Sydney McDevitt

Sydney is an Ambassador who studied abroad in South Africa

Majors: Political Science and Peace Studies

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

I chose to study abroad because I wanted to gain new perspectives on different cultures. I also wanted to be able to have a unique experiences and something that would really push me outside my comfort zone. I chose South Africa because I felt like it was something that I would not get a chance to do again. I felt like I could travel to Europe pretty much anytime in my adult career if I had the means. South Africa is not a place you can just pick up and go to, so the opportunity to live there for a semester was something that really excited me.

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

I think I learned the most about culture through my service at Missionvale. While I was there, I really got the opportunity to know the people who worked at the Care Centre very well and I got to see the people of Missionvale often. One of the friendships that grew the most while I was there was my friendship with Siki, who worked at Missionvale. At first, we were very timid with each other. We didn't know anything about each other and we did not really talk. Then one day while we were working, she told me to turn on some American music. I turned on Beyonce and we bonded over how much we loved Beyonce. We could share this aspect of culture then that allowed us to bond more. She started to share more of her Xhosa music with me and started teaching me some of the language. She would explain to me tribal traditions and tell me about how she lived. It was the best relationship I made in South Africa.

Describe your overall study abroad experience.

Overall, this experience was an amazing one. It was one that was a struggle at times. I underestimated how hard it would be to live with the same 30 people for an entire semester and to have little to no privacy the entire time. However, little things that seemed very dramatic and annoying at the time now seem inconsequential. They are not the moments I remember from the trip. The moments I remember are the late nights we spent up together bonding or the excursions where we got a lot of information on culture. My study abroad experience was a very positive one and I would definitely go back to South Africa if given the opportunity.

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?

The biggest benefit is getting to know other people. One of the things that really surprised me abroad is the fact that South Africans could tell us specific details about American culture, especially politics, but before we decided to go to South Africa and started learning about, we did not know that much about them. Visiting a place and living in a place, especially a place so far outside of your culture, did a lot for my understanding of the connectivity of humanity. Personally, going to South Africa made me want to change what I was going to do after college. Before going I thought I wanted to go into writing public policy, now I want to go into more community development. That was because I saw what a place like the Missionvale Care Centre could do for a community and I wanted to impact people's lives like they had.

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

Get to know the country well before you go there (politics, food, language, clothing) the more you know the better, talk to people who have gone before you, be realistic about expectations, keep an open mind, don't go into service trying to change people's lives but focused on what relationships you will build there.