Final Thoughts

Since I have returned from South Africa, I have had time to reflect on my trip and realized what an impact that South Africa had on me in just a two week time period.  I have a better understanding for the culture of South Africa because of the history we studied, along with experiencing the culture during the two weeks in Cape Town.  South Africa has a very interesting history, having suffered through many wars for territory.  The many cultures that fought over the land are still present and now have a sense of pride for their country.  The races are very different, and the government operates in eleven different languages to be able to communicate with all of the citizens.  I was shocked that South Africa is one of the world’s most proud countries, even though twenty years ago there was segregation that provided preferential treatment to minority whites over majority blacks.  The country was very divided and full of racial tension, and now twenty years later, the country is full of patriotism and pride.

Before the trip, I read A Long Walk to Freedom, by Nelson Mandela, and his autobiography significantly shaped my views about the country.  Nelson Mandela went through suffering and hardship for his cause.  I gained so much respect for Nelson Mandela when I read his book, and it was magnified when I was able to see Robben Island from the top of Table Mountain.  Right now, Nelson Mandela is in the hospital in critical care due to a lung infection that was caused by pneumonia he suffered from earlier in his life.  Mandela had pneumonia while living in terrible conditions in prison.  This trip showed me that Mandela was a great leader who had a positive impact on his country.  Following Mandela’s examples of sacrifice, service, and standing on principle will serve me well as I complete college and move forward with my career and my life.

Another book I read before the trip was Toxic Charity, which assisted me to think critically about the actions I took in Africa.  The ideas in this book helped me prepare for the copious amount of beggars along every street.  Toxic Charity stresses that you can hurt someone by making them dependent on others, and I felt prepared to not support any of the beggars.  I was stunned by the amount of beggars and the stories some of the locals told me about the beggars.  One taxi driver told me that one beggar will put her arm inside of her shirt to have the appearance of being without an arm.  The reason she did that was to look helpless to persuade tourists to give her money.  Also, the taxi driver said there is a rent-a-baby service that the beggars use.  The service provides beggars with a baby for the day in order to create sympathy by making it appear like they need money to support their child.  My beliefs are similar to the author of Toxic Charity, in that supporting people who are capable of working only hurts them by making them dependent.

The trip to South Africa also allowed me to help children in need by assisting in the construction of an early childhood development center.  The work was very difficult, but it also was life changing for me.  There are two big points about the construction project that changed my viewpoint.  First, the other construction workers did not put in much effort compared to us, presumably because they were paid on hourly rates.  They also did not seem to want us involved in the work, perhaps because we would help complete the job much faster (and reduce the amount of money they would make), and because we were taking jobs away from local citizens.  Another life changing idea that came out of the construction job was the recognition that we were helping to fight the battle against poverty by creating an environment to assist children in learning and escaping the trap of poverty.  As an interesting side note, we also learned an African war cry from Stuart, which helped inspire us to work through the heat.

            Another portion of the trip that had a meaningful impact, was listening to the business plans of the students from the University of Cape Town.  The entrepreneur students created business plans and pitched their ideas to our group.  Their ideas are different than products that are available in the United States, and I could see how a couple of their ideas would become successful products within the United States.  Some of the products, however, most likely would not be successful in areas outside of South Africa. For example the swimming pool idea, this was basically a local swimming pool that charged an admission fee.  The swimming pool idea was great for the community and city of Cape Town, but would not be successful in other markets.

            I was shocked by the extremely large wealth gap in the city of Cape Town.  There were enormous houses along the coast and the mountains, located on very valuable plots of land.  There were Ferraris, BMWs, and other luxury cars in the streets and just around the block would be a township.  The townships would consist of mud huts and tons of wires that went over the houses where people were stealing electricity and cable.  To the people in the townships, they felt rich if they owned a television, even if their house had a tin roof that was falling apart.  The wealth gap was enormous.  There was no middle class, and many people in the townships did not want to put in the effort to escape poverty.  Observing this condition reminded me of people who live in poverty in the United States, because they feel entitled to free food and housing from the government.  The government has a system that results in people who are trapped in poverty, and those people either do not want to put in the effort to escape or they lack the ability because that is the only life they know.

