Mariah Sperl

Mariah is an Ambassador who studied abroad in South Africa

Major: Biology

Minor: Psychology

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

I chose to study abroad because I knew it offered a very unique experience. No other time in my life will I likely live in another country for four months with the opportunity to fully immerse myself in a new culture. When I decided to study abroad I knew South Africa was the program for me. I had traveled to Tanzania in high school and was intrigued by the culture and how different it is from the United States, which sparked my interest in traveling to and experiencing the culture in another African country. I was also drawn to the service component of the South Africa study abroad program, the marine biology class, and of course the beautiful landscape, close proximity to the ocean and exciting once in a lifetime experiences like shark cage diving and bungee jumping!                             

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

Volunteering at the Missionvale Care Centre was one of the most rewarding parts of my study abroad experience that I know will carry with me for the rest of my life. I spent most of my time volunteering in the nutrition center and the Father Christmas unit. In the nutrition center, I helped prepare bread and food parcels and served members of the impoverished Missionvale community. I was impressed by how the center uses every resource they have. They reuse bread bags to package soap and tea bags, as well as reuse bread bag clips and cardboard to wrap presents in the Father Christmas unit. I had the opportunity to get to know Auntie Rachel who works in the Father Christmas unit and wraps presents all year round using donations. Since wrapping paper is an extra cost, she uses newspaper to wrap the presents, but she makes sure to cut out fun or inspirational pictures to tape on the front of the present. The workers at Missionvale put so much thought into how they can use every resource they have in order to best serve the Missionvale community. Their simplicity and ability to make the most of what they have has made a lasting impression.

Describe your overall study abroad experience.

My semester studying in Port Elizabeth, South Africa truly was the best time of my life! It is hard to put my overall four-month experience into words. I met and learned from some of the most wonderful and heartwarming people during my time in Port Elizabeth, and was introduced to new experiences that have changed and shaped my view of the world. I developed some great friendships with other Bennies and Johnnies on the program, and we will forever share those special memories from study abroad. I now think of Port Elizabeth, South Africa as my second home halfway across the world.

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?

I have benefited in so many ways from spending a semester abroad. I experienced personal growth that will have benefits in my professional career, such as adaptability, cultural awareness, work ethic, independence, confidence, and interpersonal skills. This experience was my first time being away from my family and friends for an extended period of time. Routine aspects of my life were left behind and I made the transition to a new physical environment, currency, method of transportation, and living situation. My semester was filled with experiences outside of my comfort zone, which was challenging yet helped me develop resiliency. I have also developed academically while taking classes outside my typical area of study, such as South African music and literature. My experiences volunteering at the Missionvale Care Centre helped me develop professionally. I expanded my knowledge of healthcare in a country other than the United States, which will benefit me as a future physical therapist. I also met and worked with people who were different from me socially, culturally, and economically, which will benefit me while working with patients of varying backgrounds.

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

I know that if I had not studied abroad, I would regret it. So, if you are even considering it I would definitely do it! Studying abroad is such a unique experience that you will likely never get again! For those planning to study abroad, spend some time researching about the city/country beforehand to get the most out of your experience. Also, get to know locals, be curious, and travel when you have the chance!