Each year, the Education Abroad Office in UM-Flint’s International Center offers students a chance to travel the world through faculty- and staff-led programs. In the summer of 2016, student groups embarked on journeys through Kenya, South Africa, Cambodia, England. Their programs focused on a variety of themes, including art, theatre, community health, language, and social justice.
College of Arts & Sciences‘ student Christen Rachow joined the trip to South Africa. Her program took an interdisciplinary approach to studying social development. Program leader Dr. Otrude Moyo, Associate Professor of Social Work, utilized “literature, film, music, art, philosophy, political science, economics, women studies, African studies, and anthropology to understand social development.” The goal of those in the program was to “enhance understanding of how the these disciplines influence global perspectives.” Rachow is a UM-Flint english major with a specialization in writing, and a minor in Women & Gender Studies; a combination that gave her unique preparation and insight for the trip.
Study Abroad: A Student’s Perspective
Study abroad experiences are about so much more than landmarks and miles logged. They are life-changing learning experiences for our students. Read on as Rachow describes some of the ways in which she was touched by her journey, written as a blog post:
Cape Town, South Africa, The Second City of My African Experience and A Reminder
Immediately below me lies thousands of feet of steep rock, jagged from weathering, yet still standing stick-straight against the sunset sky. The top—where my feet rest—is the place where the world becomes level again, the basically flat terrain giving this gift of nature its name, Table Mountain. Across the way I see the crescent moon that is Cape Town wrapping itself intimately against the Atlantic Ocean, and, just slightly farther out, there’s a small, solitary landmass discernable that I know is Robben Island. The air is as icy as it is windy here, and my eyes sting, but I stand amidst a collection of boulders looking at every angle of my newfound city and its sync against the ocean tides with a sense of blessing only this moment can provide. And the sun is sinking lower and lower, a tale-tell sign for me to pay attention.
So, I do.
While I am amazed at everything my gaze comes to rest upon, there is a festering feeling of unease within me I will only come to recall with more depth after many more days beyond this one. With such beauty stretching out before me, with the buildings and sights of Cape Town standing variously tall and ever-abundant below me, no one would ever think peoples from just two hours by plane and one hour by car would never be able to make it to this same site – a destination in their own homeland of South Africa. And that fact is why, after Healdtown, after a young boy scrolled through my camera fascinated by the magic he didn’t know was Cape Town, after many days of looking back on this one, I know that subconscious feeling was loss. It was sadness and remorse and frustration all at once. How could I, a smalltown, white girl from America – a foreigner in all the sense of the word – have the privilege to stand here and take pictures of a wonder many native South Africans themselves would not? How did I even manage to make the journey here from America when those I’ve met of Xhosa and Zulu heritage may spend their whole lives in the same village? . . . Perhaps then, the setting sun is what set me up for this memory, what asked me to search the dualities and reciprocities of light and dark.
One of the very first questions I was asked prior to stepping foot in the plane for Africa was: Is travel political? Well, I remember the boy who loved my cheap, twenty-dollar camera, the boy who had nothing like it, and the boy who didn’t know his country is home to one the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. I remember standing on that Wonder, and I remember the systems that led to me being there, and I remember the systems that didn’t allow that boy the same joys. I remember my hidden distress as my mind blocked the area of District 6 from my so-called perfect view—and so I remember very well the American lot and the African apartheid history, as I’ve learned them. Watching the mountain turn its rusty-gold before night and recede as I take the cable car back down, I’ll know later that this is something paid attention to I’ll always remember.
To learn more about the Education Abroad Office and the ways in which it prepares UM-Flint students for study abroad opportunities, visit their website. For more on the College of Arts & Sciences and their interdisciplinary approach to education, visit umflint.edu/CAS.