From Skyscrapers to Sand Dunes: My Journey in Dubai & Abu Dhabi by Haylie Jones
From the moment I arrived in Dubai, I felt like I was in another world. I was immediately struck by the immense diversity of culture in this city. People from all over the world come to live and work in Dubai, creating a melting pot of different languages, cuisines, and traditions. I loved being able to try new foods and learn about different customs from the locals.
One of the highlights of my trip was visiting the Museum of the Future in Dubai. This futuristic museum showcases the latest innovations and technologies that are shaping our world. But while the Museum of the Future was certainly a highlight, I also appreciated the opportunity to learn about the rich history and culture of the region. In Abu Dhabi, I visited the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, one of the largest mosques in the world. I also enjoyed exploring the traditional souks with the FLI girls, where I could soak up the vibrant atmosphere together and be in awe of the beautiful shops.
My trip to Dubai and Abu Dhabi was an unforgettable experience. I loved being able to witness a new culture and explore the latest in technology. This trip was definitely a dream that came to life.
My First Time on a Plane by MyrT’asia Gowan
My name is MyrT’asia Gowan; I am a 3rd-year student at the University of Texas at Austin, and this year I got to FLI Around The World. With the help of FLI Around The World Scholarship, I was blessed to study abroad in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
I had never ridden on a plane before this trip, but my participation in FLI influenced my decision to study abroad by affirming my confidence to take up space. Before FLI, I felt my identity as a young Black woman would be a barrier that held me back from becoming the best version of myself at UT so I shrunk myself. It was FLI faculty and students who changed my perception of what it means to exist as a Black woman by nurturing my confidence with relevant conversations and engaging topics in a space where Black women safely shared their wisdom; their words gave me the courage to take up space in the classroom, my community, and halfway around-the-world.
After returning from traveling abroad, I can truly say I had a life-changing experience. I learned that I already have everything it takes to be a fearless and loyal leader anywhere in the world. I am forever grateful for this opportunity and I will never forget that I am an FLI woman.
A Transformative Experience by Ashley Smith
My Spring Break trip to Dubai and Abu Dhabi was, and will probably continue to be, one of the most transformative trips of my life. It was my first time traveling internationally, and on top of that, it was halfway around the world. I learned so much about Middle Eastern culture and UAE as a country, while also learning about myself. We were allowed so much free time to explore, make plans, and create an individualized experience. Even though I was one of about 75 students on the trip, and I initially didn’t come with any “friends”, I can safely say that I created so many memories and had so much fun with the people I met and formed connections with. One of my favorite experiences was visiting NYU Abu Dhabi and talking with the faculty, staff, and students there. Because they were all Black, they offered some thoughtful insight into what life is like living as a Black American abroad.
Achieving the Impossible by Kamryn Rudison
Before coming to college, l would’ve never even thought of traveling to the other side of the world. It didn’t seem realistically possible. For one, no one in my family has ever traveled to a destination as far as Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Secondly, I just believed it wasn’t financially feasible. After seeing all the FLI girls study abroad and hearing their stories, I believed I could do it too. Once my mind was set on studying abroad during my last year of college, I wasn’t going to let anything stand in my way.
Thanks to multiple scholarships and working three jobs, I bought my flight to Dubai and Abu Dhabi. I flew the 27-hour flight alone and was scared because I had no close friends coming on the trip with me. Little did I know, I’d form those friendships with everyone I talked to on the trip. Flying alone and getting to Dubai and Abu Dhabi gave me the confidence that I could do anything I set my mind to.
Reflecting on the trip as a whole, the most special experiences I had were the days were we got to learn about the culture, religion, and people. Throughout the trip, I continually questioned my identity in a productive way and opened my eyes to the privilege I have as an American. I learned how to travel in a way where you can learn and appreciate the culture as well as do the fun things. I can’t wait to see the next “impossible” thing I achieve.
There’s Nothing to Fear, but Fear Itself by Kacy Middleton
I cannot believe the opportunity I had to go across international waters and spend my spring break in Dubai and Abu Dubai with the DDCE! When I first got into the program and we started our weekly cohort meeting in January, I was unsure and dreading going on the trip. This is because I had so many fears. I had a fear of flying, and a fear of going to another country with 60+ other students I did not know. I just had a lot of doubts that were hindering my mindset and my attitude leading up to the trip. Little did I know that this was going to be the best trip of my entire life!
Once the time came to load the bus on March 9th at 7am, I still carried so much doubt and I even had a mini freak out before boarding what seemed like an eternal flight, which was actually just 14 hours (I am still proud of myself for conquering my fear of flying). Once I boarded and saw that other students, who would eventually become lifelong friends, were sitting all around me I felt much more relaxed. 14 hours later we landed in Dubai and our first night revealed to me that this experience was going to be nothing but an unforgettable adventure. The days that followed were nothing short of amazing. I got to go to the Dubai Miracle Gardens, Kite Beach, and the Burj Khalifa; Dr. Walker planned so many memorable experiences with the cohort including the Museum of Future and visiting a Cultural Center. After an unforgettable experience in Dubai we drove to Abu Dhabi where we first visited the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, which was absolutely beautiful. It is crazy to think that people from all across the world wait until they are older to go to such a historic landmark , and I got to go while being in college. We also got to see the UAE Presidential Palace, the Emirates Hotel, and more!
