The College offers numerous opportunities for students to study abroad in countries like Italy, Germany or India, to study courses through the Council on International Educational Exchange — a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization that strives to help students gain experience and knowledge in foreign places, according to its website.
Tommy Lipner, a junior interdisciplinary business major, decided to take the opportunity to study abroad over winter break in South Africa for 20 days.
“I wanted to go abroad because I love to travel. I realized my love for traveling when I went on my first big excursion to the Galápagos islands my senior year of high school,” Lipner said. “Now I take every opportunity to travel that I can. Last year I went to Cuba through the College’s winter study abroad, too.”
Deciding where to travel tends to be challenging because the College offers so many beautiful and diverse destinations.
“I have always been interested in civil rights and the psychology of protest, so getting the chance to study apartheid and its effects in the place where it actually occurred seemed fascinating,” Lipner said, when asked why he chose to study in South Africa. “I’ve also been fascinated by animals since I was young and I knew the place to go for that would be South Africa. And I was right — we had the chance to go on a safari and to see other incredible natural scenery.”
Michael O’Connor, a senior interdisciplinary business major, went on the same trip as Lipner.
“I wanted to go to South Africa because it was a chance to learn about the history of Apartheid. It’s interesting to see how it’s similar, yet so different to the times of segregation in the U.S.,” O’Connor said.
Many students choose not to travel because of the anxiety and uncertainty that comes from being in a foreign place with a different culture, but Lipner and O’Connor said that new adventures don’t bother them.
“I’m definitely more excited than nervous. I feel my happiest in new places and cultures soaking up a different environment,” Lipner said. “What many people fail to realize when talking about Africa is that South Africa is pretty westernized so the cities felt fairly similar to those of the U.S. The biggest aspect of culture shock was the strong evidence of racial injustice, and considering Apartheid just ended, the effects are still evident. The black communities are extremely impoverished, but correlation between race and socioeconomic status is still very strong.”
O’Connor was also surprised by the extreme culture shock he felt upon his arrival in South Africa, despite researching the area.
“When we visited Kliptown, I was in utter disbelief at the poverty and hardships these people lived in,” O’Connor said. “Everyone was living in shacks they created from scrap metal from any place they could find. Despite this, the people in this community had such a strong bond of solidarity amongst each other. I’ve never seen a state of living like this and it certainly humbled me to my core.”
Being abroad is not always just about learning about new cultures, it can be a journey of self-discovery when immersed in a new culture.
“One thing I think we take advantage of as Americans is our resources. In reality, not every country is so lucky. Water can run out. Cape Town is experiencing an overwhelming drought and the effort to conserve is in play. As Americans we aren’t conscious of this, but water is a scarce resource and we shouldn’t be so wasteful of it or any other resources,” Lipner said.
O’Connor was shocked at the lack of resources and amenities South Africans are used to.
“Electricity was extremely scarce and they only had one source of clean water throughout the whole community,” O’Connor said. “It’s important to remember the privileges I’ve had since birth and if anything this trip has taught me not to take opportunities for granted.”
Some people are skeptical about studying abroad, and argue that travelling on one’s own time and budget creates a superior experience, but Lipner disagrees.
“I was surrounded by 13 other students my age to converse with and soak up the experience, along with two professors who have worldly knowledge, and a tour guide that we became close with to explain certain cultural idiosyncrasies we may not have picked up otherwise,” Lipner said. “Also, our days were packed and we learned so much in such a short period of time that we may not have been able to get had we come by ourselves.”
Many students are on the fence about studying abroad, wondering if it is worth the money, effort and time, but Lipner and O’Connor encourage students to take advantage of the global opportunities that the College provides.
“People need to travel and see the world! It is so easy to get trapped in the bubble that is the United States, and learning about other cultures truly gives you a greater perspective on the world and how to use your time,” Lipner said.