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Destination Cape Town: Stories from Abroad

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Last May and June, more than 80 undergraduates—many first-generation college students—experienced a trip of a lifetime in Cape Town, South Africa. Offered by the Longhorn Center of Academic Excellence and the International Office, the study abroad course is the largest of its kind at UT Austin. Led by Leonard N. Moore, interim vice president of diversity and community engagement and professor of history, the program offered internships at firms and NGOs specializing in business, entrepreneurship, health care, education and more. We caught up with several world travelers to learn more about their self-empowering experiences abroad.

Ashley Ikwuagwu
Junior, Pre-Med/Human Development and Family Sciences

image of ashleyAdventure awaits… “Ever since New Black Student Weekend, upperclassmen have been preaching about studying abroad, especially the abroad programs within the DDCE. Combined with the rich history and culture of South Africa, I knew I had to come on this trip specifically.”

Wash, rinse, repeat…While adjusting to her temporary home in a foreign land, Ikwuagwu faced a new set of challenges amidst Cape Town’s water shortage. Although it took some adjusting, she fell into a new routine of two-minute showers and collecting water for other daily needs.  “After a while, it really became second nature to go out of my way to conserve water, so much so that when I left, I saw my previous normal water consumption as excessive. Since being back, I’ve continued to watch my water consumption in smaller ways like turning off the water while I brush my teeth and not keeping the faucet running while I wash the dishes.”

No pain, no gain…Although this wasn’t Ikwuagwu’s first trip to Africa, she faced a series of firsts throughout the month-long journey. Looking back at her experiences, she’s most proud of scaling Lion’s Head Mountain and Table Mountain. When she reached the top, the rewards far offset the grueling upward battle. “I don’t know how to aptly describe my journey up the mountain, but I just felt alive. When I finally reached the top and saw the view—and my classmates surrounding me—I felt happy and accomplished. This was when it really hit me that I was in Cape Town and that I had the potential to do so many more amazing things while there.”

Off the beaten path… “A feature that I love about this program was that, along with the class, we were placed in internships in townships surrounding the city. I love that they are in the townships because it gave us a reprieve from the tourist-centered city life and the chance to experience the real Cape Town.”

On-the-job training…When she wasn’t in class or exploring the great outdoors, Ikwuagwu was interning at a YMCA located in Athlone, a township on the Cape Flats. While working in the health department, she assisted patients and healthcare professionals. “I was given the opportunity to interact with people in the community via house visits and health promotion events. I also learned about the healthcare system of South Africa by visiting day clinics, schools and hospitals. It was inspiring to see how doctors and other health professionals find ways to provide healthcare to the patients. I plan to employ those same techniques when I am a physician.”

Kalen McGuire
Junior, Studio Art

image of Kalen Coming in first…When McGuire learned about the Maymester course, he knew he couldn’t pass up on a trip of a lifetime. “I wanted to be the first Black man of my immediate family to touch my soles on the continent of Africa.”

The art of teaching…While interning at schools in local townships, he had to get creative to bring the classroom to life. “I saw kids were disengaged from their assignments, so after they finished I conducted a photography workshop that heightened their interests.”

Dividing lines…“The majority of the global civilization are influenced by European centrism leaving ‘people of color’ to get the brute of systematic racism and underserved resources. The majority of the original inhabitants of South Africa are having to resort to the ‘get it how you live’ or by ‘survive by any means’ life style. That is why gangsterism, illegal activity, domestic violence and drug abuse run rapid in underserved second image of Kalencommunities. We so happen to be experiencing this same story in America.”

Paying it forward…Now McGuire plans on incorporating his experiences and research into a series of inspirational videos, photographs and paintings. “Not only do I want to share my research and work with this top tier university, but I want to give back to community schooling districts that resemble my hometown, Duncanville, Texas, where most students grow up single-parent households without a fathers. They often experience the daily struggles of financial instability, violence and lack of educational exposure in a town where sports take priority.”

Inspiring others...This project is especially meaningful for McGuire because he, too, grew up in an unstable home. He hopes his work will inspire more at-risk students to make a better life for themselves.  “These beginning disadvantages led me to study at The University of Texas at Austin. I use my story to help admonish others to reach their potential. I am an artist who invites the audience to the bigger picture by the use of my dynamic life story to inspire others.”

Chase Moore
Senior, History/Sociology

image of chase mooreTracing his cultural roots…Moore has several stamps in his passport, but this trip to Cape Town proved to be one of the most memorable.  “I was the first person in my entire family to travel to the continent of Africa. I want to normalize seeing beyond ones circumstances and doing things that have never been done.”

Remnants of Apartheid…While visiting Steenberg, an underserved suburb of Cape Flats, Moore saw the lasting effects of the Apartheid system. “I witnessed 37 families being forcefully removed from their apartments, without compensation, and relegated to the cold patch of land outside their building. They are in an extremely destitute situation where food, clothing, bathing and legitimate shelter are lacking.”