I could not believe I almost let my fear of flying hold me back from what would turnout to be an experience filled with lifelong memories! If you are ever in a position where you are facing your fear, just know that what’s awaiting on the other side will be worth it!
Designed for Beauty by Gabrielle Izu
Dubai is beautiful, which isn’t surprising because everything about it is designed to be. The carefully planned architectural projects, the integrated skyline, and the city’s overall cleanliness create a great tourist experience. It isn’t hard to see why there’s such a large ex-pat population in a country as appealing as the UAE.
Going with DDCE Global on the FLI Around the World scholarship to the UAE has been one of the highlights of my first year of college. Not only did I learn about a completely different culture than I grew up in, but I was able to see how my peers and I reacted to this difference and learn about how cultural intelligence could be applied in my own life.
But, one moment in particular that I want to write about in this post is going to NYU Abu Dhabi and the panels we were lucky to be able to attend. Seeing the myriad of Black faculty and students, from all over the diaspora, discuss their experiences in higher education abroad really opened my eyes to the opportunities available that I otherwise would have possibly ignored. After having gone to the NYUAD campus, accomplishing my goals in studying abroad and foreign policy are so much easier to conceptualize now that I know it’s possible. This is the value of DDCE Global, showing underrepresented students their potential by giving them access to the amazing things that are possible. Not only that, but DDCE global also makes sure to take them to unique places!
I would like to thank Dr. Devin Walker and Ms. Thaïs Bass-Moore for advertising this opportunity to me, and the many other people including Isabel Keddy-Hector, Cydni Cox, Donovan Handy, and Dr. Leonard Moore, who worked to make this possible.
The Journey: More Important Than the Destination by Tiaira Conley
The Mother City in the Motherland. My experience in Johannesburg and Cape Town, South Africa was unlike any other. I am really thankful for the opportunity to experience the greatness that this country has to offer. There were many ‘firsts’ in this trip, such as hiking Lion’s Head Mountain and enjoying the views. This activity really challenged me because I tend to pace myself slowly. There was always this drive from other students to make it to the top of the mountain as quickly as possible that I didn’t resonate with. Many miss out on this experience because of that drive. As I progressed through the hiking trail, the sights became increasingly pleasing. This made me more appreciative of this rigorous activity. Even though I made it to my destination, the journey was more important. Philippians 4:13 ❤️
Questions About My Roots Answered! by Kelly Solis
Growing up as a fourth generation Mexican American in Texas, I was always surrounded by Mexican culture. I heard Spanish spoken around me, I ate traditional foods, and even listened as my family told Mexican folktales at the table. However, despite being close to my culture, it never felt like enough and I never felt that I fully connected with my roots.
I had so many questions about my people and our history that it led me to take up Mexican American and Latinx Studies as my major here at the University of Texas. Yet, no matter how much I read in books, or learned in lectures, I still felt limited. By studying in Puebla, Mexico I was able to immerse myself in the very culture that I grew to feel disconnected from. I was able to learn about the histories of Indigenous peoples in Mexico and see their contributions as they exist today. I was able to apply what I knew from my UT courses and family stories and create a new understanding of Mexican American identity and history. Studying abroad in Mexico gave me the power to see myself in history and to share that empowerment with my family and community. My time abroad in Mexico was truly a life changing experience and one I will cherish forever!
Embracing Spanish Culture by Gloria Akinnibosun
Studying abroad in Barcelona, Spain has truly been an experience. As I wrap up my final week in this program, I think back to all of the places I got the chance to visit during my one month here: Park Guell, Girona, Sagrada Familia, Cava Winery Freixenet, and Tarragona. All places have shown me the multi-faceted nature of Spanish culture, which has allowed me to embrace the livelihood of the language and food here as well. I even got the chance to attend Primavera Sound Barcelona, a huge music festival here that showcases a variety of artists and talents worldwide.
One thing I do wish I committed to more prior to visiting was learning Spanish to a higher degree of attainment. I took Spanish for about 4 years in middle school, and during my freshman year of high school. Given the length of time I spent on this language, I could have very well been proficient today. Nevertheless, I have been able to navigate the city of Barcelona embracing this realization as a good thing, instead of a regret. Trying traditional dishes such as paella, empanadas, and patatas have all been enriching experiences, as I enjoy getting accustomed to what people love and admire in their native countries. Overall, studying abroad is an experience I would recommend to anyone due to the selfless desire you gain to embrace other cultures. I have had a great deal of fun challenging myself to the ways of living here in Barcelona!
