I chose to complete my service-learning program in Cape Town, South Africa. Service-learning allowed me to reflect on my experience within my host community, increasing the relevance of various academic skills and creating opportunities for meaningful involvement within the local community. I was able to seek out more social responsibility within my host community, producing unique relationships with individuals from different cultures. It has provided me with unique, competitive career experience that will allow me to be a stronger applicant throughout various career paths. The benefit of being able to acknowledge the influence of my presence within my placement organizations, and therefore the surrounding community, fostered a greater sense of self-awareness and appreciation.
I was placed in two different organizations: Philisa Abafazi Bethu, a Family Center for Victims of Abuse, and R2K, a Civil Rights Advocacy Organization. Philisa Abafazi Bethu is a human rights organization that provides services to women and children, giving women the tools to succeed through activism and community support. The organization provides protection and reassurance to individuals within the community of Lavender Hill, providing stability to women and children throughout various workshops and seminars. R2K is a non-profit organization that works to defend basic democratic rights, equal access to information and freedom of expression, and other social justices. R2K works to promote non-violent approaches within the community, providing legal representation to local individuals and hosting seminars for parents and youth on a multitude of beneficial topics.
Although I won’t be focusing on my experiences within these two organizations throughout this blog post, these organizations shaped my experience within South Africa. These two organizations allowed me to have incredibly unique internships that changed my perspective on various topics, making my transition back into the United States more difficult. There were various thoughts and feelings going through my mind as I arrived home earlier today: feelings of confusion, excitement, and eagerness. My entire perspective of the United States has changed from my arrival in South Africa. I miss South Africa, but I am also very thankful to be home and moving towards the end of the summer. The economic disparities within South Africa are more apparent to me now than they were while I was living within the confines of the country. These economic disparities were visible within the communities in which my organizations were in, encompassing the full span of South African culture. It provided a gateway to experience normal South African life.
I believe that my study abroad experience has changed my perspective on various cultures, embracing the differences between cultures and adapting to the host community. I have become more understanding of others and their different circumstances, corresponding to their subsequent actions and beliefs. Although South Africa had American influences, the United States feels very new. I believe my adjustment to the United States will take place over the next few weeks as I travel back to school, but adjusting to the economic component of my host country as compared to here has been the hardest adjustment this far into my return. The lack of unemployment and desperation for clothing and food where I live as compared to South Africa is vastly different. These differences will continue to unveil themselves throughout my continuous time in the United States, but South Africa’s economic status was truly eye-opening.
The best piece of advice that I could give to future study abroad students is to reflect on your experience in the moment. This small moment of self-reflection will allow for a deeper understanding throughout one’s program. I recommend documenting as much of one’s experience as one is able to as these memories will fade, but the pictures are a constant reminder of one’s experience. In terms of packing and travel tips, I would recommend packing various basic clothes that can be swapped between outfits. One should leave room within their suitcase for clothing items purchased within one’s host country and other various souvenirs. Enjoy your journey and live in the moment!