Julia Abell '20

Program: South Africa Spring Semester

Major: Environmental Studies

Minor: Anthropology

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

I chose to study abroad because I wanted to experience life in another country. I wanted to engage with a new community, culture, education system, and way of life. This is also part of the reason why I chose South Africa in particular. I wanted to visit a country that I had very little, to no knowledge about so that I could step outside my comfort zone and challenge myself on a personal, academic, and professional level. I also appreciated the service learning component of the South Africa program. Previous service learning experiences had taught me a great deal about myself, and had always provided me with a new lens to understand the communities I served. Therefore, I believed service learning would provide an even deeper understanding of the lived experiences for South African communities I engaged with while abroad.

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

While abroad I had the opportunity to interact with and learn from countless individuals as they shared their stories and experiences of living in South Africa. One individual which had a particular impact on me was our tour guide from Cape Town. He shared his personal story with me, even inviting me to his home and introducing me to his friends and family. His story was one of both sorrow and inspiration, but he helped me understand that the over-generalized, ill-informed narrative presented about African nations in the United States is extremely skewed. I gained a newfound respect for the individuals living both in South Africa and beyond, learning that their stories are filled with perseverance and personal sacrifice as they work toward their dreams.

Describe your overall study abroad experience.

I lived in off-campus flats with the other CSB+SJU students on the South Africa program. The area we lived in (Humewood, Port Elizabeth) was a much more Westernized and white area of town, but I ventured beyond this section of the city to explore on weekend trips and for group tours. We went to three different sites for service learning on Mondays and Thursdays, all of which had very different expectations and experiences. While this service learning was difficult for me at the beginning of the semester as I was getting into the rhythm of what was expected in my role as a part time volunteer, I grew to love the Ben Sinuka Primary School and all of the students and staff I worked with through Masinyusane.
Our group attended classes Monday-Thursday and often used the long weekends for excursions. We took large group excursions to the Wild Coast to learn about rural South African communities, Jeffery's Bay to experience the tourist surfing hub, and Cape Town to stay with host families over our spring break. Our host family experience in Tambo Village township was one of the most enjoyable parts of the trip, and I wish we could have spent more time with our families. I was the only student who had the opportunity to visit their host family again after our group parted ways for our last week of independent excursion in Cape Town. My sister came to visit during this time, and many other students used this week or two for other family members to visit as well.
Our CSB/SJU group was almost always together since we lived, volunteered, and studied together. We had some smaller activities such as braiis, soccer matches, and safaris, plus frequent visits to restaurants, the mall and the beach. I did my best to branch out from the group and meet locals when possible. I made friends with some students from Nelson Mandela University during our orientation week, and ended up going to church with them every Sunday thereafter. These campus friends were incredible and I loved spending time with them on the weekends and in the evenings after classes got out. Not everyone in the study abroad group branched out in this way, but I encourage others to do so because those relationships were the most impactful during my time in South Africa. I learned the most about myself and the local culture through these relationships, and I'm still friends with many of them even after coming home!

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?

Studying abroad helped me learn how to budget my time and money better, as I had limited amounts of both. I also gained a lot of independence and learned how to navigate unfamiliar situations while abroad. Another benefit was gaining new knowledge about a different culture and geographic location, and using this knowledge and experience to help me understand United States culture better. Then, of course their is the benefit of making new friends and connections both within and outside of the study abroad group.

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

1 - If you are having a hard time deciding on a program, create a pro/con list for each one that you are interested in. This helps you compare the strengths and weaknesses of these program options.
2 - Make sure to budget both before and during your time abroad. Ask study abroad ambassadors how much they spent while abroad so you can budget for yourself and keep a total of your spending while you're away.
3 - Take advantage of every opportunity you have to engage with the local culture while you're abroad. This is easier for some programs more so than others, but either way, I encourage students to branch out from their comfortable CSB+SJU student bubble and meet locals.