Learning From the People is What I Loved Most by Helah Payne
Flying to the other side of the world and experiencing a new way of life has been completely life altering in the best ways possible. I feel like I could not have chosen a better place to spend my summer. When you think of traveling, you think of going out to have fun and partying. Do not get me wrong; the excursions have been amazing and a huge part of the life changing experience. I mean climbing one of the 7 wonders of the world (Table Mountain) is a huge confidence booster. But one thing I love about this trip are the people. Going into the townships to actually hear from the people taking up the space and talk about their life instead of hearing about it on the news is something you cannot take for granted while on this trip. You learn to appreciate what you have but you also learn to not use your hardships as a crutch and to make the most put of nothing. Even within the group of people we came with, I have been grateful to meet such open-minded and accepting people. You can learn a lot about misconceptions, learn a lot about yourself and how to engage with others who did not grow up like you. I am forever grateful for these experiences and God’s grace through this journey.
Strolling from Castle to Castle by Jewel Fortune
At this point I have made it halfway through my five week study abroad program in Prague, Czech Republic. I have made the most of my time in this historical city by spending time at the Prague Castle, Prague Astronomical Clock, Charles Bridge, Vysehrad Castle, and strolling around Old Time Square. Actually, in the photo shown I am looking upon one of the most popular and beautiful views of the city inside the property of the Prague Castle which is not shown in the photo but is located directly behind me.
In addition, Prague’s location in central Europe has allowed me to travel to Berlin, Germany and Vienna, Austria. My time in Berlin was short but I was able to connect the horrific history of the Holocaust learned in school to witnessing the Berlin Wall and Charlie’s Point in person. In Vienna I visited the St. Stephen’s Cathedral and stunning Belvedere Art Museum broken up into three buildings Upper, Lower, and 21 housing some of the most timeless pieces in history but I personally enjoyed the architecture and detailed grounds created by baroque architect Johann Lucas von Hildebrandt. The places I still plan on visiting while abroad are Budapest, Hungary and Barcelona, Spain.
As a first time traveler to Europe I would have never imagined how relatively simple and affordable (compared to if I had planned a vacation to Europe) it has been to travel as a study abroad student to various destinations in such a short time period. Lastly and most importantly FLI’s support has been strong and evident over the past three years at UT, so it was a relief to be paired with another FLI member as my roommate and to be able to travel Europe while attending classes with her the past few weeks. Thank you FLI staff and donors for believing in UT’s black and brown students.
Never Forget by Kalila White
My first few days in South Africa were a wonderful, exhilarating experience. I toured the streets of the townships Kayelitsha and Langa, learned to navigate the streets of downtown Cape Town, learned about the history of South Africa, and ate amazing food. Unfortunately, a few days into my trip I caught Covid and had to quarantine. What kept me going was that I was here in South Africa and when I got out I was going to make the most of my time here. Since then I’ve done many things such as climbing Lion’s Head Mountain, riding ATVs, seeing penguins, and much more.
The one thing that stood out the most was climbing Lion’s Head Mountain. I’m not going to lie, I wanted to give up and turn around many, many times. People who know me know that I would have given up and went to get something to eat. But I had encouragement from my new friends, which fueled me and gave me the determination I needed to make it to the top. After enduring two charley horses and a scraped knee I made it up and down the mountain. Was the view worth it at the top? I have to admit that it was, especially because the sun was slowly setting. Will I ever do it again? It’s a strong no. I’ll never forget any of these experiences and I’m so grateful to have had this opportunity. Had new experiences, made new friends, ate good food, and spent a lot of money (yikes).
Communication and It’s Challenges by Kenedi Houston
My experience with the FLI DDCE South Africa program is reflective of the University of Texas Moody College, which always emphasizes that effective communication is key to success. Reaching the top of Lion’s Head Mountain was a challenge to my communication skills and physical endurance. Every step we took we asked are we almost there yet. In life, many people might walk ahead of us, but it is ultimately up to us to walk our own path. Believing in yourself is key. When we asked if we were only 20 or 15 minutes until the top, we were encouraged forward even though the destination was further than they said. This happened about 10 times before we were able to finally climb to the top. The moral of my story is you have to experience the journey on the way to the destination.
Climbing Lion’s Head serves as a metaphor for all the new experiences that I have had as a member of FLI. South Africa is unique from Texas and 11 different languages are spoken here, including English, isiXhosa, and isiZulu. Although English is used, cultural communication can still be a barrier. I have loved my time here including all the challenges such as the time differences when communicating with family back home, when making purchases at the store using metric weights, and when converting from dollars to rand. All have challenged my communication skills.
I am proud of myself for not giving up, and I realized how much communication is essential to our daily and weekly activities. Being able to adapt fearlessly to new environments and being able to communicate my experiences to the next student is what any FLI Around the World experience teaches. I would have never had this experience without the support of FLI, DDCE, or Education Abroad. My confidence has grown in a place of my ancestor’s wildest dreams. I would like to honor them today by showering their names with gratitude: Thomas Lee Houston Jr. and Thomas Lee Houston Sr. and Rosa De Butcher and Aaron Butcher Sr.
Dream Come True by Rajani Maraj
Cape Town is one of a kind. It’s always been my dream to travel the world, so I appreciate FLI and my family and friends who have supported me in many ways to be able to study abroad.
