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South Africa Opens Student’s Eyes

Studying abroad in South Africa, JWU student Chris went behind the scenes in one of the world's fastest-growing tourism destinations and even went to the World Cup. But it wasn’t all fun and soccer games. "It’s meant to change your life," Chris says.

Chris Soto '10, 2010 World Cup JWU's program focuses on Sports, Tourism & Leadership. Chris and 23 students lead a camp for kids from different racial groups. It's a challenge in a country still working on interracial reconciliation.

But there's hope, Chris points out. “The national anthem has four languages in it, but everyone could break into it.”

Experiencing South Africa Firsthand
“My biggest fear was that I wouldn’t be immersed in just three weeks,” Chris says. “It turned out not to be a problem.”

That's because Chris stayed with a family in Cape Town. “You’re in a tin shack with no running water or electricity," he says. The kids take a bus, train, then a taxi to go to school miles away. One daughter, Chris learned, wants to be a doctor.

JWU Hospitality Study Abroad Program Christ Soto South Africa 2010 CLTChris has four brothers and sisters, so he’s used to sharing a small space. But this was an adjustment. “I felt angry that they have to experience this every day,” he recalls. “I get to go home. This is their reality.”

Leadership Training, Camp Style
But leading the camp helped Chris feel like he was making a difference. “These people don’t act like you owe them something,” he says. “It’s just ‘Show us how to do it.’”

So Chris focused on teaching leadership skills, while improving his own. For Hospitality students, he says, it’s the best training you can get. “You have to keep the kids engaged and be fast on your feet. You have to be good at teamwork.”

Back to JWU, with a New Perspective
After four years of Hospitality classes and internships, Chris says, this trip changed his perspective. "First, I can never not clean my plate,” he says. “Ever. These people were grateful that the sun comes up." 

“We got up early one morning to watch the sun rise. This little kid came with us, and he kept saying ‘Wait for it, wait for it.’ And we watched the sun rise over a mountain peak.”

The South Africa program defies comparison, he says. "It's about something much bigger than you. It definitely humbles you."