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Archive for Saturday, August 11, 2007

Student sees South Africa through KU study abroad program

August 11, 2007

Editor's note: Jessie Funk, a Kansas University senior majoring in women's studies, visited South Africa as part of KU's study abroad program.

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South African children color AIDS ribbons during Community Health Day. KU student Jessie Funk spent a semester studying in the region through the study abroad program.

South African children color AIDS ribbons during Community Health Day. KU student Jessie Funk spent a semester studying in the region through the study abroad program.

When I first arrived in Cape Town, South Africa, for a semester of study, I was overcome by the immediate contrasts of poverty and wealth. When coming into the city, it is impossible to miss the sight of countless dilapidated shacks that make up the townships crowded around the highway. Yet, in the background, you can see the towering skyscrapers in the flourishing city center and the majestic beauty of Table Mountain. It is almost too much to take in at once.

I would come to find that South Africa is making great strides in overcoming past practices of apartheid, but it is still struggling to improve the conditions, opportunities and privileges of people who have been victims of that system. However, even in the most impoverished areas, there are courageous, strong and inspirational people who truly make South Africa a land of promise.

Studying abroad in South Africa was one of the best decisions of my life, and fortunately, I was able to attain a Gilman scholarship to help me afford this extraordinary experience. During my time in South Africa, I took courses at the University of Cape Town and participated in service learning, which culminated in a research project that explored concepts of rape and partner violence in the township of Nyanga.

I also studied Xhosa language and culture to assist me in my service work, which was an interesting challenge as the letters q, c and x in the language are articulated through three different click sounds. Learning this exceptional language was enjoyable, although I would often draw amused laughter from native speakers when I first attempted to voice the clicks.

My volunteer work consisted of helping to teach a health class and an HIV/AIDS class in Nyanga, and working at a domestic violence shelter in Cape Town. At the beginning of my service work I was slightly nervous and uncertain about how comfortable people would be discussing sensitive topics like health, sexuality and abuse with a white, foreign stranger. However, as time went on, all of us came to know and trust each other, and I often found that I was learning more from the participants than I ever could have hoped to teach to them. At the end of the program we even organized a Community Health Day, where class participants set up informational tables and shared their new knowledge with other members of the Nyanga community. These experiences not only broadened my perspective on issues affecting people in South Africa, but they changed my life. Many of the people I met through my volunteer work became like a second family to me, and I found their perseverance, dedication and wisdom inspirational.

Every day provided me with opportunities to broaden my horizons and meet new challenges. My first week in Cape Town I was proud just to have learned to navigate the city and familiarize myself with some South African slang, like lekker (great) and howzit (hello). Eventually, I came to enjoy greater successes, such as climbing Table Mountain, bungee jumping and cage-diving with great white sharks. I took advantage of every chance I could to experience something new, and I was showered with incredible opportunities. Over time, I learned how to negotiate at markets, how to squeeze myself in a taxi with 12 other people, how to attend a windowless class during power outages and even how to surf. I also discovered that although rock dassies are cute, they can bite, that braais (barbeques) should be attended as often as possible, that there are penguins in Africa, and that the best way to watch fireworks is from a mountaintop. By far, one of my most memorable experiences was seeing Archbishop Desmond Tutu speak at a Truth and Reconciliation Commission anniversary conference.

Although I lived in a house off-campus with other University of Cape Town students, I also had the opportunity to experience a short homestay with a family in the township of Khayelitsha. I will never forget the unwavering generosity shown by my host family and the way they welcomed me wholeheartedly into their family. My host father kept telling me how happy he was to have me stay with them, because he felt that most white people only view the townships as places of violence and hopeless poverty. He was happy to have the opportunity to show a person of a different culture that there is far more than meets the eye in Khayelitsha.

Through this and all of my other experiences, I found that the most beautiful things about Cape Town were not the breathtaking mountains, stunning beaches, and vibrant cityscapes, but the constant strength, passion, generosity and kindness exhibited by the people I met during my stay.





About the program

Approximately 1,350 KU students study abroad each year.Options: The Office of Study Abroad administers more than 100 study abroad programs in more than 60 countries. Students can study in Africa, the Americas, Asia, Australia or Europe. Courses are taught in more than 20 different languages (including English).Credit: Through the Office of Study Abroad, students remain enrolled at KU and receive resident KU credit, completing degree requirements in their major or core curriculum.Cost: KU strives to keep costs down. Federal financial aid is applicable to study abroad programs, and in most cases, KU scholarships and grants apply to study abroad. Scholarships from the Office of Study Abroad are available to qualified applicants as well as national and regional study abroad scholarships.Application deadlines: March 1 for the following fall academic year or summer; and Oct. 1 for the following spring, spring break and winter break programs.For more information about KU study abroad programs, contact the Office of Study Abroad, Lippincott Hall, 1410 Jayhawk Blvd., Room 108, call 864-3742, e-mail osa@ku.edu or visit online at www.studyabroad.ku.edu.

Source: KU Office of Study Abroad

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