As there is less than two weeks before I depart with my study abroad group to South Africa, I want to reflect on my decision to study abroad, especially in South Africa, my expectations of the trip, and if and how I think this experience will change some aspects of my being.
First, I wanted to study abroad to take advantage of an educational experience that would not have been readily available to me outside of my University years. To have a trip completely planned, encompassing the most precious landmarks and cultures of a country, led by an expert faculty, supported by my peers, is not an opportunity that I wanted to regret missing. However, a semester program abroad was daunting to me– and would have probably worried my mother into early retirement. I went to several Study Abroad meetings for semester programs and felt that with my course schedule (as a double major with a minor and a candidate for an accelerated master’s program) it would be impractical for my educational track. Therefore, when I looked into short-term programs I was immediately attracted to South Africa studying social movements over winter break.
I chose South Africa because of the connection and solidarity social activists from the United States, the “melting pot,” have felt towards the Rainbow nation. I recognize that the histories and circumstances surrounding the experiences of the people in South Africa and the history and experiences of people in the United States are their own. Yet, South Africa and the United States possess similarities in terms of the historical discrimination, systematic oppression, and the hatred of blackness that are present in both countries. I am familiar with how the United States has handled, or failed to handle, racial discrimination and inequality. In travelling to South Africa, I want to experience first-hand how social movements have been shaped by apartheid and what has been done or possibly not done. These social movements extend past the construction of race to labor, healthcare, and education. As a person who strives towards empathy and consciousness in relation to social issues, especially issues I’m privileged to not experience, I want the opportunity of a different perspective.
So other than expecting major sunburn, my main hope is for that different perspective. I expect to have a fuller grasp on whether the United States and South Africa truly have similarities or if the situations present in each country are their own unique entity. I expect to have an even greater appreciation for social movements and their unbelievable impact on any society. Furthermore, I fully expect to be transformed by this experience. I cannot begin to imagine the emotional and philosophical change this trip will have on me. To stand where Nelson Mandela fought for a more inclusive democracy, where he was imprisoned for those beliefs, to be in the same place where students protested their rights to a representative education and were killed in the Soweto uprisings, to witness the history of apartheid and it’s recurring effects, and to be acquainted with the diverse cultures and people of South Africa will most definitely invigorate my own passion to participate, internationally, within social movements. I hope to personally feel the solidarity and collective goal of a better world for all people, despite any social constructions or country border.