Martha Koenig '20

Program: South Africa Spring Semester

Major: Integrative Health Science  

Minor: Peace Studies


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

The robust study abroad program at CSB+SJU factored largely into my choice to enroll. My FYS professor was Dr. Pam Immelmann whose husband, Aubrey Immelmann, was integral in the founding of the South Africa program. During my FYS we did a whole unit on the country of South Africa, and from then on my sights became set on the program. I am very involved in service learning on campus as a co-leader and coordinator of the Alternative Break Experiences programs through CSB Campus Ministry so the service learning component factored majorly into my decision. Additionally, being able to connect my Peace Studies minor to the socio-political context of post apartheid South Africa seemed like an incredible learning opportunity. On top of that, I love to push myself out of my comfort zone and I knew this trip would help me do just that.

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

Being in South Africa during an election year was very fascinating. I remember as a part of our South African Politics course we had the opportunity to attend a debate between the major South African political parties. Seeing South African citizens so fully engaged in their new democracy and excited about policy is an experience I will never forget. The energy was palpable it was difficult not to have chills the entire time. It caused me to reflect a lot on our own democracy in the United States and what we could get done with the kind of energy that was present in that room. Many people see South Africa as a country of immense problems, which is true, but that day I also saw the commitment of the citizens to a democratic process through the contagious energy they had to participate in it.

Describe your overall study abroad experience.

Overall, it was the best decision I could have made for myself and the highlight of my undergraduate experience. What makes this true is the people I spent it with. My study abroad group is one of the most extraordinary groups of people I have ever met, and the people of South Africa fully capture the essence of "ubuntu" a South African phrase which reflects the countries commitment to humanity.
In South Africa I liked to think I lived somewhat of a "triple life." In one day, I could go from a volunteer in the townships in the morning, to a student at Nelson Mandela University in the afternoon, and finally leave for a weekend excursion by sunset. At the beginning of the trip, I wanted to reject this triple life, as if for some reason living in all three worlds took away from the importance of the others. However I became able to see the distinct importance of having all three of these roles present in my time South Africa. I learned that by leaning into the discomfort and embracing the lessons each has to teach, the value of the other two roles became more clear, and prepared me to live a life of intention when I return 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?

Since I have come home I have continued my study abroad journal and have jotted down things which remind me of things I learned, saw or experienced in South Africa. It has only been two months since I have returned and these little notes have filled pages and pages. I think it will be awhile still until I can look back and see exactly how this experience contributed to my development, however I believe upon my return I have a renewed sense of the connectedness of our world and purpose to work to advance the needs of the societally marginalized.

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

Do it! I don't think you will come across a single person who would advise you against studying abroad. Once you get accepted, prepare to leave, and have your bags packed, my advice would be to check your expectations. This is something i wish I would have done before I left. Yes, these four months are going to have some of the best days of your life packed into them, but you are also making this place a home for four months as well. Not every day is exciting and life changing. Give yourself to grace to learn from the mediocre, challenging and hard days, and be just as thankful for them as the exciting days. There is something to learn and take away from every day.