Meghan is an Ambassador who studied abroad in South Africa
Major: Political Science
Why did you choose to study abroad and how did you decide on this program?
I wanted to expand my worldview. I grew up in Minnesota and I had never been immersed in a culture that was different from mine. I felt that this disadvantaged me in several ways - first, I knew that I would not be able to enter adulthood as a culturally sensitive person if I didn't broaden my view of the world. Second, I wanted to challenge myself. This crossed off trips like London or Ireland off my list immediately. I'd already been to Europe, so that crossed trips like London and Ireland off my list immediately. And finally, as a political science major, I was fascinated by South Africa's embattled history and newly democratic government. I wanted to see first-hand what democratization had done to the young country and see what systems of apartheid still existed. And, boy, did I get my wish.
Briefly describe a specific cultural experience you had on your trip that made a lasting impression.
About three weeks into teaching at Pendla, myself and another CSBSJU student began to help the lunch lady serve the kids in the afternoons. We walked to each classroom and served every kid something to eat. We didn't think much of it. However, the last week that we were there, one of the teachers told us that the kids couldn't believe that we would serve them lunch. They thought that, as Americans, we were above that. They apparently loved when we served them lunch and asked about us on the days that we weren't there. I never occurred to me that these kids had never had Americans help them in such a simple way. It was always grandiose acts of charity, like teaching or donating or "savioring". They appreciated our willingness to serve them lunch way more than they appreciated our volunteering or our money. It made me feel guilty that the only Americans that they knew of were not willing to do the little things to bond with theses amazing kids.
Describe your overall study abroad experience.
It was a beautiful, chaotic mess. I was often frustrated, but I was always equally awed by the country and its people. I wouldn't trade my experience for 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?
It opens your mind. It teaches you respect. It humbles you. It tears you down and then it builds you up again. I struggled a lot during my time abroad. I was exposed to poverty, to violence, to oppression like I had never seen before in such a short amount of time. I often felt like I was helpless to do anything against the cruelties of the world, and that I had no power to stop any of it. But then I would look into the face of one of my students at Pendla, and against all odds, I would see a smile. Studying abroad teaches you that no matter what your struggles are, there is someone else out there who is suffering too. And, sometimes, even though they are hurting, they smile. Studying abroad teaches you more about yourself that it does anything else. It shows you that you have strength, and compassion, and drive. It teaches you perseverance, and that sometimes, you just have to smile through it. It will be be the most challenging and most rewarding thing anyone could ever do.
What advice can you offer for CSB/SJU students who are considering or planning to study abroad?
Do it. You will not regret that you did.
Do you have questions about studying abroad in South Africa or want access to her personal blog? Email Meghan at [email protected]