Global affairs graduate students enrolled in the program’s seminar abroad course traveled to South Africa this past winter break. They began their trip in St. Lucia (a small community in South Africa) in a region known as Maputaland and Manguzi, a rural town not far from the Mozambique border. Here, they took two trips to iSimangaliso Wetland Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site where they learned about wetland conservation and a controversy over its ranking as a world heritage site. The intent of the first trip was to see game, and the second was to visit Kosi Bay and Cape Vidal on New Year’s Day. Both locations were quite remote and “stunningly beautiful!”
After leaving Manguzi, the group traveled down to Shakaland and passed through the city of Hluhluwe where they visited the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, a natural game reserve with warthogs, zebras, impala, water buffalo, rhinos, giraffes, and “one, very distant, elephant.” Following Shakaland, they traveled to Pietermaritzburg for the remainder of the trip and visited Mpophomeni and Durban. A group of students arranged to spend an extra day in Durban to scuba dive, shop, and stay on the beach, enjoying the water and the warmth.
The specially designed program focused on community-based development. Students visited community clinics and a sangoma (a traditional healer) to learn about health care in rural South Africa. When visiting schools, they spoke with current students and graduates about their career and educational opportunities and the difficulties they faced. The group also went to Bhekabantu, an extremely poor area near Manguzi, where they talked and played with children at a school, and learned from school administrators about the challenges presented by poverty.
During the trip, students learned a great deal about Zulu culture and tradition. On their first full day in South Africa, they had the opportunity to witness a young woman’s coming of age ceremony, called umemulo. The group experienced traditional dances and learned about traditional clothing, tools, family structures, marriage practices, and family-gender roles.
The trip also incorporated meetings with Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). Students took part in lectures and discussions conducted by a number of local NGO leaders, who discussed their work and challenges. One particular visit that profoundly impacted the group was to Sinomlando, an NGO that uses the practice of oral history to help children talk about their experiences understanding and coping with the deaths of family members from HIV/AIDS.
Marisa Rieger, an MA student on the trip, “found value in how everything was interconnected and [how I] was able to experience that first hand." The experience helped her see how ecological conservation, culture, and politics are truly linked.