My first week in South Africa

Submitted by Airym Velazquez on the 2024 Winter SOCI/CRJU program in South Africa…

When I first decided to come to South Africa for this study abroad, I did not know what to expect from this incredible country. As we began our descent to the Johannesburg area, I began to look at the land and its differences from those I had visited before. One particular aspect that stuck out to me was the empty lands with trees and farms. In the States, I’m used to flying above cities, where residential communities hold most of the land below. Seeing the majority of land and a minority of houses and roads made a great first impression on me. It was impressive when we first arrived and acknowledged the country’s beauty in the land.

For our first excursion we went to a Cheetah sanctuary for our first excursion, where we learned about the Ann van Dyk Cheetah Centre. This center focuses on helping animals like cheetahs and wild dogs to rebuild their population. This excursion demonstrated to me the need for animals in South Africa and to re-establish their population. They breed their animals and release their calves to reconstruct these animal populations. Once the calves have grown and reproduced successfully, it is considered a successful relocation. They have accomplished hundreds of these successful releases for the cheetah population. On our second day, we visited the Union Buildings and Freedom Park. On our way to Freedom Park, we began to see communities; some of these communities had rich houses, and others, the majority, had homes on the poorer side. Freedom Park and the Union Building were beautiful, and their history was impressive.

The photos depict my arrival at the airport and our first excursion at the cheetah sanctuary.

This trip has been filled with learning opportunities. After spending five days here, I have learned new things about South Africa, The people, The culture, and Nelson Mandela. On January 5th, the group visited the Union Buildings and Freedom Park. Freedom Park is dedicated to peace within South Africa, commemorating all the people who fought for equality. As a result,
they have walls with names of those dedicated to chronicling and honoring the many who contributed to South Africa’s liberation. It was incredible to walk around this beautiful park and learn about the everlasting flame of peace. The symbolism in the park was truly impressive and heartwarming. Walking around it and seeing nature and walls filled with names of those who died or participated in this movement showcased South Africans’ connection with their ancestors and those who fought for the world we have today. There was a trial below the wall of names; this trial led to a sacred place that held the spirits of those on the wall. The energy felt peaceful with the surrounding water, which brought me peace.

I enjoy learning about cultures that deeply connect to their spiritual beliefs. While visiting this place, it reminded me of our reading “Truth and Reconciliation Commission, South Africa.” This reading focused on how this movement worked and its impacts on South Africa—the unbanning of the liberation movements and opposition political parties in 1990 by Pres. F.W. de Klerk, the release from prison of Nelson Mandela, and the lifting of the state of emergency in South Africa paved the way for a negotiated peace settlement between the apartheid regime and those who fought against it and brought an end to the struggle against colonialism and apartheid that had lasted in South Africa for more than 300 years ( Desmond Tutu, 2023). The TRC was established in 1995 by Nelson Mandela to investigate human rights violations, and it introduced housing, education, and economic development initiatives to improve the lives of the black population of South Africa. The TRC sought to codify and interpret the apartheid experience. Being not only a chronicle of who did what to whom but an authoritative description and analysis of the country’s history. The TRC also sought to create a more reconciled South Africa where everyone was equal, regardless of race. The TRC act reminded me of native Americans; as Amelia said, native Americans were treated as less, and as a result, they also fought for change after their history was tried to be erased. However, it also reminded me of my home and the United States’ efforts to destroy Puerto Rican history and culture.

Back in the early 1900s, the United States wanted to erase the history of Puerto Rico by changing the island’s culture, language, and population. However, Puerto Ricans fought against this, and although some of our history was lost, the majority of it was saved by Puerto Ricans. Today, Puerto Rico struggles with colonialism. However, progress has been made for better equality; I will link to an article that reflects the struggles of Puerto Rico ( I relate South Africa with Puerto Rico because outsiders came into both lands and made them their own. Taking advantage of those who lived there and their kindness and transforming the countries into their utopia.

The second reading that touched me was the Ubuntu Principle; I find it fascinating that this principle stands for the belief in forgiveness. According to Choundree (1999), Africa, unlike the developed world, uses the indigenous mechanisms in resolving conflicts as part of their post conflicts peace building processes (Journal of Global Peace and Conflict, 2015). There were five
stages of the peace-building process, acknowledgment of guilt, showing remorse and repentance, asking for and giving forgiveness, and payment of compensation or reparation as building blocks of reconciliation and peace-building in South Africa. It always intrigues me how some people can choose peace after being mistreated; it shows that humanity has goodness within it. This paper focused on using forgiveness to move forward, especially the one taught by TUTU. It reflects how, although Ubuntu was not perfect, it showcased that the gains of a united and peaceful society can be reinforced with the integration of modern and traditional peace-building mechanisms.