Africa is a very big continent with so many different cultures, but getting to experience Cape Town culture specifically has been so eye-opening. For example, the second night we were here, we got to take a tour of the Langa township and then eat authentic South African food at the Mzansi family restaurant. I got to see how there was a strong sense of community within Langa and compare that to how in the United States neighbors don’t really interact like that. This among other cultural differences made me think about the values Americans versus South Africans hold. Moreover, the Mzansi and Ubizo Tours staff treated us like family and made our first night together so special with music, food, and dancing. This program has allowed me to immerse myself in South African culture, connect with the people on the trip and reflect personally. I recognize how blessed I am to be in a position to travel so young and go so far away, so I’m trying to soak in every moment.
Do It Again Because I Deserve To! by Vanessa Lane
Studying abroad was easily one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in my life. One experience that really impacted me was when the FLI girls and I went to the top of Burj Khalifa (the tallest building in the world), where we saw a view like no other. It made it really special to be in a space where not many black and brown women get to be and I’m blessed to have shared it with the women who believed in me the most. The pictures from our phones don’t do the views justice like the mental images. Being on top of the world only motivated me to do it again because I deserve to.
So Much More to See! by Michela Williams
In March of 2022, my last semester here at UT, I had the amazing opportunity to study abroad in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates! If I had told myself two years ago that I would be fulfilling my dreams of leaving the country and seeing what the world had to offer, I might think I was joking. As a first-generation college student, the thought of leaving the country was daunting to not only me but to my family as well. I am the first person in my family for generations to obtain a passport and travel internationally and my heart is full just thinking of being the trailblazer for more people like me to do more and see more!
My experience abroad showed me in real life what I had already thought of so longingly in the past. There is so much more to see outside of the United States! Observing the culture, the architecture, infrastructure, and immersing myself in life as it is in the U.A.E. was invaluable. Studying abroad has truly opened my eyes to concepts and ideas that always seemed so far away from me and put them right up close. I had the privilege of seeing the renowned Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the Burj Khalifa, and visited the amazing World Expo held in Dubai! Although I was only there for a short time, it felt like I had gained a lifetime of experience. As a Black woman born in the United States, I lived a different existence abroad; one that differed vastly from my entire life’s experience moving through spaces I was accustomed to. It was a little uncomfortable. But nonetheless, a discomfort that has shaped my mind and shifted my worldview for the better! I’m excited to take the new me into the world and implement my new experiences for the greater good.
I Am My Ancestors’ Wildest Dreams by Jalesha Bass
Today we visited Tiananmen Square in Beijing China and it was one of the most impactful experiences I have had thus far. On our walk today through this site it was full of a lot of rich history that I found myself fascinated with and in a state of awe as we walked through. During our trip on this day I wore my shirt that says “I’m my ancestors wildest dreams.” And to be honest I am. It was during those moments of exploring that portions of China’s history that I realized that I was actually in China! Me! A Black woman! A first generation college student! A person who comes from a low social and economic background, and I was in awe. I had really made it to China. China was not a place that was really talked about where I came from. It wasn’t a conversation of Oh yeah one day I hope to visit China. No, it was more like One day I want to visit Africa, or Europe, or even South America. But China… it wasn’t in the mix.
When I first told my parents I wanted to go to China they looked at me as if I was crazy. I’m not sure if it was the fact that I was leaving the country or that it was China, but both were pretty upsetting to them to say the least. But someone who was just as excited as I was to go was my 98-year-old great-grandmother. She hadn’t known much about China except the common stereotypes, but she encouraged me to go. She wanted me to bring her back pictures of the city and gifts from the market. She told me to go out and explore so I would have stories to tell once I came back. She was so fascinated with the fact that her great-granddaughter was going to China. I was her wildest dream! Her regular dreams consisted of her going on vacations in South America and visiting our homeland in Africa. But her wildest dream was me in China. I am a first-generation college student doing a lot of things that my family hasn’t had the chance to do and I know the things I am doing make my family proud, however, being in China made me realize that I was also their wildest dream.
Head in the Clouds (Literally) by Janet Akisanmi, Costa Rica, Maymester 2019
Traveling isn’t that new to me. I’ve been to places like Nigeria, Italy, and even many states around the U.S. So when I was blessed with the chance to study abroad in Costa Rica, I thought I had things all figured out. I knew the right things to pack, how much space to leave in my bag, not to carry all of my money at once, the typical traveler’s guide tips. However, what my trip in Costa Rica showed me was more than I was expecting.
Stepping off the plane, saying I was excited was an understatement. It was the longest I have been out of the U.S. since I moved here from Nigeria, and I knew that this experience would show me more than I could imagine. While I have been to other countries, this experience stood out from the rest due to the fact that it was a study abroad program, and that most people in the town we stayed in didn’t speak English. Our program also had host families, meaning we got to really be immersed in the culture and environment of Costa Rica. We also went to the mountains, walked among the clouds, interacted with school children, and helped a recycling initiative. The program really allowed us to be Ticas and Ticos for its entire duration.