            A memorable lecture was when Kevin Chaplin spoke about Ubuntu, which means warmth for the people.  It is a special word in South Africa because it is a quality that people strive to have in their lives.  To have Ubuntu means one is very forgiving and a great leader similar to Nelson Mandela.  Mandela was very forgiving because he did not seek revenge for being imprisoned for twenty-seven years.  Mandela used his time in prison learning and shaping himself as a great leader.  This lecture was special to me because I want to be a leader in the business world, and I must learn how to forgive easily and learn from others to shape myself into a better leader.

            Another important lesson I learned from this trip is the experience of world travel outside of the United States.  I was able to escape the bubble of South Carolina and experience another culture that is very different from the area in which I have lived all of my life.  I was able to try new types of food, such as ox tail, and I was able to see wildlife that is nothing like what is in the United States.  Being within ten feet of ostriches, zebras, and springbok was incredible.  The whole experience of visiting South Africa will have a very significant and positive impact on the rest of my life.

Trip of a Lifetime

 

South Africa May-mester

            This May-mester trip has drastically changed my world-view of South Africa in its entirety.  During the spring semester meetings in preparation for the trip I was learned that I should expect to be blown away by the South African society.  Now, having spent over a week in Cape Town, SA, I can truly say that the beautiful country amazed me.

When I think of the word African, my brain automatically registers a person with black skin, living in the dry plains of the Savannah possibly even in little huts made of mud and clay.  My ignorance did not last for a minute longer once we stepped off the plain and entered into the South African environment.  Cape Town was one of the nicest cities that I have ever seen in my life and it was beautiful in any direction you looked. The combination of staying in the business district, and majority of our speakers also having a business background it allowed me to have a better understanding of what was really going on in the country.  By simply walking around throughout the city I could visually take in observations and by adding in teaching from people like Stuart Hendry and Kevin Chaplin I was able to get some sort of grasp on what was actually taking place throughout the city.

I had no idea that there was going to be so much diversity within the country.  The only thing that I could compare it to was San Diego, California.  South Africa is made up of 41 different ethnic groups and 11 different languages are used throughout.  Being from the “melting pot” I feel like I should be used to this type of mixed atmosphere, but it was still extremely interesting to me how all these ethnicities have come together while still holding onto their own cultural treasures like language.  It seemed as though to be considered intelligent you were required to know at least three languages.  And if you wanted to be successful as an individual and really set yourself apart from the rest of the crowd it would be wise for you to know these different languages because there is always an instant connection if you are doing business in someone’s native tongue.  It was easy to see how this truth clashed with the “American mindset” that everyone should be able to speak English implying that we are of some superiority.  It was refreshing to see this new approach to communication.  Instead of demanding the other party come to you, how about you meet them where they are?  It is not a burden, but a privilege to serve the other party in this way and help them feel comfortable from the first time you meet them which was portrayed to be so crucial in South Africa.

It has been a goal of South Africa to continue to raise up good leaders among the population so that the country can continue in the right direction.  I loved hearing Dr. Stuart Hendry speak about leadership the first lecture we had on Friday, May 17th.  He said, “When good leaders are presented good people come together, and resources are directed into their best possible uses.”  This quote has stuck with me more so than the rest.  After learning about the state that South Africa is in and their mindset in looking towards the future I feel like Dr. Hendry’s quote describes their goal as a country.  Producing good leaders in the next generation is what the country is pouring all of their resources into which is beautiful to see.  That means the individuals in the country are realizing that it is not all about them and everything they can achieve in one lifetime.  They want to invest in that next generation early on so that they can create and environment that produces successful men and women that will be able to lead their country into a brighter future.

The impression that I was left with leaving South Africa was that they are a nation dedicated to building themselves up for the future.  I loved every minute of our trip regardless of what we were doing.  I will say that my favorite part was the hiking and nature side of things, but I thoroughly enjoyed hearing about the history of the country and where it has come from, where it is now, and where it is planning to go in the future.  The DinoKeng scenarios look to be a pivotal point in the recent history of the country that helps them think the way they do now.  South Africa now holds a place in my mind as one of the most beautiful and magnificent countries in the world and I am so fortunate to have gone on this Presbyterian College May-mester.  South Africa was Lekker!!!!

What Didn’t Change?

