Theresa is an Ambassador who studied abroad in South Africa
Why did you choose to study abroad and how did you decide on this program?
I chose to study abroad because I love to travel, I had heard great things about the South Africa program, and I knew that study abroad would expand my liberal arts education through experiencing another culture. I chose South Africa because of the volunteer/service aspect, the courses offered appealed to my interests, and the South African culture differed greatly from the United States (also the beach was right across the street from where we were staying). I knew that I wanted a challenge - something that was completely different than I was used to and also a program that would benefit my personal and professional development.
Briefly describe a specific cultural experience you had on your trip that made a lasting impression.
During one of our weekend group excursions we stayed in Bulungula Bay where we got the opportunity to have traditional Xhosa food, dance with the Xhosa women and children, and ask questions about how they live. The stark differences in our cultures, economies, and infrastructure will forever boggle my mind. I gained insight to an alternative lifestyle that I am not exposed to at home. Also to be able to work in one of the township communities for my service was rewarding. The devastation that meets the eye is combated by the staff members who care. People who care are challenging poverty that many South Africans face every day. The hope in dark places stuck with me.
Describe your overall study abroad experience.
My experience as a whole cannot be put into words. The relationships I made both with the other students in the program and with the people of South Africa mean so much to me. I was able to build upon One of the ladies at Missionvale told me that if you do not give of yourself in whatever you do, you are not truly helping others. I can confidently say that each student that was in our group left a part of themselves in South Africa. After witnessing what life is like for many South Africans, I wanted to do all that I could for them. The semester was filled with challenges, excitement, thrill, adrenaline, happiness, and countless memories. Immersing ourselves in the culture was most rewarding and enabled us to make connections between what we read about and what we were exposed to.
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?
There were countless benefits from studying abroad. First, is the knowledge gained about another culture. Surrounding one's self in a new culture forms a more wholesome global citizen. It is important to know about multiple cultures. It is one thing to read about other parts of the world and what they face, it is another to apply what one has learned to their experiences and what they see.
Second, it creates a great environment for personal growth. I learned a lot about myself and how I handle difficult situations. I also learned that I am more outgoing than I previously thought. I surprised myself with how often I volunteered myself or was the first one to try new things.
Third, the semester was academically challenging in the fact that it was tempting to go out and do other various things instead of study. Time management was practiced and revised while abroad. In order to do well I still had to input the same amount of effort for my classes abroad than I did at home. I learned that I can improve on my reading skills and that I strive with lecture/PowerPoint style courses. The semester was academically challenging, but it worked out in the end.
Last, I gained knowledge that I will be able to apply to the real world outside of college in my professional career. The semester abroad encouraged me to by myself and to throw my heart into what I love to do. I want to be a physical therapist and the service work that we did strengthened my interpersonal skills. I was able to experience a difficult working environment and manage to make the best of the situation the people that I was surrounded by. It has prepared me to best showcase myself and to make positive what may seem unappealing. Professional skills, such as communication, patience, work ethic, cooperation, and collaboration, were each addressed while performing our service work. The language barrier was one of the tougher challenges that we faced, however we did not let that hinder our ability to work with the people who needed our help most.
What advice can you offer for CSB/SJU students who are considering or planning to study abroad?
I would tell them to go in with an open mind. Try not to have assumptions about a place and to form your own opinions after seeing, feeling, experiencing whatever it is that they do. I would encourage them to journal every day to document places traveled, emotions felt, and memories made so that they are more easily accessible. I would tell them to start saving up for whatever activities they want to do (and then some) because there are endless opportunities to experience that one does not get in the US. If anyone is considering studying abroad I would strongly encourage them to apply and to do it if they are accepted. It was one of the best semesters that CSB/SJU has offered me and I would go back again if I had the opportunity.