Gabrielle is an Ambassador who studied abroad in South Africa
Why did you choose to study abroad and how did you decide on this program?
One of my deciding factors in coming to CSBSJU was it's amazing variety of study abroad opportunities. I decided to study abroad to challenge myself and push myself outside of my comfort zone. South Africa was the perfect study abroad program for me. I wanted to study abroad in a place I knew I would not likely travel to alone in the future. I also wanted to experience a culture completely unlike my own. Volunteering has always been a passion of mine, so I knew that the study abroad program I chose would have to have a service learning component. All of these factors led me to decide on the South Africa program; a decision I will never regret!
Briefly describe a specific cultural experience you had on your trip that made a lasting impression.
I knew prior to studying in South Africa that I would not be taking classes with South African students and I would need to be more active in finding ways to interact on a deeper, personal level with South Africans. My service site, House of Resurrection was a wonderful place to connect with South Africans. I had also been encouraged to join the women's soccer team at NMMU to meet more people closer to my own age. This was definitely one of the best decisions I made while abroad. I had the opportunity to travel to a few away games, which was a great time to converse and learn from my South African friends. I also become very close with our assistant coach. My roommate and I had our coach over for dinner. We made tacos because South Africa does not have them! The conversations we were able to have with our coach gave me great insight into South African culture, specifically race relations. These conversations also forced me to reflect on my own culture and how my actions or behaviors may be perceived by South Africans. I think this particular experience truly embodies what study abroad is all about: learning and understanding a new, different culture, but at the same time gaining a better understanding of yourself and the culture you come from.
Describe your overall study abroad experience.
It may sound cliche, but my study abroad experience truly was indescribable. I chose to volunteer at House of Resurrection Children's Haven. There were a variety of different jobs and places we could help while we were there. I spent most of my time in the play school working with the younger children there. I had not expected language to be a barrier, however with the younger children it was. Many of them spoke Xhosa or Afrikaans and very little English. One of my most rewarding experiences was working with these children, saying small phrases in English to them, and in my last few weeks hearing them respond to me in English. It was extremely powerful and rewarding.
Studying abroad in South Africa pushed me beyond my comfort zone, forced me to take risks and to realize that changes in plans are okay. The poverty in the townships of South Africa is devastating, but the hospitality and love that the people have for others is amazing. South Africa taught me to take nothing for granted, I saw sights I could have never imagined and I fell in love with passions I never knew I had.
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 showed me so much more about the outside world then any textbook could have ever taught me. I made lifelong friendships with my group as well as the South Africans I met. This experience taught me so much about myself and challenged my ideas of what I wanted to do after graduation. I was able to live out my passion for volunteering abroad and realize that is something I want to continue in the future. I have had the experience of living in a vastly different, diverse culture, enabling me to develop communication skills that will set me apart from other applicants when applying for positions or additional education after graduation.
What advice can you offer for CSB/SJU students who are considering or planning to study abroad?
If you are even remotely thinking about studying abroad, talk to people! Talk to the Office of Education Abroad, find out about different opportunities, whether it be short term, semester, volunteering or internships. The OEA can work with you to make your dreams happen. Decide what it is you are looking for in an abroad program, and find programs that fit those interests. If you are looking at different programs, talk to the ambassadors. We absolutely LOVE to talk about and relive our experiences. We are more then happy to share them with you. Studying abroad will change your life in ways you never thought possible. It might be a scary thought, but it's even scarier to regret not taking that risk and giving it a go!