Life-Changing Adventure in South Africa

img FCM NMI Venus 170x150Cape Town, South Africa is one of the fastest growing tourist destinations in the world. Focusing on the intersection of sports, leadership and tourism, The Hospitality College’s Study Abroad program in South Africa explores the impact of major sporting events on the country's social and individual leadership, economy and politics.

Venus Nelson ‘10, a senior studying Sports, Entertainment and Event Management, spent a summer month exploring South Africa on a trip led by JWU professors Kathy Drohan and Sean Daly.

While the trip allowed Nelson to complete a number of classes in her major, it also connected her to the dynamic history, people and radically different way of life in a country struggling to shake off a profoundly difficult past. Here, Venus shares the details of her life-changing trip.

img FCM Venus Nelson 170x150 2How did you decide on the location of your study abroad experience? I chose to go to South Africa because I knew it would be a new experience and would give me a better perspective if I saw it firsthand — as opposed to what the media perceives and presents to us.

The study abroad trip helped me complete the classes necessary for my major; it also allowed me to learn new things outside of my comfort zone.

Can you provide an overview of the trip? The curriculum was designed in a way that we could absorb every part of the culture. We stayed everywhere from a five star hotel to a missionary lodge. We also spent a night in a township.

What was your favorite part of the study abroad trip to South Africa? Part of the curriculum was to conduct a camp for a group of teens in South Africa. The process before the camp was intense, but seeing it come together for the first time was amazing and instantly became my favorite part of the trip.

What did the camp entail? My partner Valencia Bullock and I had 10 wonderful girls from different parts of the country in our group. We were with them for five days — not even a week — and I can’t even begin to describe the impact that it had on me.

Day 1: We met the group from South Africa ranging in age from 14 through 22 — some of them were even older than us. It was set up so that we were leaders and they were students, but we reversed the situation and told them that we wanted to learn about South Africa from them and that we would be open to telling them about America.

We instantly became a team and even came up with nicknames for each other. Each group stayed in one room dorm, called a shalay.

Day 2: Teambuilding exercises. We quickly learned that they spoke different languages including Xhosa and African in addition to English. As a result, we learned how to problem solve in a common language, explaining to each other in native languages and in English.

Day 3: We did arts and crafts. I taught them how to make boxes out of lanyard material. Two other JWU students also choreographed a dance. The group had a blast learning and performing it.

img FCM Venus Nelson 170x150 4Before going to sleep in the shalays, we continued to share stories. I found common ground with a girl named Nima as she explained that her family was forced off of their land to free it for others so they had to start over in shacks. I explained to her how a similar situation took place in my home city of New York — how people were forced out of their homes due to rent increases and new development.

Day 4: We hiked the Cape of Good Hope and stood between the Atlantic and Indian Ocean. The goal of the camp was to get the girls away from their everyday life and we saw their enjoyment as we did each activity. It was amazing to see their work ethic. Even when they were supposed to be relaxing they were searching for things to clean up. In a small way this week afforded them the opportunity to be as carefree as possible.

Day 5: We went to Nelson Mandela’s prison and it may have been one of the saddest days of my life because it was the last day I was able to spend with the group. The tour was amazing and very eye-opening. It was something I knew about but didn’t really know until I experienced it. On the 20-minute boat ride to and from the prison we sang songs together and really enjoyed the last of our visit.

What did you learn from being in South Africa that you wouldn’t necessarily feel from watching television or movies? They are without so many necessities and luxuries that we always take for granted. Their water supply is low and not always clean but they still manage to smile and go on with their days. They don’t have iphones or ipods, but they’re happy without them.

Experiencing their positive attitudes despite their lack of material objects made me reflect and realize how materialistic I am. After living with them, I realized that material objects are not what matter. In those five days, I learned five times as much about the true meaning of life as some people do in a lifetime.

The study abroad trip brought us together in a way that created lifelong friendships. We bonded together and became a support system. We were all once strangers but left family.

What items did you bring back to remember South Africa? Our favorite snack was something called Nik Naks. They’re like cheese doodles but they taste cheesier. I also saved a Skittle wrapper too because their flavors are different — they have lime, lemon, black currant, orange and strawberry.

If you had the opportunity, would you return to South Africa? Of course! We’re all trying to make arrangements to go back for the World Cup in 2010.