One of the biggest lessons that I took away was the importance of communication. Spanish is the main language of Costa Rica, but I have never taken a Spanish course in my life. I knew the basics of hello, how are you, and goodbye, but other than that I only brought a translator app with me to help navigate myself. The language barrier hit the hardest while I was with my host family, but it didn’t stop us from communicating! I quickly learned how much is involved in communication, because it goes so much deeper than just words. Communication is about body language, tone, and facial expressions. There was a night where I spent the evening with my Mama Tica’s extended family, and though I only picked up a few words I was able to get the gist of the conversation and even had a few good laughs along the way.
Another big lesson that this trip taught me was how much growth comes from being uncomfortable. Costa Rica definitely has a lot of similarities to American culture, but we stayed in a small town outside of the big city called San Joaquin, where the Tico culture is alive and well. My time in San Joaquin made me get out of my comfort zone many times, including navigating town by myself, trying exotic fruits found only in the country, and interacting with people of a different culture. I learned how much I miss out on because I’m scared of putting myself in situations I’m not used to. Being uncomfortable turned out to be so fulfilling and helped me to grow mentally and spiritually!
Overall, my time in Costa Rica was extremely eye-opening. Costa Rica is rich with great food, landscape, music, initiatives, and people. We got to meet many game-changers in the community who have inspired us to take steps to impact our areas back in Austin. Studying abroad is such a great opportunity that I highly encourage everyone to do if they get the chance. There is also a saying that summarizes Costa Rican culture and its people, Pura Vida! It translates into pure life, meaning that life is meant to be slowed down and enjoyed to its fullest. I can without a doubt use that to summarize my time in Costa Rica. Pura Vida!
Ready or Not, Here I Come by Taylor Jones, Cape Town, Maymester 2019
I wish I could tell you that I was ready for this trip the minute I got my acceptance letter to the Maymester Abroad to Cape Town, South Africa, but I’m going to keep it real with you. From the time I got in the class spring semester to just before I stepped foot on the plane for the 14 hr flight to Dubai, I wanted to turn back around and go home. The thing is, I have never been out of the country let alone on a plane, so to think I was embarking on a journey to two places I never thought I would ever be able to go to was a terrifying experience for me.
I was worried about a lot of things: what could go wrong, what if I get lost, what if I run out of money, how will I contact my family if I need help and my most outrageous worry was what if the plane crashes! All of this went through my mind as I boarded my flight that night to Dubai. However, as I landed 13 ½ hrs later (because they were ahead of schedule) and I got my first ever stamp from Dubai in my first ever passport, I couldn’t believe I was there. This also happened when I finally landed in Cape Town. I was amazed by the city’s beauty. The farthest I have ever been out of Texas was Florida. Something about knowing I was in a whole different country, on a completely different continent blew me away and that feeling still hasn’t gone away. Since being in Cape Town I have learned and seen so many things that have made me think and check my privileges. I think this trip was something I needed in order to get out of the mindset and naivety I had before. Now, as this trip is coming to an end and there are only 11 days left in the program, I dread the day I have to leave this beautiful place. I don’t want to get back on a plane to make that 14hr flight back to Texas, but as I do I know that I will be coming back with experiences I never knew I would have. With new thoughts, ideas, and outlooks on life that I gathered from my time in Cape Town, South Africa.
Kadija Balde, Cape Town, Maymester 2019
Cape Town, South Africa has been an experience that I know I will never forget. From the history to the culture to the people, I have learned so much and cannot wait to be able to apply the knowledge and encouragement I gained while here. Ever since first arriving I knew this place was special. At first I was convinced it was the breathtaking views of the magnificent mountains and the striking sea. However, I have come to realize that what makes this place remarkable is the people. The hardworking, inspirational, strong people. They are truly the warmest and most welcoming people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. I will always cherish the relationships I was able to foster while in this beautiful city.
Mackenzie Robinson, Cape Town, Maymester 2019
When I look at where I am today, my heart is filled with awe and pure happiness. I have experienced so many things in the short time that I have been here, so many lifelong memories with so many amazing people. I am proud to be a recipient of the FLI scholarship, I am truly maximizing my experience to the fullest. I’ve paraglided over the city of Cape Town, I’ve studied the townships in an effort to see what people here experience on a daily basis, I’ve sailed across the bay with friends that I never even thought I would have, I’ve hiked Cape Point and stood on the edge of the world, I’ve played with seals and monkeys, and I got to play volleyball with the infamous Moore family. Having this experience motivates me to push myself and work so much harder so everyone around me can one day experience this. My heart couldn’t be more full and I appreciate and love FLI for this experience. There is nowhere but up from here. #FLIaroundtheworld
Khadijah Denton, Cape Town, Maymester 2019
Being a freshman I was very nervous to apply to study abroad when mentioned in my classes, because I felt as if I wasn’t experienced with college enough and I didn’t think I was ready. However, applying and coming abroad was the best decision I have made because there are so many opportunities that have came along with it. I have made so many great friends and memories and I’m learning so much about South African history, culture, and the effects of the apartheid. This study abroad program was one of the greatest things to happen to me and I am very grateful to FLI for providing a scholarship for me to experience something I such as this! Hook em!!
