Something happens to you when you experience a new culture for the first time. You realize how small your own context is, and you become overwhelmingly aware of the intricacies of the human experience. Your perspective of yourself and of the world is inalterably changed.
I recently visited Cape Town, South Africa through an intercultural immersion program offered by Clarks Summit University. The intercultural study abroad experience is led by CSU adjunct professor and Cape Town local Dr. Darryl Meekins. This trip gave my peers and me the chance to become deeply immersed in South African culture while simultaneously earning six academic credits. In addition to our cultural studies, we also studied the flora and fauna of the Cape in our field biology and ecology course taught by Clarks Summit resident and CSU professor Peggy Wright.
Before I went to Cape Town, I had never set foot inside an airport; the extent of this small-town-girl’s intercultural experience was volunteering with a local inner-city outreach organization in Scranton for one summer. So, the over-20-hour flight with a layover in Dubai placed me thousands of miles outside of my comfort zone — and I’m not speaking hyperbolically.
Most of my time abroad was spent experiencing things outside the lecture hall. I learned about gangsterism and the desolate circumstances that perpetuate the hopelessness of gang culture in the South African townships. I also saw how residents of Khayelitsha, the largest and most notorious township, are taking steps to create a better future for their children through entrepreneurship and the arts. There is still so much hurt in post-apartheid South Africa, but there seems to be a revitalization happening there that, if sustainably fueled, would ignite the passion that can bring the townships out of poverty’s clutches and into a better tomorrow.
My peers and I also spent most of our days there conducting field observations and research of the flora and fauna endemic to the Cape. We went shark cage diving where we saw seven gill sharks; on a safari where we saw wild zebra, elephants and rhinos; we went to Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens where nearly 70 percent of the plant species there are found nowhere else in the world. These are merely a few highlights of the 18 days we spent exploring.
Unique local opportunity
This intercultural, academic experience is a unique program offered through CSU. It’s designed to be immersive and personally tailored to each student’s personal and educational goals. As a Communications-Writing major, I found myself a little out of my element among my peers who were mostly Biology majors. However, as part of my cultural studies, I was able to research media censorship and the history of journalism in South Africa during and after the apartheid era. I learned concepts that challenged me to think outside of myself and how, by doing that, I will strengthen my interpersonal success as I work with people in the future.
After my time in South Africa, I am convinced that every college-aged person should study abroad. I am a communicator by design and the most effective way for me to convey a message is through the written word. However, all I’ve just shared with you is merely a blurry snapshot of how the trip impacted me. Readers, I challenge you to step outside of your own context and experience the depth and breadth of this beautiful and diverse world. Challenge your mind and challenge your heart. Just GO.
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