Marissa is an Ambassador who studied abroad in South Africa
Major: Elementary Education
Why did you choose to study abroad and how did you decide on this program?
I knew I wanted to study abroad after my older brother spent a semester abroad in China through CSBSJU. Seeing and hearing about his adventures sparked a passion and excitement for travel in me that I didn't even know I had. I was only a junior in high school at the time, but I began researching the different abroad programs CSBSJU had to offer. The desire to study abroad played a role in my overall decision to attend this amazing school.
My decision to study abroad in South Africa came easy. I knew I didn't want to go anywhere in Europe, because it all seemed too touristy to me. I knew that if I were to travel later in life, I would go somewhere in Europe, and would not realistically go to Africa. I wanted to take advantage while I could. Something about the South Africa program is special. The service learning aspect is what drew me in initially. I wanted a trip that would be less about me, and more about others. I wanted a trip that would allow me to grow as a human being, as well as partake in something greater than myself. Having the opportunity to volunteer in a primary school, as an elementary education major, was an added bonus. No offense to any other program, but I truly believe that the South Africa trip draws a certain type of person, and it was these people that I wanted to spend 120 days with-- overcoming challenges, having fun, and becoming family while living away from home for four months.
Briefly describe a specific cultural experience you had on your trip that made a lasting impression.
For one of our group excursions, we had the opportunity to do a home-stay in a traditional Xhosa village. The people of the village were so kind in opening up their homes to us so that we could have this experience. They live in huts, and few people in the village spoke English. A few things didn't go as planned and we ended up walking miles and miles to our hut in the dark, with only our phone flashlights and one really nice man leading the way. Long story short- we slept with bats and cockroaches that night. I was terrified at the time, but then we stopped and thought for a moment: this was somebody's home. And they were generous enough to allow us to stay in it. On top of this, the traditional food did not sit well with me, and well, I won't go into details, but just know this weekend was not my friend! It was eye-opening and crazy and unbelievably beautiful all in one. This was definitely the most challenging weekend of the trip for me, however, it helped push myself outside of my comfort zone. So although I was uncomfortable in the moment, I am grateful for this experience of mine that made a lasting impression.
Describe your overall study abroad experience.
Wow, this is a broad one. How does one describe their overall abroad experience? Is that even possible? I would argue that it isn't. But I'll definitely give it my best go:
Studying abroad was a life changing experience. Cliché, I know. But it truly was. I feel beyond blessed to have had the opportunity to spend four months in the beautiful country of South Africa. I made lifelong friends, both from CSBSJU and South Africa. I learned a lot about myself, South Africa, and the United States. I took part in adventures I never could have dreamed of, and I grew tremendously as a human being in the short span of four months. Studying abroad in South Africa is unique because you get a two-for-one in a sense. You experience both first and third world South Africa. You live on a beach, in a fairly touristy area. Yet your service takes place in the townships, where poverty and remnants of apartheid so evidently exist. You are able to partake in once in a lifetime experiences such as bungee jumping, safari's, surfing, shark cage diving etc. And although those experiences were amazing, those are not the times you think of when you are sitting at home in America reminiscing on the best four months of your life. You think of the smaller things. The life chats you would have with your roommates (who you did not know prior to the trip) while walking next to the ocean, the overwhelming love your babies at Pendla would shower you with, and the heartbreaking goodbyes. I learned to appreciate the beauty in social interactions more than anything else. I can promise that you will grow a deep, deep love for this country and the people whom live in it. I can promise that you'll face challenges, but it'll change your life in the most positive way imaginable.
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?
Oh my, there are an abundance of benefits to studying abroad! One of my goals of going abroad was to push myself outside of my comfort zone, and increase my independence. I consider myself to be a huge home body, so leaving my family for four months seemed overwhelming at first. It really does fly by. You meet tons of new people, both local people and students from CSBSJU that you may not have known. The 29 people you go abroad with will become family. You learn a lot about yourself throughout the journey. You learn a lot about your host country, and you learn a lot about the country you left behind. For most of the trip you have to keep pinching yourself because it doesn't feel real. You will leave with unforgettable experiences that you never could've imagined for yourself. You will have a new appreciation for love, and life, and so much more.
Studying abroad contributes to your personal, academic, and professional development. I happen to be an elementary elementary major, and was fortunate enough to teach first grade while abroad, so I was able to gain new experiences that'll greatly benefit me in my future career. However, this program would benefit any major. It's hard to conceptualize the benefits of spending a semester abroad because you don't realize they're happening while they're happening. I do feel that studying abroad, especially with our school's incredible programs, is an experience that nobody should pass up.
What advice can you offer for CSB/SJU students who are considering or planning to study abroad?
Be open to any and all of the programs. Although it is hard, try not to have your heart set on only one, because even though I am obviously biased towards South Africa, I have heard wonderful things about each and every program. So even if you do not get your first pick, I truly believe everyone ends up where they are supposed to be. While you are abroad, take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way. Be open to new experiences, and allow the journey to challenge you. Let yourself be changed, let yourself have fun, and let yourself make the most of the short four months. Meet as many locals as possible. Try as many new things as possible. And most importantly, try not to make the entire experience about yourself. Radiate kindness and allow the light of God to shine through you anywhere you go :)