Daring to dream… Working alongside Karen Maarman of the community-based NGO Bethel Women’s Project, he mentored at-risk students at local schools. “After entering the grounds of Sullivan Primary School, children immediately hugged me. They were so fascinated by who I was and why I was there, so I felt it was my duty to share my wisdom. I emphasized the pertinence of not only dreaming, but dreaming dreams that are so big that they have the potential to shape and transform their reality.”

Breaking the cycle…Moore delivered several motivational speeches at two underprivileged schools. “Each time I spoke, I noticed students would get emotional and cry when I mentioned situations prevalent in their community that they could relate to. The missing fathers being incarcerated, growing up without money, gangs shooting at night, and the abuse of drugs is not only the plight of Steenberg, but of my upbringing as well.”

Digging deep… Moore will never forget a breakthrough moment when he asked the class, “Who has a dream?” All students, except for one, raised their hands, so he decided to dig a little deeper. “After speaking upon the adversity I went through to achieve my lifelong dream of playing football at the University of Texas, I asked again, ‘Who has a dream?’ This time, all hands in the classroom went up—including the teacher.”

Change will come…Despite the atrocities Moore observed in the streets of Steenberg, he remains hopeful that more humanitarians like Karen Maarman will create a lasting change for the better. “The remnants of Apartheid are still evident among many South African Black and coloured communities. They have been relegated to the most unnourished and decrepit spaces among the city of Cape Town. A conglomerate of communal efforts to cease the gangsterism, physical and sexual violence, drug use and low educational attainment are greatly needed in this community. I believe in better days, but they will not come into fruition until more Steenberg dwellers see beyond their circumstances and become the change they want to see.”

Rachel Walters
Junior, Public Relations and Sustainability Studies

Image of Rachel A journey of self-discovery…During her sophomore year, Rachel Walters had her pick between two life-altering study abroad opportunities. After weighing her pros and cons, she decided join her LCAE friends on a trip of a lifetime. “I chose Cape Town because, as a Black woman, I really wanted the chance to come to Africa. And as I learned more about the program I knew that the internship opportunities would allow me to uniquely apply what I am learning as a public relations major to some of the issues occurring in Cape Town.

Flying solo…Although she traveled with her fellow students, this was Walters’ first overseas trek without family. “This was my first time traveling on my own and it presented me with a lot of responsibility that I was not used to having. It made me become a lot more comfortable being independent and figuring out things on my own.”

All downhill from here…About a week into the trip, Walters faced her share of struggles while adjusting to a new living environment. Yet all of those worries fell to the wayside when she reached the top of Lion’s Head Mountain. “Climbing that mountain was sort of a turning point for me. It was the first big thing I did and accomplished on the trip and it showed me that this experience would be so much more than the little things that were bothering me.”

Tackling the world…While living and interning in Cape Town, Walters studied water supply and land distribution challenges in city. Working alongside her fellow students, she created a proposal for sustainable solutions.  “Personally, this program allowed me to experience new things, people and places through a different lens which helped me grow as a person. I left Cape Town with a new sense of confidence to be more independent, try new things and tackle the world.”

A tale of two cities…Perhaps the most memorable experience, she says, was seeing the stark divide between rich and poor. “I got to experience the rich, tourist parts of Cape Town and also the townships where low-income Black Africans were living. I was able to see that these people look just like me but were unfortunately born to much worse circumstances due to the race issues in the country. It was incredibly humbling.”

Keelan Wilson
Junior, Pre-Med/Human Development and Family Sciences

immage of keelanNext stop, Cape Town…Unlike many of his fellow travelers, Wilson is a seasoned world traveler. Back in 2016, he lived and studied in Beijing along with his fellow classmates in the LCAE Maymester course Social Entrepreneurship in the U.S. and China. “I was personally motivated by a conversation I had with Dr. Moore while I was in Beijing. He basically told me that I just needed to come to Africa and that it was a totally different experience.”

Planning ahead…His greatest challenge was squeezing in as much as possible on a shoestring budget. “The biggest dilemma for me is usually money, simply because I would like to experience so much about a country, but that does tend to cost a lot. I overcame those challenges by planning ahead of time and prioritizing the things that are most important.”

Sun and fun…Of all his memories from the trip, he most enjoys reminiscing upon the most perfect summer day out on the beach. “After class, we were all invited to play volleyball. Playing volleyball is a tradition that still stands with the Moore family during these trips. I am like a permanent team member of their family team, as of China the year prior, and we are undefeated. Going to that beach that day, competing and having a lot of fun with my cohort was just a great experience.”

image of KeelanChanges in latitude, changes in attitude… “The largest benefit that I have gained from my numerous experiences in South Africa is my mindset. Having my mindset geared in a way that is positive and resilient is what I need to be successful in all aspects of life. I am thankful for all of the perspectives that I’ve gained and my new lend on life will benefit me every day.”

Living to serve…“My life is not my own, and I will not stop until I have successfully helped as many people as I can all around the world. This trip has shown me that there is a need for help in the country of South Africa, and I will one day be able to provide the help they need in that community.”

Words of wisdom…No matter where his travels may lead, Wilson will always keep one important life lesson in mind. “I learned that within chaos there is opportunity.”