach days to some of the most interesting experiences: volunteering, school, and to witness the politics of South Africa.

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?

Spending a semester abroad pushes you to work well in groups, as you will be living, going to school, and around the same group of people for nearly 5 months. It also expands your perspective on the way other parts of the world are, and how culture different than home are. I have become more conscious of how I am perceived, and have become more intentional of what I am saying and how I am acting. I am an accounting major, and having a semester that was mainly focused on writing was a refreshing change of pace for me. Our director was a gender studies professor, and it was also great to be able to learn more about subjects that I would not normally be learning about at home. It has made my education more well-rounded, and formed connections with a wide variety of students on campus.

What advice can you offer for CSB/SJU students who are considering or planning to study abroad?

My advice for students is to meet and form as many connections as you can, and to not be afraid to try new things while abroad. I would also emphasize that your time is about learning about a new culture, not critiquing how it is different than your own. And finally, to have fun and enjoy every moment because it will go by in the blink of an eye!