Challenge and Growth Offered to Temple Students with new Study Away Program in South Africa

Gabi Chepurny, for GPA -- South Africa stirs images of vast grasslands and mighty creatures. It stirs emotions stemming from a long story of social injustice. The realities of the modern South Africa still remain obscure to most in the United States. This is where Temple University and its new study away program come into play.

Launched in 2011, Temple’s program brings a limited number of students to the country every summer, allowing them to experience the nation first hand for a couple of months.

An eye-opening journey, the program is geared towards Journalism majors, but does not exclude students from other areas. Instead, the program encourages many aspects of storytelling, from writing to photography, emphasizing the value of paying attention to different worldviews of news media.

The program also impacts participants’ views on a difficult topic.Temple alum Lauren Hertzler was part of the first group to travel to South Africa, and is grateful for what the experience gave her.

“As all study abroad experiences do, it expanded my horizons and helped me see and understand a different way of life. While I was in South Africa, I noticed my perspective widened a lot, especially with regards to race relations,” she said.

Assistant Director of Study Away Programs, Lezlie McCabe, made the trip across the Atlantic this summer to help with the 2013 program that concluded in early August. McCabe sees numerous benefits in a study abroad program that is outside the traditional geography of study away that many schools offer to their students. She thinks that the diversity helps make Temple more of an international university. She also witnesses first hand the transformation students in the program experience when they travel to South Africa, and it’s almost always a positive one.

She said, “I think some students definitely come back with a completely different view of the U.S. Some students find, ‘Wow, America really isn’t the center of the universe,’ and I think that that’s something that they might not have expected to learn.”

McCabe also makes the point that many times students go to a foreign country expecting to learn all about that place, and don’t realize or expect to learn anything about where they come from.

Ian Watson, a photojournalism student in Temple’s School of Media and Communication (formerly the School of Communication and Theater took part in this past summer’s international excursion. His mission was to embark on a photo project that would show everyone back in Philly that yes, South Africa is a developed nation.

“I've noticed that there is a huge misconception with like 99 percent of the Americans I know about what South Africa is. Things from people thinking lions are everywhere to ‘are there any white people there?’ to not knowing South Africa is a country, or even knowing it's a [modernized] country,” he said.

Watson’s project, part of which is featured here, does exactly what it was intended to do for someone considering images of South Africa for perhaps the first time. By focusing on what many Americans think to be “American” things, Watson shows his audience that Africa is not made up entirely of grazing gazelles, elephants and sunsets across the plains.

Watson added, “My piece is a collection of snapshots into the lives of various people I've met here. It's an honest portrait of life here that will hopefully kill a few stereotypes back home about South Africa and South Africans in general.”

Possibly the best by-product of students’ adventures overseas in a program like Temple’s are the bridges built through general interactions and working with locals.

The participants acknowledge that this bridge-building is what can change a person’s outlook on what they thought they knew everything about. It’s when they bring that new outlook back home that programs like this really begin to have an impact.
McCabe said, “One of the main reasons that the U.S. government supports study abroad through scholarships is because of that bridge-building. So it might just be really small interactions between an American student and someone from South Africa that all of a sudden changes that student’s perspective, but then when that student comes back to Philadelphia, it sort of starts to spread.”

Photos by Ian Watson  @ITWatsonPhoto