There and Back Again
Stories From a Semester Abroad
Published: Friday, January 18, 2013
Updated: Friday, January 18, 2013 01:01
A Georgetown education is punctuated for most by many meaningful academic and social experiences. For some, however, many of the most eye-opening ones do not happen on the Hilltop. A semester abroad immerses students in a different culture, forcing them to confront preconceptions. Five students share their study abroad stories.
Tim DeVita (COL ’14)
Stellenbosch, South Africa
Now that I am back at Georgetown, I am often asked the question, “How was Africa?” Such a short question is deceivingly simple and altogether impossible to answer en route to class. My time in South Africa had a profound effect on me. Its natural beauty and dynamic culture entranced me.
In South Africa, I was enrolled directly in Stellenbosch University, just outside Cape Town in the Winelands. This is South Africa’s premiere Afrikaans University. The Afrikaaner community descended from the Dutch and is noted in history for comprising the National Party that imposed Apartheid. In fact, I had multiple classes in the building where the laws of Apartheid were written. At Stellenbosch, I lived in RES. This is similar to Hogwarts in that if you get into a RES, you live there for multiple years and compete academically, athletically and artistically with other RES students. I was the one American in my hallway and thus made mostly South African friends. I still talk to many on a daily basis. In our spare time, my friends would teach me how to surf, go wine-tasting or attend music festivals, which took place almost every weekend.
I took a wide array of courses, many focusing on community development. For example, for my “HIV: A South African Perspective” class, I worked directly to combat the HIV epidemic. The university gave four of my classmates and me 1,100 rand (approximately $120) to construct a sustainable HIV project in the township of Kayamandi. The townships of South Africa are where the black population lived during Apartheid. Most residents still live in tin shacks. I ended up befriending the girl who was our community partner and still correspond with her, too.
In South Africa, race is a hot topic. Although many students I encountered were not overtly racist, most of their parents were biased. This is largely because our generation is the first that does not recall the Apartheid years, seeing as the regime fell in 1994. I faced prejudice not only as a white male, but also as a Westerner and as a homosexual. Most Africans still feel the sting of imperialism and also see homosexuality as “un-African.” This surprised me, because South Africa is one of the few nations with a Constitution that protects against discrimination based on sexual orientation. Thus, even though many South Africans were uncomfortable with members of the LGBT community, I had more rights there as a foreigner than I do in the United States as a citizen.
Having finished classes in early November, I had time to backpack across Namibia, South Africa, Mozambique and Swaziland. This experience gave me confidence in myself while exposing me to people from all walks of life. I learned to step outside my comfort zone, immerse myself in many different cultures and interact with people whose backgrounds were extremely different from mine. Facing prejudice gave me the strength to stand up for all of my values, despite being in a completely foreign place. Lastly, I learned the struggles of the developing world. I now complain less about little things that often upset Georgetown students like the quality of Leo’s food. I hope to help those in need as I pursue a career as a doctor and will definitely monitor the effects the products I consume have on others.
Moreover, I aspire to help the effort to gain equal rights for LGBT people in the United States as the people in South Africa have done. As I revisit the familiar scenes of Georgetown student life, I see them with new eyes. In such a short period, my outlook on life was altered. I now see life on a more global scale. I implore all Georgetown students to spend some time abroad and away from the Hilltop.
Michael Paslavsky (COL ’14)
Although Georgetown’s colors may be blue and gray, I think the color gray applies best to the city of Dublin. Every morning I woke up to gray skies, gray streets and gray rain — I don’t even know if that’s possible. However, I would not have changed any of it.
During the past semester, Dublin was our playground. My fellow Georgetown students and I experienced everything from €2-euro chicken fillets — pronounced “fill-its” — trust me, I had a hard time getting that one – to a people, clad in cheesy Christmas sweaters, who celebrated Christmas for three weeks as they pursued their goal of the “12 Pubs of Christmas.”
We met the local Dubs and the culchies from the farms, but regardless of the county, they were hospitable and shared their entertaining stories — at least from the various pieces of the story I could actually understand. Certain expletives are pretty clear in any language or dialect.