the hospitality college

the hospitality college

South Africa: Study in Contrasts
Hosp S. Africa 232x162

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.

Hosp S. Africa 170x150“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.”