For five weeks I had the privilege to wake up each morning surrounded by the diverse people and landscape of South Africa. Entering this experience, I did not know what I would find when I stepped foot off the plane. Blinded by bias and a globalized frame of view, I expected the Cape Town Airport to be small and antiquated. Instead, I found a state of the art modern facility. I quickly learned that all I had been lead to believe about the vast African continent was generalized and misunderstood. This would be the overall theme I experienced during my time in South Africa; my preconceived notions were constantly shattered, thankfully enabling me to begin the rebuilding process for a passion of global citizenship.
I chose a program called Learning Sustainability and Community Engagement because it aligned with my Environmental Policy area of study. During the 9-5:00 class days, we toured townships, worked through complex theoretical approaches of aid, and spent the majority of time working to develop a sustainable action plan by means of volunteering at a local school. During this time, I learned the importance of partnering with local community members in order to better understand the sensitive cultural differences that bred unsustainable practices. I saw firsthand the impacts of the deprivation trap and how I can be an agent of change to navigate and remedy its effects. Most of all, I learned to situate myself as a part of the global system of citizenship through actively committing to critical self-reflection. I am only beginning to see the vast benefits my time in South Africa had on me personally, but also on my professional career goals.
While the workload was heavy, the weekends and excursions provided the opportunity to see the country outside of Stellenbosch University’s campus. From shark cage diving, to elephant bush walks, snorkeling with seals, unlimited hiking opportunities, and jumping off the world’s largest bungee bridge, each activity I did kept being the best experience of my life. Being immersed in the culture and newness of the country bolstered an environment with the perfect conditions to make deep and lasting friendships. I can confidently say that the friends I made in my short time abroad will remain my friends for life. Being friends with people from across the globe reiterated the beauty of diversity for me, but also reminded me that to our core we are all creatures seeking the same needs. Speaking as a person who was very hesitant to study abroad due to fear of homesickness, I can honestly say I regret not doing an experience like this sooner.
Studying abroad stirred a desire to continue to learn more about the world around me, but also myself. I truly believe my time abroad will shape my future and the way I choose to become an agent of change.
McKenzie Jaynes is majoring in Environmental Policy and Planning. She spent the Summer of 2018 studying abroad in Stellenbosch, South Africa through AIFS. McKenzie had the following to say about her time abroad, “This experience was invaluable to the development of myself as a global citizen, as well as the person I have to face in the mirror every day. While I was learning about other people and practices across the globe, I learned things about myself that would have remained buried without this experience. I left part of my heart in my study abroad county, as well as with the lifelong friends I made. If you have considered studying abroad but are hesitant about the process or finances, please just reach out and explore your options. There are vast resources and dedicated people desiring to replicate this once-in-lifetime experience for you too! Do it! You won’t regret it!”
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