Renée Acquaye, Cape Town, Maymester 2019
I climbed Lion’s Head Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa. To start off, I should let the general public know of my deathly fear of heights and that should give some context for my entire experience.
On Friday after class, our TA Jaylen made an announcement that he was leading the second hike up Lion’s Head to whoever was interested in joining him. I started to generate the excuses in my head as to why I couldn’t go on a hike that day, but ultimately my girl group decided they wanted to go and I had FOMO. So, long before I knew I was in an Uber and at the base of the mountain. The first third of the mountain was a steep hike up an incline, imagine climbing at the highest setting on the treadmill and fast-walking the entire time. Five minutes into the hike, I realized my cardiovascular strength was in the gutter and wondered if anyone would notice if I slipped to the back of the group and called an uber back to the hostel. But as corny as it may sound, I just repeated my “mind over matter” mantra to myself and kept going. This part of the climb felt like the longest and was absolutely the hardest, but after 15 minutes we reached the next sector of the climb. I began walking and not ten minutes into this new level of the climb, the path narrowed, and I noticed that only one wrong move stood between me and a tragic fall. I tried to focus on the steps in front of me and minimize the intensity of the heights I was ascending. But my avoidance techniques lasted all of five minutes and soon I became extremely aware of the slippery rocks in front of me, the narrow path beside me and the lack of a railing to keep me on the mountain path. Soon, the walkable path ended. We had been on our hike for what seemed like an eternity and I assumed we were close to the finish because we had hit a wall of rocks. I turned to Jaylen and asked him where exactly were we supposed to go from there. He said up. I closed my eyes and felt my anxiety grow in intensity. When you’re climbing a mountain, there are so many thoughts running through your head, so at that moment my two thoughts were: I had to trust my body because it had not failed me yet AND I was covering my life and this mountain in the Blood of Jesus. I grabbed the most pointed rock and pulled myself up and trusted my feet to find stable ground beneath me. Soon, we reached a point of this unexpected rock climb where we had to use chains to scale the rock wall because there were essentially no rocks sticking out of the wall to grab onto. Never in my life have I held on to something like I held on to the chains that were keeping me on Lion’s Head mountain. After what seemed like an unbelievable American Ninja Warrior amount of rock climbing I made it to the top of the mountain. The view from 2,195 ft above the sea is indescribable. And God heard my prayers because I made it back down this crazy mountain the same way I came up. Fear of heights – 0. Renee – 1.
Alexis McDonald, Beijing, Maymester 2019
The most interesting part about studying abroad in China is that it’s impossible to be invisible. It’s impossible to hide my identity here. In America, I got used to being the only Black female in the room. I got used to existing in a sea of diverse faces. However, in China, you are the outsider, you are the foreigner. People stare at me. They look confused or amazed. It’s as if they have never seen a black person in their life. The weird thing is that it doesn’t really bother me. They take pictures of me without my consent, they touch my hair, and they stare constantly, but I don’t think it’s coming from a bad place. If someone were to treat me the same way in America, I would feel dehumanized, but here, I just recognize their curiosity and I smile. I don’t mind the lack of personal space or the constant head turning. I think being in China has helped me realize the privilege I have to experience all kinds of people, so much so that it becomes “normal”.
One lesson I learned that changed my perspective about the meaning of “normal”, is that there are more people in the entire world living in East Asia than outside of it. If “normal” really describes what most people do, then they have the advantage. I’m the weird one. I am unique and interesting, and people stare not because they hate my skin, but because they want to know more. China is the place I get to share my identity in a way that is not rooted in American systems of oppression. I get to explore what it means to be a Black female outside the contexts of what I know. Finally, I get to negotiate my exchanges with people much differently than I do at home, and I think that’s what I love most about studying abroad in China.
Crystal Adiele, Cape Town, Maymester 2019
South Africa has been such an amazing experience so far. I have learned so much about the community, as well as the history of South Africa. The culture in South Africa is full of diversity and livelihood. I am grateful that I am a part of an internship that helps the citizens of Khayelitsha, one of the largest and fastest growing townships in South Africa. I am ecstatic to apply what I’ve learned on this trip when I go back to the United States.
2019 FLI Around the World Scholarship Recipients
Congratulations to the recipients of the 2019 FLI Around the World Scholarship. Awardees will be studying in one of the three DDCE programs to South Africa, China, and Costa Rica. FLI is a part of the greater DDCE movement making sure Black & Brown women learn globally.
Best Choice I Ever Made by Esmeralda Barcenas, Summer 2018
Summer 2018 was an amazing time from the moment I landed on a different continent. I studied at the Universidad de Cantabria in the Northern coast of Spain, where I was exposed to different cultures and traditions. Studying abroad in Santander, Spain has been one of the best decisions I have made. I took classes about the history of Spain which were really interesting, but the best part was being able to relate them to the things that still exist in Spain today. On the weekends I was able to travel throughout Spain which gave me the ability to visit some of the most renowned museums such as the Museo del Prado, el Guggenhiim, and Museu Picasso.