In contrast, a society with sharp divisions and fractured relationships could commit itself to reconciliation towards a harmonious and all-encompassing community without the recourse to violence or revenge. This truly showcased that by forgiving, progress can be made. However, I would understand if some people would not want to provide forgiveness. I’m learning every day
while I’m here. Learning about South Africa and what this beautiful country has gone through to become what it is today is fascinating. My view of what South Africa would be has become better. Even though I had reasonable expectations of this country, it has completely and positively overridden them. I love learning about its history and people and am excited to continue doing so. (Submitted on January 14, 2024)

The Explorer

Submitted by Ibrahim Wilson on the 2024 Winter LLCU program in Morocco…

Week One: Exploring Casablanca and Rabat

My journey in Morocco began with a visit to the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca. Situated on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, this architectural marvel is not only the largest mosque in Africa but also the third largest. As we stood beneath the towering minaret, the intricate details of the mosque. Inside, the prayer hall can accommodate up to 100,000 including the outside and inside. Learning that the mosque was completed in 1993 and named after King Hassan II added a layer of historical significance to our experience. It was a profound introduction to Morocco’s rich cultural and religious heritage.
Our journey continued to Rabat, where we explored the city’s historical treasures. The Unfinished Mosque, formally known as the Hassan Tower and located adjacent to the mausoleum of King Mohammed V, stood as a testament to the city’s rich architectural history. The massive minaret, intended to be the largest in the world.
Beyond the monuments, Rabat’s vibrant streets offered a scope of cultural experiences. We immersed ourselves in the local markets, savoring the aroma of traditional spices and marveling at the craftsmanship of local artisans. The warmth of the people and their eagerness to share their culture made our stay in Rabat an unforgettable experience.

Week Two: Tangier with Our Host Family

Now in Tangier, we find ourselves welcomed into the heart of Moroccan hospitality – our host family’s home. The city, perched on the Strait of Gibraltar, is a gateway between Europe and Africa, and its unique blend of cultures is palpable. The narrow streets of the Medina, the old town, are alive with the sounds of vendors and the vibrant colors of local crafts.
Our days are filled with exploration, from wandering through the historic Kasbah to delving into the city’s rich history at the Tangier American Legation Museum, and Jewish temples. Every step unfolds a new chapter, and the diversity of influences in Tangier’s architecture, from Moorish to European, is a testament to its complex past.
My host family provides an intimate understanding of Moroccan daily life. The aromas of homemade couscous and tagine waft through the air, and conversations over mint tea offer insights into the customs and traditions that define Moroccan culture.
In just two weeks, Morocco has opened its doors, revealing a tapestry of experiences that range from awe-inspiring monuments to the warmth of local hospitality. As we continue to explore Tangier and delve into the intricacies of its history, the journey promises to be a rich tapestry woven with the threads of Morocco’s past and present. (Submitted on January 14, 2024)

Moroccan Hospitality

Submitted by Maressa Cuthrell on the 2024 Winter LLCU program in Morocco…

I think one of the most shocking things that I’ve noticed within the first week of being in Morocco has been the overall hospitality and welcoming nature of everyone we’ve met so far. All of the staff have been really accommodating to us by either speaking slower or speaking in English to ensure we understand what’s happening. Since we’ve been here, everyone has been really nice and helpful in making it easier for us to get used to the new environment. All of the people we have encountered so far have been very willing to try and understand us with limited English or Arabic. Many have even stopped to have conversations with us in the middle of marketplaces or restaurants. One man was a US-Moroccan and was so excited to hear our American accents that he talked with our group for a little while as we shopped in the market. We’ve also spent some time getting to know our host families and they have welcomed us with open arms and are always excited to talk with us and share pictures of family members or the day’s events. So far, the friendly nature of all the people we have met has surprised me because even without knowing anything about us, they are excited to get to know us. (Submitted on January 12, 2024)

Adventures in South Africa

Submitted by Meg Deming on the 2024 Winter SOCI/CRJU program in South Africa…

Architecture at University of Pretoria

So far my experience in South Africa is beyond anything I could have imagined. The history and culture here are so rich and complex, it has been a privilege to travel to this beautiful country and see what life is like here. 

Luckily, we have amazing local tour guides willing to give us a glimpse of their lives. From Pretoria to Soweto, our guides share perspectives stemming from many different backgrounds, but all have the grace, compassion, and sense of community that is commonplace in South Africa. Much of the historical context we are given relates to the apartheid era and the impact that it has had even today. Everything from the landscape, to the architecture, to the school system somehow has its roots in apartheid. Two excursions that I found particularly insightful in this regard were our trips to the Union Building and The University of Pretoria. 