Reflecting on the entirety of the South African trip, I am becoming aware of the many themes that this trip had to offer.  I believe Dr. Turner organized the trip in such a way that it allowed our short time spent in Cape Town to have an everlasting effect.  I recall one taxi driver, out of the many interesting taxi conversations, saying in his old Afrikaans accent, “You guys are experiencing more of Cape Town than South Africans experience Cape Town.”  He was commenting on our work at the children’s center in the township of Philippi.  I believe the taxi driver was implying the still prevalent racial clash that divided the country in the days of the Apartheid era and how many South Africans avoid socializing or assisting their fellow country men.  Cape Town has forever made an impact on my life.  Because of my great experience with this place, it has influenced me to further travel the world and especially more of South Africa.  This particular exposure with the diverse cultures of South Africa has eliminated some of my inherited ignorance that americans so often become accustomed to.  Just with talking to my family and friends, I have noticed a difference of opinions solely because of what I took away from this trip.  Needless to say, this limited study abroad has changed my worldview.  Not only do I believe that Stellenbosch is the only acceptable area for viticulture due to the superior location at the base of a mountain, the favorable climate, and the fertile soil ranging from “decomposed granite” to “light, sandy soils” (Wikipedia.com), I also am more aware of the many social complexities and economic challenges.  I think I left South Africa with more questions than I arrived with even though many of my initial questions were answered.  To answer the topic of our final South African assignment, I honestly could just list all of the thought provoking questions I left with; however, for the sake of entertainment and my grade I will explain the derivation of these questions and give some specific stories.

For some strange reason, I remember driving from the Cape Town airport and laughing hysterically at the stereotypical African trees we passed, making me think of the Disney classic, Lion King. I later found out these are called Acacia trees.  After my hysteria died off, my first real sight of South Africa came with a more humbling and somber feeling.  Not 10 minutes from the airport, we are driving to the hotel in our coach bus along the left side of the highway and come across our first shacks of Cape Town.  The initial emotion was disbelief to see people live in something that would be unacceptable back home in The States.  I felt like we were in a movie because Americans see this on television but disregard it since it is not relevant to their comfortable lifestyle.  America certainly has it’s fair share of underdeveloped areas and poor neighborhoods but nothing like townships that consist of shacks the size of small rooms constructed with rusty tin, dry rotted wood, and any other recycled materials these desperate people could put to use.  Due to the lack of space, these shacks are virtually built on top of each other and the people who make up these townships have trouble obtaining the basic necessities like electricity, sewage treatment, or even clean water.  Before traveling to Cape Town, I didn’t fully grasp the concept of what a township was, even after reading A Long Walk To Freedom.  I didn’t understand this concept, until sitting in one of our class sessions where a lady who worked with UCT’s Department of Social Development gave us the history behind these depressing areas.  She opened my eyes on the horrors of the township lifestyle and presented the complex problems of how to alleviate the pain of these poor human beings who live there.  After passing the thousands of tiny cubicles, it took us approximately 10 more minutes to arrive in our hotel located in the lap of luxury.  The Southern Sun at Waterfront is a state of the art hotel with luxurious facilities, beautiful rooms, very comfortable beds, and an exquisite all you can eat breakfast.  I was already learning and developing questions about the complicating social dynamic even before our first class had begun the next day.  How could 5 kilometers from our hotel be one the most sought after tourist destination in the world and 5 kilometers in the other direction could be the one of the poorest areas in the world?

During our class sessions we had the opportunity for many influential leaders in the surrounding Cape Town area come speak to us.  One of the speakers who essentially became our fun adopted uncle, Stuart Hendry, talked to us about entrepreneurship, leadership, personal development, and business.  In our first session he gave us a 45 minute crash course on the history of South Africa.  Their history is much like any other country in the world, especially the United States’, where the history is more negative in nature.  Despite some of the shameful events in history such as the Apartheid and the countless wars over land or race, the majority of the 51 million South Africans are proud of their heritage and history.  With 11 official languages, it is obvious their is a variety of different cultures but they still all call themselves South Africans.  According to Stuart, South Africa is the 3rd proudest country in the world. Even though their is still some underlying tensions of the old ways, the majority of the citizens embrace their history with the understanding that their past is what makes their country unique.  I noticed Stuart’s patriotism while he was discussing his country always referring to himself as a South African.  This nationalism didn’t exist 50 years ago and is very interesting to see every culture and tribe embrace their country’s existence.  Stuart explained the complex history of Cape Town and the racial clashes by saying, “A lack of understanding leads to fear.”  With the colonizing of European countries like the Dutch and the British, it was obvious there would be misunderstanding and eventually lead to fighting within the two countries and even the local tribes.  Going further in this acceptance of diversity, South African tourist advertisements would market to their audience by creating a trademark saying “visit a world in one country.”  Another example of this nation’s pride is the success of the Silulo Company.  Basically this company is an internet cafe located in multiple townships across South Africa that offers services like computer training.  You can see the pride on the owner’s face as he talks about his company’s good doing by empowering the township.  Because of the work like Yuvo and others, South Africa is making strides for advancement by offering more cell phones, ATMs, and cars than all of Africa combined.  Being a biased american, I am often swept up in the “superior” american way of thinking; however, traveling abroad and seeing the patriotism of another country opened my eyes to the realization that different ways are not inferior but just different.  Through this new lens of acceptance, my outlook on all countries has changed dramatically.