Before returning to the US to begin the semester at UT, I decided to make a stop in Paris. I met with a friend and together we explored the city as well as learned more about their traditions and history. There we visited the Louvre Museum, which holds Da Vinci’s La Joconde (better known as the Mona Lisa), the Notre Dame Cathedral, and the Eiffel Tower.
Experiencing New Things Everyday by Tressa Smith, Maymester 2018
After being in Cape Town, South Africa for about a week now, I feel like I am experiencing and being exposed to new things every day. Everything is so beautiful here, from the mountains and sunsets to the culture and native people. For me, the most impactful experience so far was eating at Mzanzi’s restaurant in the township of Langa. I felt like we got a genuine South African experience from the authentic food, music, and sense of being invited into someone’s home. While abroad I have been to many restaurants but this is definitely the only one that has shown me the culture and make me feel as though I am at my own home.
My internship has been pretty fulfilling because I love working and teaching children and we get to actually go into schools and teach lessons about economics to 5th graders and leadership skills to the 7th and 8th graders. Being in the actual classroom, helping these eager students really brings me joy, they get so excited when they see us and they absolutely love playing games such as dodgeball and basketball with us.
Today, I went to Bo-Kaap and they happened to be having a peaceful protest to help preserve the heritage and culture of their town, because the government started putting up commercial buildings right next to their houses. After talking to a local about the peaceful protest she explained that there would be food and music, sort of like a gathering to end Ramadan. Conversations and experiences like these helps to show how important it is to preserve the heritage and culture of South Africa.
I am so excited to see what else I will experience and do while on this trip. I have been pushed out of my comfort zone tremendously while here, but I feel like it will only bring about growth.
Blessed and Inspired by Mickelyn Washington, Maymester 2018
Every morning I wake up, it feels so surreal to know that I am in Cape Town, South Africa. I am extremely blessed and grateful for this opportunity. In this past week, I’ve already learned so much and have been extremely inspired to make a difference in my own community back home. With our class lectures and discussions providing context to our internships about the townships, I am gaining a well-rounded perspective of urban economic development in Cape Town.
This inspiration is heightened with my experience from my internship with Philisia Abafazi Bethu (PAB), meaning “Heal Our Women”, an organization designed to empower women and develop youth. I’ve been able to hear stories from the founder, Lucinda, about her time building the organization in Lavender Hill township, which is no easy task — to say the very least. Lucinda exemplifies true passion and dedication to a cause and community.
Lavender Hill has roughly 86 thousand people and 3-5 people die a day with gang violence as the leading cause. Children don’t go to school and most women find themselves in domestic abuse households and/or on drugs. The worst of it all is that many live in inhabitable homes called informal settlements. This isn’t even the half of it. So the founder of PAB works to help women and children holistically develop and help those around them.
Thank you FLI for pouring into me during my time at UT to even be able to have the courage to apply to this program, and thus gain this exposure. In addition to the phenomenal mentorship, your scholarship has also played a major role, financially, in getting me here to Cape Town. I’m forever grateful.
Recognizing My Privilege by Ashley Ikwuagwu, Maymester 2018
Today we had the unique opportunity to listen to a member of the ANC (African National Congress), and it had me thinking about a lot of things. Particularly about how the ailments of South Africa’s–and Africa as whole–societal problems lies in education. The children of Cape Town are not comprehending their curriculum, and the courses are geared towards their success. Sister Helen, a nurse practitioner at my internship at the health department of the YMCA Athlone shared her experiences, as she lived through apartheid, and she mentioned the curriculum for black students included things like sewing, how to wash the dishes, and other domestic tasks. Where was the math, the science, the humanities? From this I can see how the system is designed for the failure of black and colored people of this country, and how apartheid can continue to live even though it technically has fallen. Apartheid translates to ‘apartness’ in Afrikaans, and although they aren’t obligated to be separate physically, they are mentally.
The mindsets of people of color and white people are so disconnected from each other, it’s almost bizarre. A local from Cape Town was talking about how during apartheid, they had a job and economic security, but now they have no job and no prospects. It makes me think about how the city can be so affluent, but the unemployment rate is 27%. It makes me think about the droves of children who need teachers who are invested in them, and the pool of recent college grads who could serve as amazing teachers while searching for jobs in their sector. It also makes me think about the role I play in the grand scheme of things.
Looking at where we staying, the privileges I have during this time of the water crisis, the fact that I was able to get an internship while locals can’t, has me feeling really guilty. It’s been mentioned a number of times that we as Americans and as students will feel uncomfortable at many points during this trip. While leaning into that discomfort, I’m starting the realize that the beauty and awe that I’m witnessed, may never be witnessed by someone native to the area. The fact that I’m able to walk to the corner store and buy a 5-liter jug of water for 50 rand, and think “wow this is cheap”, while some families can’t drink or afford half of that makes me uncomfortable. The fact that if I felt inclined, I could leave the water running for the whole day, come back, and STILL have water to drink and bathe with, makes me uncomfortable (I would never do that by the way). Realizing that I have the means to have consistent and reliable transportation to Waterfront to just LOOK at the water, while the reason someone couldn’t get a job is because they don’t have a way to get to the job in the first place, makes me uncomfortable.
