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Dec 6, 2012

Students discuss South African experience

Similarities found between CSU, University of Free State

By Brittney Schmies

On Nov. 30 six students who went to South Africa on a Study Abroad trip this past summer came together to share their experiences and knowledge gained as part of a panel presentation organized by the Office of International Programs.

Jasmine Elder, Estefany Rodriguez, Kat Sullivan, Dan Morgan, Mo Al Bitar and Chris Caspary joined more than 200 delegates from all over the world at the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein, South Africa, which served as primary sponsor and host of the Global Leadership Summit.

The students shared perspectives on the experience and aspects of the study abroad trip that struck them as unique.

The similarity between South Africa and the United States is something that resonated with the students.

“When you’re going you have all these preconceived notions of what South Africa will be like, what the people will be like,” Dan Morgan said. “They’re actually quite similar.”
The students found that the South African students listened to the same music and watched the same TV shows as they did. Often times knew more about them then they did.

“[It] made me realize how big of an impact the U.S. has on other countries,” Morgan said.
Education was another area the students were affected by. While the university was similar to what they were used to seeing back home, the levels of dedication and importance were something they weren’t used to.

“They are more dedicated to learning, more willing to spend their whole day studying and learning material because they don’t have much of anything else,” Kat Sullivan said. “They’re striving to make a better life for themselves.”

There’s a bigger emphasize on areas such as engineering, science and biology rather than on the arts, said Estefany Rodriguez.

The economic situation was an eye-opening experience for all the students.
Where they were visiting was very modern but still poor. Many of the students, during their portion of the discussion, commented on how there were no gray areas in the level of wealth. Families either had nothing or had everything.

“Walking through the streets is when the culture shock hit me,” Jasmine Elder said. “Poor is poor, and ‘has some’ is ‘has some.’”

Along with the struggles with poverty, the area of Bloemfontein is still struggling with the oppression they faced for many years when the Dutch colonized the area in the 1600s.
In 1994 the tiered system the white man set up fell, but the people of Bloemfontein find it hard to forget.

Chris Caspary recognized that even though the unfair system changed more than 20 years ago, the people still struggle with differences.

“The time period really isn’t what’s important,” Caspary said. “It’s not about how long it’s been, but how it’s been addressed.”

Mo Al Bitar, student government president, took away some life lessons in leadership.

“One thing [the vice chancellor] said was identify two or three things you want to accomplish and invest all your resources into,” Al Bitar said.

Al Bitar found this meaningful because it shows the importance of realizing what’s important to us and prioritizing in order to achieve what we want most.

All the students who went on the trip appreciated the time they spent in South Africa and have taken away something from the experience that has helped shape their lives both now and in the future. All now have a stronger global perspective and appreciation for what they have in the U.S. and what other countries go through on a daily basis.
n 2013 the UFS Global Leadership Summit will send six student delegates from South Africa to Cleveland State and in 2015, Cleveland State will travel back to South Africa for the leadership summit.