Melissa is an Ambassador who studied abroad in South Africa
Why did you choose to study abroad and how did you decide on this program?
Everything about South Africa made it the perfect program for me. The courses matched extremely well with the requirements I had left to finish and my personal interests and they challenged me because of the exciting, different classroom environment. Volunteering has been an extremely important part of my life, and South Africa was one of the two programs that had a service learning aspect. As a volunteer in the Clinic and Nutrition Center at Missionvale Care Center, I was able to build essential professional skills by helping with basic medical procedures, such as wrapping wounds and giving injections, and by preparing and giving essential food items to the families in the community. African cultures have always intrigued me and I thought the best way to experience the culture would be to live there. I want to continue to explore and acquaint myself with the country, the culture, the people, and the history.
Briefly describe a specific cultural experience you had on your trip that made a lasting impression.
While volunteering at the Missionvale Care Center, I was usually in the clinic, the nutrition center, or Santa's Workshop, but one day I decided to go help out at the school. The principle, Russell, brought me to a kindergarten classroom. The teacher told me to talk slowly and tell the kids about myself and where I live so that they could hear English because the kids speak Afrikaans as their first language. The kids immediately grabbed my hands and had me read books and played with my hair and climbed on top of me and wanted to play with blocks and simply wanted my attention. I absolutely loved it. While all this commotion was going on, I would try to slip in as much English as I could, such as counting the cards slowly and having them count with me. I also pointed to things like my hair or a dog on the page and said, "hair" or "dog" a couple of times and they would repeat it back to me. They all really liked it when I would make funny faces at them, make animal noises while reading about a certain animal, and blow my hair out of my face when the girls were playing with it. When it was time to leave, they all hugged me and there was one girl who had stolen my sunglasses for a while and wouldn't let go of me. I finally got out of the classroom and all the kids stood at the door waving to me and yelling "Bye!" Looking back at it, I think that was the best thing I could have done with my time that day. Although I wasn't with the kids for very long, I gave them tons of attention and maybe even taught them a few English words. I reaffirmed my love for working with kids and learned how similar kids can be, even from different cultures.
Describe your overall study abroad experience.
When asked for one word to describe my experience, all I can think of are Xhosa phrases. "Molo," "Umjani," "Inkosi," "Ubuntu" - such simple words that hold so many memories. I miss the slow lifestyle, the beautiful animals, the exotic food, the weekend adventures, the friends I saw day in and day out, the constant music and dancing, the devastating yet inspiring history, the Langerry flats atmosphere, and of course the Missionvale Care Center. But there is something else I miss that I can't quite put my finger on. Maybe it is that someone always knows where you are, or the accent, or hearing clicks on the kombi ride home from NMMU. There are so many things I didn't realize were everyday occurrences until I came back. I just know that I'll never again have an experience anything like studying abroad in South Africa.
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?
As I was filling out a survey on studying abroad, I came across the question, "How will you integrate your study abroad experience into life at CSBSJU?" The first thing I thought of was that I would go visit my new friends! Then I thought about how being in South Africa made me more politically aware. I know we don't have a similar political situation as South Africa, but I think learning about apartheid and seeing the type of poverty it caused was something I won't quickly forget. I have already found myself more eager to jump into discussions on poverty, which I have never been comfortable with before because I hadn't seen much before South Africa. I also realized how much more I now desire to volunteer as a doctor in the future. I saw how much it made a difference for a doctor to be at Missionvale even one day out of a week, and I think going abroad and providing free health care for a week or two out of a year could also be very beneficial for a poverty-stricken community. I would even think about going back to Missionvale. In South Africa, I learned so much about myself, my friends and the country itself that I don't even know how to begin to explain what I have gained.
What advice can you offer for CSB|SJU students who are considering or planning to study abroad?
DO IT! Don't hesitate to apply for a program. Plan study abroad into your four-year plan right away unless you are certain you do not want to be abroad for a semester. And if you don't do a semester, try to go on a spring break or May term trip! There is so much to learn from other cultures, and this is the time to do it.