During our time here, we have also been fortunate enough to volunteer at local orphanages. My time at Luvuyo Orphanage has been nothing short of amazing. The kids are absolutely wonderful, and it feels great to be able to help out at such a charitable organization. (Submitted on January 11, 2024)

Kindness in South Africa

Submitted by Nicole Virzi on the 2024 Winter SOCI/CRJU program in South Africa…

This past week I have seen a well rounded depiction of Pretoria, South Africa, from enjoying some of the fine dining here and shopping, along with seeing some of the not so fortunate parts of South Africa. Our program had the opportunity to tour the Township of Soweto. Soweto is the shortened word for South West Township, and it was originally created during the years of Apartheid. Apartheid was a period in the mid-1900s when strict segregation laws were enacted. People were required to live in certain areas depending on their race. Soweto was a designated black township during the years of Apartheid, and 2 million Black South Africans lived in a 20 km squared area. Most areas in the township do not have running water in their houses nor electricity, yet they face major pollution from the power plant that powers the city of Johannesburg where the white people lived. Initially due to implicit stereotypes I have, I was expecting the township to be crime ridden, as the township is very high in poverty. However, the crime rate is relatively low, because the people of Soweto are extremely kind and look out for each other. The word Ubuntu, is a zulu word that means “I am because we are.” Ubuntu is deeply tied with the culture of South Africa, and the community looks out for everyone as whole. (Submitted on January 9, 2024)

Hassan II

The ceiling of the mosque

Submitted by Thomas Elia on the 2024 Winter ARAB program in Morocco…

Directly after flying into Casablanca, Morocco, we traveled the short distance to the Hassan II mosque. We were met by a grand building constructed out of marble, with green roofs and green accents. The courtyard itself was expansive and floored with marble. The minaret of the mosque commanded the sky with it’s height and width. Entering into the mosque we were met with grand rooms decorated with inscriptions from the Quran as well as engraved patterns and designs in the ceiling and walls. To know that the courtyard would hold upwards of 80,000 people and the interior of the mosque another 25,000 was mind blowing. To reflect on this experience, it is amazing to see the ability of humans to construct such structures as well as the determination to honor and worship their religious beliefs. (Submitted on January 9, 2024)

Week 1 in Morocco

Submitted by Ashley Nunes on the 2024 Winter LLCU program in Morocco…

Salaam! I am writing this a week into my study abroad program in Morocco. I began the week at JFK in NYC, and since then we have traveled to Rabat, Chefchaoen, and Tetuoan. This is my first trip to Africa and experience with varying norms and traditions. The roads and sole use of traffic circles has been the biggest source of culture shock for me so far. People cross the road whenever they get the chance and traffic laws as I know them, obviously American norms, do not apply. Being both a pedestrian and a passenger in the cars has been interesting as they navigate these streets. The appearance of these streets is greatly considered, and the community works together to keep it updated. I have attached a picture of Chefchaoen, which I believe encompasses this idea of community responsibility specifically referring to appearance. (Submitted on January 8, 2024)

Week 1: Cultural Differences and Animals

Submitted by Mollie Kline on the 2024 Winter SOCI/CRJU program in South Africa…

This week we went to De Wild Cheetah Centre where we learned about wildlife in South Africa, including animals such as Cheetahs, Wild Dogs, Vultures, and more. On top of that, I learned about a major cultural difference in money and how money is spent in South Africa compared to America. American money goes a long way in South Africa, as R50 is equivalent to about $2. I was able to get a burger, piece of chocolate, and a soda all for about $4. This was a culture shock, but in a good way (Submitted on January 4, 2024).

Tanzania: The World Needs to Change

Submitted by Sarah Turturro on the 2020 winter session program in Tanzania sponsored by the Department of Art…

Looking at this program in terms of time, I cannot believe how fast these three weeks went. Every moment was so fulfilling, yet I feel like there is so much more that we could have done. Having my eyes opened up to a wider worldview for these 25 days was more than I could have ever asked for, and I know that this experience will continue to impact my life for a very long time. What I’m really appreciative for is how much we learned outside of our class syllabi.  Yes, I gained a lot of technical knowledge while I was abroad, but we also had conversations and experiences that came up organically that were just as impactful, if not more. I learned so much about conservation and environmental impact, which has inspired me to try and live a less wasteful life back home, which is hard in our consumerist society. I feel like a true member of the global community now, and I made human connections with so many amazing people who I will always perceive as inspirations. This program has done so much more for me than I could have asked it to, and it has made me so much more aware of my role as a member of this community. Comparing our way of life back home to the lifestyles of the people in Tanzania was overwhelming and a real eye-opener. The world needs to change, and we need to be the ones to change it by being more conscious of our environmental impact.



Tanzania: Learning about the Maasai

Submitted by Brenna Bochow on the 2020 winter session study abroad program in Tanzania sponsored by the Department of Art and Design…

In the last week or so of the program, we spent a lot of time with the Maasai people and had the opportunity to learn about their pastoral lifestyle. We visited a boma, which is where the Maasai live in small fortified areas with their home and pens for their cows and goats, which are their wealth. Maasai men have as many wives as they can afford and have the maximum number of children that they can, because children are also representative of wealth.

The plains that we camped on during our time with the Maasai made for wonderful game drives and we watched thousands of wildebeests run across them during migration. This campsite was one of my favorites because of our close proximity to baboons, giraffes, and hyenas, and learning how the Maasai live was a lot of fun!