Another personal change that I have undergone is the ability to see other people’s viewpoint.  I guess it is similar to the acceptance lens but it is different in the perspective that I can now assess a situation and hopefully see all sides of the circumstance which is a vital skill to have when becoming a leader.  There was some argument among our group, while working at Philippi, that the construction workers at the sight were not treating us with the respect that we assumed we deserved.  I think Dr. Turner taught us a valuable lesson when he shed some light on their perspective of what we were ultimately doing.  In a country where the unemployment rate ranges from 36%-42%, some of these workers have friends and family that would love the opportunity to work.  We volunteers our working for free, so we are essentially taking jobs away from the community and also speeding up a project that the workers would deliberately slow down so they could have a job for longer.  Regardless of the job being a good will project toward children, it is still work for them and ultimately are being paid for their labor in a tough job market.  Hopefully, I will be able to continue to open my mind to all of the perspectives in a situation so that I can become an effective leader.

Overall, this trip was a very positive experience.  I view my home and my country in a whole new light.  I don’t take the simple amenities we receive for granted anymore and I know every day in my shoes is a blessing.  I also have obtained a more positive outlook on our country’s future.  Before traveling to South Africa, I was a pessimist when talking about politics and America’s future.  From the contrast of Cape Town and how people can be so prideful and positive about their simple lifestyle, it made me feel spoiled to not have this same outlook.  The two most critical days, to me, during our study abroad was the wine tasting day and the Philippi work.  Although they are two important days individually, if you look upon these experiences collectively, you can see one of the overarching theme on this trip is the contrasting lifestyles of people.  We go from being in the lap of luxury in Stellenbosch to an area where it’s people have to worry about the simple life necessities.  To realize these few and simple things has helped me become more aware as an individual and hopefully as a leader.  I am so blessed to take part in an awesome trip.  It is cool to think that I didn’t know the majority of the group that I was in but now have built some really strong friendships.  I cannot thank Dr. Turner and his team enough for giving me this opportunity and I will never be able to repay them for the things I have learned in South Africa.

Expanding a Worldview

It is sometimes said that the only sure way to avoid disappointment is to temper one’s expectations.  While this approach falls just short of outright pessimism, it is intuitive to reason that those who possess modest expectations are more easily satisfied than those who look upon every occasion with grandiose presumptions.  However, when extraordinary lifetime experiences come around, such as our Maymester in Cape Town, this way of thinking becomes unnecessary.  In my Pre-Trip Expectations blog, I wrote that I expected my worldview to be expanded by our trip to South Africa.  Without knowing specifics, I was confident that our journey in Cape Town would add a new perspective to my ever-changing worldview.  Despite beginning with this lofty expectation, I am thrilled to say that our trip delivered.

I could, and maybe should, write a book on all of our adventures and experiences in Cape Town.  Among the educational lectures, new acquaintances, vibrant nightlife, humorous moments, and lessons learned (both good and bad), the real challenge would be narrowing it down to a single genre.  However, for time and simplicity’s sake, I find myself focusing on two main takeaways I feel contributed to expanding my worldview.

Throughout our travels in Cape Town, I found myself thinking that so much of daily life in South Africa was “backwards.”  From driving on the left side of the road using a steering wheel positioned on the right side of the car to witnessing the sun set (rather than rise) over the Atlantic, many things in Cape Town seemed to juxtapose life in the United States.  The weather added to this phenomenon.  We left a warm, humid, early South Carolina summer behind and were greeted by red and brown leaves falling off of the trees, temperatures that called for a jacket, and the coming of the South African winter.  In May!  Of course, this “backwardness” to us was simply normal life to the native South Africans.  This really emphasized an essential lesson:  the relativity of the term “normal.”  Understanding that “normal” is a relative standard that carries a different meaning for individuals, cultures, and countries is a fundamental aspect one’s worldview must possess for one to be able appreciate and accept other cultures and places.  One’s perception of normalcy is derived from his or her cultural and geographic circumstances, among other factors.  An example occurred as we visited local students and conversed over beers and a delectable Morituri pizza, each joking that the other’s daily life was “backwards.” Bheki, a native South African remarked, “I never understand why it snows in Christmas movies.  Everyone knows Christmas is in the summertime.”  A simple joke illustrating a much larger principle:  the relativity of the term normal.  I believe any worldview is greatly enhanced by embracing this concept.  Additionally, taking the time to understand what is “normal” in an unfamiliar country will add greater meaning and substance to foreign travel.

