Daniel Gillis

Daniel is an Ambassador who studied abroad in South Africa

Major: Political Science/Economics

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

I chose to study abroad in South Africa primarily because I wanted something as radically different as possible for my time abroad, and the opportunity to do service work while I was abroad. Those experiences were important to me because I wanted to have as significant of a learning experience as possible, and not to just be a tourist for four months. In addition, the opportunity to take a political science class towards my major, and take my fine arts abroad were appealing as well.            

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

While in Cape Town on an excursion, each of us got the opportunity to do a home stay with a family in a township. Along with friend, I got the chance to stay with Mama Aiyanda and her 19 year old son. We ate traditional Xhosa food in the home, chatted with them, and saw their way of life, in a community that is still today marginalized and oppressed. And while I could never pretend to fully understand the barriers to opportunity and systemic oppression that they face, it was an incredibly impactful experience to live in a place where where white people are not the majority, and where we could better empathize with and recognize the humanity of those with radically different life experiences.

Describe your overall study abroad experience.

I always laugh when I see or hear questions like this; because how does anyone condense four months of their life into an appropriately simple answer, let alone their first four months abroad ever. In a few words: impactful, joyful, confusing, messy, image- shattering, tiring, rejuvenating, reflective, and formative. Take each of those things as you will. 

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?

Speaking from my experiences, I realized how I much I love traveling, and now know that I want to do a lot of that later in life. I know that I have a passion for social justice and equity issues, surrounding gender, race, and access to education in particular. I have a better recognition of the inequality and humanness of poverty in my own community, and what I can do to change that. Personally, I learned a great deal about patience and humility (one South African taxi ride alone can teach you that). Academically and professionally, I am more appreciative of the education system I grew up in, and now know that I will likely be writing my thesis on a topic relating to barriers to education, and perhaps will want to work in the realm of education policy in the future.

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

Go. Go anywhere (although South Africa is the best). Don't pick a program because of sightseeing, pick it because it will challenge you. Do everything you can, spend your last dollar on your experience if you have to. It will work out, and you will never be thankful enough for the opportunity.