During the second semester of my first year enrolled at UConn, I applied for a study abroad program in Cape-Town, South Africa for that coming summer. During move in week of my first year, almost every upper-class student, faculty member, and advisor I had spoken to stressed the importance of exploring all the university had to offer. With that in mind, I decided to check out the study abroad fair, where all the possible study abroad programs (UConn affiliated and not) are displayed. I have always loved the idea of traveling and wanted to study abroad during college at some point, but at that time, I was going just to weigh my options. There, I found out about the UConn Faculty-Led study abroad program in Cape Town, South Africa, where I would be given an opportunity to intern, participate in a homestay, take courses, and spend a weekend at a game reserve! I was super excited and finished my application that week.
Because the program was faculty-led, all of the people allowed to go on the trip had to be UConn students. With that being said, UConn’s main campus has around 18,000 students so I wasn’t surprised when I went to the first pre-departure meeting and I did not recognize any of the other 12 students that were there. I was surprised, however, to realize I was one of two black students going on the trip. I did some research and found that studies show, on average, that black students study abroad at a significantly lower rate than white students, nationally. Having knowledge of the racial history of South Africa definitely left me a little nervous, but more than anything, curious.
While in South Africa, I became very comfortable with being uncomfortable. Traveling to a new country 7,000 miles away from home and living with people I did not know well for an extended period of time could seem daunting- and it surely was, but I would not trade my experience for anything. Orientation week was jam packed with sightseeing, history lessons and local cuisine. During that week, my group took a boat to Robben Island and toured the sight where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned, hiked up Table Mountain and Lion’s Head, visited the Cape of Good Hope, made good friends with the penguins at Boulders Beach, and had local and foreign foods. When we were not taking classes or at our internship, our group explored as much as possible. Everyday there was a new, learning experience that I was (and still am) thankful for. I was mesmerized by the natural beauty of the country and the gorgeous architecture of buildings in the downtown area, but most of all, humbled by the warm and inviting nature of all of the local Capetonians, which I was fortunate enough to forge relationships with throughout my stay.
Interacting with the local people, listening to their stories and learning of their personal accounts and thoughts of the ramifications of Apartheid and black resettlement in the 21st century, was by far the most impactful and enjoyable part of my experience. That specific part of my experience sparked my interest in learning more about economic and social inequalities in South Africa and in America, leading me to want to do more research and eventually write my undergraduate thesis paper on the topic.
I would encourage every person to try to travel abroad at least once. The experience is indescribable. After coming back from South Africa, I felt recharged and inspired to accomplish all my goals. It is an experience you surely would not regret.