Stella Martin is on the UGA Equestrian team. She is studying Political Science and International Affairs through SPIA.
Thanks to UGA, SPIA, and Athletics, I had the incredible opportunity to spend five weeks of my summer in South Africa, and I am so happy I took advantage of it. For the first four weeks, we lived in a guest villa in Stellenbosch, a university town outside of Cape Town, and took two classes with UGA professors. I was grateful to learn from and get to know the distinguished professors throughout the trip, and as a political science and international affairs double major, the political development and sociology classes applied perfectly to what I have been studying.
During those weeks, we spent our afternoons assisting in the facilitation of an afterschool program at the Non-Governmental Organization (NGO), Vision Afrika in the township of Kayamandi. Here we were able to provide individual attention to the students while learning about the complexities of development and gaining a better understanding of South African Society. The time at Kayamandi flew by, but it was incredibly rewarding. I had fun helping with homework, coming up with educational games, and leading projects. The genuine connections that I had with some of the children amazed me, and I will never forget my new friends across the world. Even though the project was short, it showed me that one of the greatest strengths of humanity is our ability to relate to one another more naturally than we can be divided. The service-learning portion of our trip was a great compliment to our classes, and it made me want to participate in similar, more long-term, projects in the future.
We spent our free time and weekends exploring Stellenbosch and nearby Cape Town. The program coordinated group excursions and facilitated transportation and logistics for activities we wanted to do on our own. Some of the standout adventures that the program had planned for us while in South Africa were tours of Table Mountain, hikes to the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point, stops at Simon’s Town to see the penguins, and beautiful scenic drives. We also enjoyed many wonderful meals at beautiful vineyards and seaside restaurants. On our own, we had fun exploring Cape Town and Muizenburg (a surfing town outside of Cape Town), shopping at local artisan markets, and hiking the mountains surrounding Stellenbosch.
The professors also coordinated many insightful and educational opportunities. We had several meetings with a Stellenbosch University community engagement lecturer, visits to Robben Island, tours of South African townships and the apartheid museum, and a conversation with Dr. Wilhelm Verwoerd, an esteemed peace practitioner and political philosopher. I learned so much from each of these experiences that could be applied to the classes we were taking, my studies in general, and my work in the future. They also showed me how important it is to balance between cynicism and hope when approaching complex problems. Throughout the trip, and during our classes, we witnessed immense inequality and learned about how complicated development and reconciliation could be. While it was certainly difficult and upsetting at times, it was above all inspiring. I left even more determined to work for positive change in the future.
Our last week of the trip was spent on adventures in Zimbabwe and Batswana. Accompanied by our professors and our trusted guide, we flew to Victoria Falls, where we stayed for two nights. Exploring Victoria Falls National Park was incredible. It is not often that nature has made me feel quite so wonderfully small. We also went on a Gorge Swing, took a helicopter tour over Victoria Falls, and went on a cruise down the Zambezi River, where we saw hippos, elephants, and a spectacular sunset. Our animal sightings weren’t limited to our cruise though – driving down the main street in Victoria Falls, we saw a herd of elephants cross the street, and watched as a group of baboons and their babies played on parked cars.
After two nights, we went on to Chobe National Park. We went on a game cruise down the Chobe River where we saw multiple herds of elephants in and along the water and ended up surrounded by a large group of hippos. On our last day, we went on two game drives through the national park, where giraffes ran alongside of us and elephants inquisitively peeked into our car. A baby elephant even trumpeted and charged at us as we drove by. It was so much fun!
I will never forget my time in South Africa. I learned so much about what I’m studying at UGA, about people and places across the world, and about myself. I had once-in-a-lifetime experiences seemingly every day, and made incredible friendships along the way. While I am certainly biased toward the Stellenbosch study abroad, I have no doubt that other trips would be just as fun, informational, and eye-opening. I certainly plan on taking advantage of another study abroad and I would recommend anyone else to do the same.