I acquired another life lesson through our study of entrepreneurship in South Africa, specifically the product and business plan presentations of the students from the University of Cape Town and the students from a local township who were also attending UCT’s graduate entrepreneurship program.  Between the two groups, I witnessed a fascinating contrast in the origin and styles of their business ideas.  The students from the University of Cape Town seemingly presented ideas consisting of “luxury goods.”  For example, one student designed a slim, stylish solar-powered charger for Apple’s iPad.  Another girl created a fashionable, designer-looking rain jacket that folds up in a very compact, easy-to-carry pack when not in use.  While these products are creative and definitely could be headed for success, they are hardly the type of things a person could not survive without.  On the other hand, the students from the township seemed to draw their inspiration from a desire to add value to the lives of their customers.  One student started a company to supply graduation caps to schools in the Cape Town area with plans to expand to other parts of South Africa.  In the United States, a graduation cap is nothing more than a decorative addition for a short ceremony.  However, as this student explained her business, you could hear the passion in her voice.  She explained that in South Africa, the graduation cap held a greater symbolic significance.  As a symbol of their achievement, each graduate would keep these personalized graduation caps for life.  The intrinsic value of this simple product, when combined with the fact that not every South African gets the opportunity to graduate from school, has made for a successful start to the early stages of her entrepreneurial endeavor.

I certainly thought an interesting dynamic was at play here, one that arose from the differing backgrounds and circumstances of the students.  The students from the University of Cape Town, largely regarded as the best university on the African continent, likely led a different lifestyle than their contemporaries who grew up in a township.  As a result, when searching for entrepreneurial inspiration, they gravitated toward developing non-necessity products with a higher-end targeted demographic.  Conversely, such thinking likely did not cross the minds of the students hailing from the township.  Instead, these students found inspiration from simple products, such as a graduation cap, to provide a sense of accomplishment for their clients.  Another student from the township plans to start a business franchising swimming pools.  This business was not intended for creating lavish backyard oases but rather with the goal of increasing the safety of children by providing swimming lessons and reducing the number of people swimming in unsafe waters.

Through these observations, I gained a greater understanding of the role that a person’s circumstances can play on their business thinking.  These students, although part of the same program, exhibited vastly different thinking through the presentation of their product ideas.  As I move forward with my interest in international business and entrepreneurship, I believe I will view this as an extremely valuable addition to my worldview.  As a result of this experience, I will be sure to make a strong effort to appreciate and understand the backgrounds and circumstances of the people I encounter in order to comprehend their motivations and their way of thinking.  I am positive that my worldview-expanding lessons from our Cape Town Maymester will serve me well both in my business career as well as the rest of my life in this increasingly globalized world.

Cheers,

Andrew Kocis

Can We Go Back Before The End Of The Summer?

 

Choosing to go to South Africa a few weeks ago was truly one of the best experiences of my life.  I know any English professor would be ashamed of a topic sentence like this, but there is honestly no simpler way to put it.  I think it still blows my mind that just a few weeks ago I was halfway across the world, in a completely different culture, yet some parts of me felt completely at home.  I could not have been luckier throughout the whole experience and I hope that I can have more opportunities even remotely as influential as this one later in life.

Way back at the beginning of the semester I remember talking to Will Varner as he told me he was going on a Maymester to South Africa and I remember thinking that will definitely be a fun trip with a Varner along.  Then I heard from a few other of my close friends that they were thinking about going.  That’s when I knew this was a once in a lifetime experience that I needed to partake in.  Little did I know I greatly underestimated it at the time.

