My journey to South Africa began after my freshman year in college. I had already studied abroad in Rome, Italy, Hong Kong and Shanghai, China. Needless to say, I have traveled to some very exciting places! At the start of my sophomore year, I had to start thinking about where I was going to study for the summer. I looked at the website and it was an easy decision for me to choose to apply to the South Africa summer program. I waited until the applications opened and I was quick to apply.
The day after I had started the application process, I got an email from the program professor who said that the program had been canceled for this year. I was so sad, and I was forced to apply for another program, Jerusalem, and wait another year to apply for South Africa. Therefore, that’s what I did. I waited until the summer after my junior year to apply. I applied and I was admitted into the program, it was one of those moments that I knew would last and lifetime. I was super excited, I waited a year for this!
A couple of days before the trip, I just remember feeling like a baby and being so excited to experience South Africa and go to the continent of Africa for the very first time. The day came and my flight from Chicago to Amsterdam to Cape Town took off late that night at 10:40 pm. Before I knew it, I was on my way to the motherland. For the first time ever on a study abroad program, I felt like I was going to experience something so complex yet something that I could understand. It was amazing to be able to experience first hand with a diverse set of students, all from the University of Notre Dame.
The program was three-weeks and honestly, it was one of the greatest experiences I have ever had. It was from the start to finish incredible, from climbing the top of table mountain, to going to Robben Island -where Nelson Mandela was jailed for 18 years-, to meeting locals at the restaurants and various stops, to going to the botanical gardens, to having classrooms discussions about race in South Africa and Apartheid. It for sure was a learning experience.
South Africa was an amazing trip for me because it made me confront issues as I have never before through our class, Negative Attitudes: A Cultural, Historical, and Social Psychological Analysis of Racism in South Africa. Boy, did we address some of these issues, in and outside of the class. This trip provided me with an experiential learning style that allowed me to apply the concepts that I learned in class about judgments, poverty, and education to the real world while being in South Africa.
Although the entire trip was simply amazing, I have to say my favorite part was interacting with the natives. This interaction made me learn so much more about myself. It reminded me that I make judgments. It showed me that I'm not perfect and that there are many things that I need to learn about others in order to be a better version of myself. More importantly, these interactions gave me a perspective of what it is like to be black in South Africa, even 25 years post-apartheid. It highlighted key similarities between my experience in the United States and my friend, Dwayne's, experience in the outskirts of Cape Town.
I have been to Rome, China, Israel, Ireland, and now South Africa study abroad programs at Notre Dame, and there is no doubt that this experience was the most impactful and insightful one to me. To be impartial, this program is still not perfect, in my opinion. I would have loved to have more time with the locals and learn more about systematic oppression in the country. Despite those imperfections, this trip gave me a reason to be a better person, it gave me the courage to stand up for my beliefs, it gave me the conviction to challenge the status quote, and more importantly, it gave me the sight to see the world as it is and not as I want it to be and for that, I am forever grateful. I still keep in touch with several people I met there, on WhatsApp or Instagram, and it is always great to hear them! Someday I hope to go back and see some of them again.