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By Miriam Weinstein ’09 MBA
“Amazing … amazing … absolutely amazing,” is how
Professor Kathy Drohan, of the Sports/Entertainment/Event Management (SEE) program, describes her first
JWU Study Abroad trip to South Africa.
In June, she joined 23 students from three JWU campuses
and Denver hospitality instructor, Sean Daly, for
a program it took four years to develop. The three-week
journey combined academics, community service, sightseeing
and group dynamics. Students took three complete
classes, earning 13.5 credits and a concentration in an
exciting area — Adventure, Sport- and Nature-Based
Tourism. For participants, the program was life-altering.
“The time which I have spent on study abroad in
Cape Town has changed my life on so many levels,” wrote
senior SEE major John Kelvey. “I have experienced a
completely different type of learning; one that connects
with students on a much higher level.”
For SEE students on the trip, the country was their
classroom — a textbook case of a nation going global.
South Africa’s notoriety came from apartheid, a
government-instituted system of legal racial hierarchy that
lasted for most of the 20th century. In the mid ’90s, the
country resurged under its first non-racially elected president, Nelson Mandela. Despite rapid progress, the
nation still has social, political and economic problems.
“South Africa is the world’s workshop,” says Roddy
Bray, of African Dawn Touring, the group’s local guide.
“Every challenging issue plays out here, typically in a most
visible and extreme form. Rarely does one find a country
where the link between history and the present is so obvious
or where the stakes are so high.”
Drohan’s primary focus was on the present. Tourism is
new in the country and sport is a huge part of South Africa’s
pastime and culture, she says. “I wanted our students
to see the beauty of the country, but also to be able to see
the birth of tourism with a new government — how tourism
can put a country on the map.”
Having traveled to the country previously for a Hospitality
College familiarization (FAM) trip, Drohan has
spent the years since working to create a program that
would bring students and country together to the benefit
of both. She was relentless in creating the concentration
and handling the myriad details to develop a study abroad
for these and future students to address her mission.
The community service segment of the program occurred
over five days at the Rocklands Centre. Students
took on the role of counselors for a sports leadership
camp. Seventy-five South African young adults between the ages of 15 and 21 were selected for their leadership
skills. Campers reflected the nation’s diversity. Whites,
blacks, “colored,” from different schools and townships,
they spoke Xhosa, Afrikaans or English. Even postapartheid,
it is rare for such crossover in Cape Town.
For both the college students and the campers, the
culture shock was overwhelming. While campers were adjusting
to peers, so too were the university students from
different campuses with different life experiences. “Our
biggest challenge was to create group cohesion,” Daly says.
Both groups came together around sport. South Africa
is about to host the world’s biggest sporting event: the
2010 FIFA World Cup. Football (soccer) teams from
more than 30 countries will converge upon this nation
that’s about twice the size of Texas, boasting 11 official
languages. A tour of the construction site for the stadium
offered a glimpse of the enormity of the event.
“One of the deepest professional ‘eye-openers’ I have
experienced ... is seeing firsthand the effects that mega-events
have throughout all social and commercial levels of
their host nations,” Kelvey wrote.
Though interaction with local people can make deep
impressions, “‘voluntourism’ has some major ethical and
practical problems,” notes Bray, who made the arrangements
for community service. “To jet in, create expectations,
take over and fly off again is deeply problematic.”
Working with local organizations, he created a program
lasting a week. “We all know that a good camp can change young people forever, and I am confident that this
one made a huge impact not only on the local kids, but
also on the JWU students who got to know them so well.”
Education came from many directions: a trek up Table
Mountain, a tour through the Cape of Good Hope, a trip
to the False Bay coast and its thousands of penguins, and
a stop at the village of Simon’s Town, rich in wildlife, surrounded
by mountains and seascapes.
Bray compressed 20 years of life in South Africa into
a few weeks for the students. “Visitors cannot miss the
contradictions: beauty and poverty, quality and need,
passion and disregard. South Africa can do so much so
well and yet grapples to address the overwhelming social
problems it faces,” he notes. From visiting places of beauty
and meeting inspiring people, to sleeping in shacks and
coming face-to-face with the dead ends of poverty was a
roller coaster, intellectually and emotionally for students.
For junior Colleen Marasco, the journey brought
awareness. In her required reflection paper she wrote,
“My time in South Africa has not been life changing, it
has been life encouraging. I’m encouraged by the teenagers
from the townships; they maintain a steadfast hope ...
despite their adverse home and economic situation.”
“My time on Study Abroad has given me an opportunity
which I would never have experienced in any
Johnson & Wales University classroom,” wrote Kelvey.
“Words cannot do justice to the absolutely incredible
times I have been so privileged to experience.”