As the days grew closer I was able to tie together all of the loose ends, frantically at times.  Reading Toxic Charity and A Long Walk to Freedom started to put things into perspective.  They may have taken most of my time out of a few needed days of rest, but I really enjoyed them, and I have already recommended Toxic Charity to multiple people for a quick summer read.  Thinking back to a few weeks ago I can just remember my excitement as I read and when I finally arrived at the airport I just could not sit still.There was one thing though that I hated about the trip. Yes, HATED! I could not stand the plane ride.  I may have slept the majority of the way there, but just sitting in a plane for that long, with the excitement and expectations in my head, was much worse than trying to go to sleep on Christmas Eve.  As we traveled the suspense grew, and by the time we got to the hotel I was relieved, tired, but still ready to go.

Throughout the jam packed journey there are multiple experiences that I will never forget.

First, I think that we all were able to learn a lot from the speakers that we got the privilege to listen to.  One man I know I will never forget is Stuart Hendry.  Stuart is one of the founders of SASDI, a specialist in entrepreneurial leadership training, and teaches classes at UCT.  He was probably one of the most influential people that we met the entire trip.  Of the time we got to spend in the classroom, listening and interacting with Stuart was a great way to spend it.  He covered a broad range of topics anywhere from the history of South Africa, to a variety of leadership skills I had never thought about.  There were a few other speakers that also really stood out to me.  Ali Meadows came to talk to us one morning about sustainable tourism.  She was one of the more passionate people that we got to hear from and it was really neat to see how interested she was in this subject.  She explained how beneficial tourism can be for all of Africa, and if we keep it sustainable it will last without depleting resources.  Finally the last speaker that really stood out to me was Luvuyo Rani.  He had grown up in a township, and with the help of his brother, started one of the most successful internet cafe’s in South Africa.  Like I said in my earlier blog, listening to this man was like listening to a young Steve Jobs, and he was standing 5 feet away from me.  He was the epitome of a success story and I think I will probably be looking him up every so often to see what else he has accomplished.

 

Second, I think the tours and activities we did were things that you really can not do in other parts of the world.  I did not get to experience the hike up to the top of Table Mountain, but I was able to experience the wind chills and practically see my own house from the top.  One of my favorite days was getting on the bus and going to the Cape of Good Hope.  I got to see penguins in their natural habitat, sit on the edge of a cliff, and feed a seal a fish from my mouth.  I would say a day probably can’t get much more successful than that.  Also I think going to Stellenbosch was one of the coolest history lessons I have ever had.  Then again, I guess I’ve never had wine during a history lesson before.  I was so interested in that historic city, and it made me feel like I was at home because it seemed so similar to going down to Charleston.

 

Overall I am certain that this trip has genuinely changed the rest of my life.  When I stepped foot on South African soil for the first time I had never been out of the United States.  To experience a culture like this one was an eye opening experience to say the least.  At one half of the spectrum there is poverty.  And when I say poverty I mean disgusting, dirty, like the infomercials you see on TV.  That was something that blew my mind.  In the US we have poverty, but anyone without a job still receives welfare and food stamps and free healthcare.  Its a completely different life than the rest of the world.  On the other half of the spectrum there are some extremely smart, wealthy people.  We had the opportunity to meet a few of them and some of their stories and lessons I know impacted me greatly.  As we drove around we got to see that most houses, even in neighborhoods, had big stone fences, with electrical fencing at the top.  I think this is something that really made me realize the division between the two spectrums.  Right down the road from each other one man is starving, while the other is boarded up in his house trying to protect his family from being robbed.

One thing that I realized about the culture though, was that the people were incredibly similar to us.  We were able to meet people and instantly get along with them and have common interests.

Out of the entire trip I think I learned one lesson that will continue to stay with me the rest of my life.  What I learned was that a strong sense of community involvement will change nations.  We were able to see that through our readings, through Stuarts teaching, and through some of the other speakers and activities.  SASDI really puts it into perspective because when they start working on a project they get the entire community involved.  We have to have leaders like Kissmea, but once you start building people will come and get involved.  This sense of community was something that stood out all over Cape Town, through the rich and poor.  Everyone was so laid back and relaxed, but hard working and disciplined at the same time.  They all worked together and worked to each others strengths to start projects and empower the community.  I think I even noticed it in our group.  The sense of community grew as the trip went on.  The first few nights I remember staying only with my close friends.  As time went on we all started to spend more time together and by the end of the trip when we sat down and talked in the game lodge I felt incredible close to the people around me.  Leaving South Africa I will know that strong community involvement will get things done a lot faster than trying to single handedly do them myself.

This trip changed my life and gave me an incredible opportunity that I hope I will get to have again.  I could not have picked a better group of people to go with if I tried, and I think Dr. Turner definitely outdid himself on some of the activities we got to do.  There truly was never a dull moment, and although we may have stayed up late and woken up early, there was plenty of time to sleep once I got back to America.  I know I had a lasting experience and some great memories that I am glad to be able to share with a great group of friends.

 

@WMILLS3 #PCBLUEPRIDE

A Budding Nation- Avent

Before leaving for South Africa, everyone tried to scare me out of it. I have an uncle in international business, who sent me a long text 4 days before it was time to leave. He said, “I don’t feel comfortable with you going, even when we send grown men, we send them with an armed guard to escort them.” I had four people tell me to dye my hair brown and always wear a hat. I kept hearing how unsafe it was, but all I could see in our books and online was a country trying- no STRUGGLING to grow. South Africa has a very rocky history, an angry past, but they have come together in a way that impresses me. It is my first international experience, but it was so similar and different from home at the same time.

One of our first days, we talked about three paths South Africa could take that would define their new democracy- walk apart, walk behind, or walk together. Walking together is the only way the people will be successful, and it means everyone being empowered and responsible. For the whole country to be aware of that, and trying to do it, is remarkable to me. I know this is so “college” of me, but I get on social media sites and people post about political topics that seem irrelevant. Don’t misunderstand me, there is always room for lightheartedness, but it’s when people decide to be serious what they focus on.

I have been struggling all week how to put my experience into words- I learned how to be a leader, about South Africa’s history and people, and even the psychology behind the culture’s attitude. I began this trip with the quote, “Traveling is the only thing you can buy that makes you richer,” and I completely agree with it. I went with an open mind, knowing that my world was going to be changed when I went and met the South Africans.

Two of the men we spent time with, Stuart Hendry and Ian Corbett, definitely changed my life. They founded SASDI together and have put all their time and energy into making sustainable, impactful, and effective projects that better South Africa. Stuart Hendry spent two years and lost millions of dollars trying to make their first community center work, because they all felt it was important to connect to the community. I was so impressed with their drive and compassion. I feel like, at this point in my life, so much pressure is put on us to make money, not so much on making a difference. People say they want to change the world, but so many give up on that dream. It’s hard, or else the world would already be a perfect place. These two men achieved what many dream about doing. Hendry and Corbett probably won’t get credit for the huge difference they’re making, but I know for the rest of my life I will be telling my children and grandchildren about the things they’ve accomplished. By going there, I inherited an unexpected legacy.

Kevin Corbin was also fascinating to me. He taught me that good will only takes a foundation so far- there has to be some business savvy, it has to be a smart foundation. It’s okay to donate money, but if you really are passionate about a charity, make sure the leader will be able to keep the money coming in. Corbin has done that! He told us about how his foundation actually MAKES money, all by creating a business model. I guess I was so impressed because it seems like an obvious thing to do that no one had actually done.

The most important thing I’ve learned, and already mentioned, was the lesson that everything else was based on- the value of community and empowerment of the people. It was something I have always thought about, partly because my mom and I love reading about Noetic science. Noetic science is basically the study of how thoughts are actually matter and can affect things, which is why how and what people think is so important. If someone thinks that they cannot do something, they cannot. It is like the little train that could, if one believes in something it can happen. A perfect example is Luvuyo, who came out of a townships and had nothing, started an internet café/computer purchase and repair chain.

In summary, this trip inspired me. The people are truly, truly amazing. Hardworking. Determined. And becoming more capable by the day. I was upset coming home, and the people who tried to scare me said, “I don’t believe that you didn’t have a scary experience.” South Africa is being judged by its violent past, even when they are doing so much good right now. All I want is for people to give South Africa a chance, to work with them. And that can begin with this blog, this class. Even if it isn’t South Africa, I hope everyone finds a place like this where they instantly become attached to it and want to help build it up, like South Africa is to me. I can’t wait to go back.

Life-Changing

Before having departed on our trip to Cape Town, I like everybody else, was not sure what to expect. We researched their history, their government, scenic views, and the places in South Africa just to get background information so we weren’t considered the regular tourist while we were in their country.  The group was excited about the trip and the opportunity that PC as well as our parents had bestowed upon us.  I was attracted to the trip due to several reasons.  Initially, it seemed attractive due to all of my friends that were going.  But upon second look, I realized that Cape Town South Africa is one of the most glamorous and beautiful cities in the world.  Wondering around that city with the people that we were with made in its self an opportunity that was once in a lifetime.

When asked how it changed my life, I thought of a million different reasons.  Everyday had different opportunities that looking back at it are things that I will never forget.  I will always remember the views on Table Mountain, seeing beach penguins, going on a safari where we saw animals that I thought only existed in zoos, going to the Cape of Good Hope (which is where the two currents from the Atlantic and Indian Ocean meet), and many more experiences that I will never forget for the rest of my life.  Even being on an airplane for a miserable twenty hours had unique experiences in itself.  But when asked how it changed my life, I did not think that it was reasonable to answer this question with any of those answers.

There were two major parts of the trip that I will never forget.  The first one being one that occurred on one of our classes of the Maymester.  Mr. Hendry, who was a man that I will never forget for his constant drive to make South Africa a better place, brought in a man by the name of Luvoyo Rani who had made it as a successful entrepreneur in South Africa. Now, in the world there are plenty of successful people.  But after seeing what this man had gone through and thinking to myself about all the trials and challenges he went through, made it seem like a feat that I would have considered impossible. This man was from a township. To people that didn’t go on the trip that might be reading, a township is comparable to a ghetto in ways.  It appears as a large square of buildings with a tin roof over each of their homes. They have extremely high violence and are places of extreme poverty.  We were told that people in townships may have never been into Cape Town which is only maybe 3 miles from the nearest township.

Mr. Hendry gave us minor background information on Luvoyo Rani before he came in and as soon as he started talking about his business, where he got his ideas from, and the future plans, we were all captivated. Luvoyo started a business called Silulo. It had originally started by making internet cafes and putting them in townships. He would charge a minimal fee to let people come in and use them.  He also had people there that taught the people of the township how to use the computers while opportunities to learn many other different tasks were available. Maybe the most amazing thing about his business was his plans for the future.  He was planning on taking his business all around South Africa to different townships and even countries north of South Africa.  It was absolutely unreal to hear this man speak and know about how he grew up in townships to now pulling up to our hotel in an eight door Mercedes.

Mr. Hendry was one of the most inspiring and motivating people that I have ever met.  We met him the first day of class and he talked about South Africa’s rich history as well as what they need to do as a country to overcome all the turmoil that has been included in their past. The most memorable day of this experience was by far when we participated with SASDI as we helped build a school for the children of the township. SASDI stands for South Africa Sustainable Development Initiative. They develop leadership at an early age so that as the children grow to be older, they can help empower their community and help their community to overcome the struggles that they are with now. Mr. Hendry was a leadership expert and taught at the University of Cape Town. The part that struck me about Mr. Hendry and this amazing organization was that it was non-profit. Mr. Hendry and all the other members of the SASDI were doing all of this out of the pure goodness of their heart. These people are not making a nickel from this, they all just want to see South Africa become a better place.

As you could guess, upon waking, we weren’t eager to participate in moving twelve tons of concrete or moving a hundred tires to make a playground. Even through lunch the majority of us were overwhelmed with the workload and wondering why we were there. For me, this soon changed after lunch when we got to experience the children that were attending this school and the township. From an outsiders stand point, you could make the correct assumption and assume that these children were longing for attention.  As I walked out into their playground that they already had, we were bombarded with children asking to be picked up and lifted in the air.  If you picked one kid up, you had to pick them all up due to the long line forming behind them.  After seeing this, I realized that we were helping a country change for the better. We were helping build a school so that these children did not grow up as the generation above them had.  We were giving them an opportunity and hopefully helping them find a way out. This experience in itself is something that I have told my family and friends back home that they will never fully grasp.  It is one of those things that you have to fully engage in to understand.

These two opportunities that were given to us by Presbyterian College, the business department, Dr. Turner, and my parents was something that was well worth the price and something that I will take with me for the rest of my life.  I realized how fortunate I was to grow up how I did with the opportunities that I have had so far in my life. Everyone loves a success story but I will never experience what Luvoyo Rani did and hopefully my children will never have to go through what the children of that school went through.  Seeing all these kids longing for attention and hearing Luvoyo talk about how successful he has become and how he hopes to continue to make the South African townships a better place is something that really inspires me and makes my admiration for him overwhelming. The trip to South Africa is one that looking back at it I can say that it was the best t