Today we got to do a cross cultural exchange with students who attend UCT, and I mentioned to two of the students that I would love for them to come out to Long street with us this, and they mentioned that they’ve never been there before. They had been here for 3 years and have never been to Long, but I had been there for 5 days, and had already been 3 times. Although small, it was in that moment that I’m enjoying a country that wasn’t designed for its natives–really its non-white natives. That obviously makes me the most uncomfortable because I feel guilty and as though I am propagating and participating in an alternate system of oppression. Going to the District 6 Museum and realizing that the Waterfront, our hostel, all these restaurants, and so many other things that I’ve visited and admired stands on the land of a bustling community that was once a family, but now is separated and destroyed, makes me uncomfortable.
I’m glad I’m feeling this discomfort because it means I’m recognizing my privilege. Back home, I always criticize white and non-black people of color for ignoring or denying their privilege over me, whether intentionally or not. The fact that I have recognized that means that I can use that privilege to my advantage on behalf of the communities I am serving here in Cape Town.
After a Week in Cape Town by Jayla Pruitt, Maymester 2018
After being in Cape Town for about a week now, I have loved every bit of it. So far, my favorite experience in Cape Town was working with my internship on Thursday. I am working with the YMCA Youth Development. With the YMCA we go to one of the schools during the school day to teach kids about economics. Then after school is out we go back to the YMCA and help the kids with their homework, sports, arts & crafts, music and more things. On Thursday, a few people in my group and I went to a local school in Athlone, Cape Town. At this school we were able to teach fifth graders about economics.
It was shocking teaching fifth graders about economics because I did not learn anything about economics until my senior year of high school. Economics was extremely confusing to me so, for a fifth grader to be learning about economics and the kids understanding the basics of it was interesting to see. After teaching the kids about economics, we went back to the YMCA where kids were showing up to have fun. I met a young girl named Carmen at the YMCA that stuck with me until my time there ended that day. We played basketball, did a group activity game, and made a paper boat together.
During all those activities, I was able to have fun and get to know Carmen. She is a shy young girl, but I hope within the next few weeks she will become more comfortable with me. Overall, my experience at the YMCA for the first week has been good and I am looking forward engaging with the children and creating bonds with them.
Overcoming My Discomfort by Rachel Walters, Maymester 2018
Walking onto the plane from London, England to Cape Town, South Africa, my first thought was, “dang I thought we were going to Africa not time traveling to the 1940’s ‘whites only’ section of Alabama.” Seven black girls with box braids coming in together and all we saw were white faces staring back at us. I could almost hear their thoughts, trying to work out how these black girls could afford to fly on this plane. We open our mouth and they realize that we’re American. Now I see them trying to justify in their minds that even though they are black, they must be able to afford this flight because they are American. For the first time in my life, my nationality outweighed my race.
I’m from a predominantly white suburb so coming into this abroad program, I was prepared to deal with high class, entitled white people. I was definitely worried due to the specific tensions that still arise between races in South Africa.
To say I was initially uncomfortable was an understatement. I felt so many eyes on me the whole time. I felt like I couldn’t touch the man sitting next to me with fear that he would flinch at the contact. I felt like I had to speak to my friend next to me quietly and to the flight attendant with a sickly sweet politeness in order to prove to these white people that I deserved to be on the plane.
As I reflect on this experience, I can’t help but slap myself on the wrist for trying to be someone I’m not in order to try to prove something to these people who could care less about me.
As I go forth on this trip I hope I perfect the balance between not being “too American” and not trying to compromise who I am in order to appear to be a different way to other people in this country.
I Got to Know Myself Better in Austria by Rian Pettit, Maymester 2018
I had the opportunity of studying in Vienna, Austria for Maymester 2018. I learned about cultural memory in the city. My days consisted of excursions to museums, memorials, and other sites dedicated to Vienna’s history. Throughout the month, I was also able to meet and interact with locals, try Viennese food, brush up on my German, and connect with my peers. Although I will take everything, I learned in the classroom back home with me, the things that will stick with me the most are the things I learned about myself and the friendships I developed.
It’s hard to sum up everything I encountered during the entire month of June, but the experience was unlike anything I had ever done before. Not only did this global experience push me out of my comfort zone and give me a new sense of independence, but it also allowed me to see that studying abroad is not out of my reach as a first generation student. I am looking forward to seeing how this will affect my college career and other travel experiences in the future.
More Bonding, New Friendships by Jeremy Wright, Maymester 2018
Leaving the borders of my home allowed me to grow in many ways I never thought possible. Being able to learn the hidden knowledge of the Afro-Costa Rican history gave me insight into who I am and my existence in society back in the United States. Learning with people in a foreign environment allowed me to bond with them on different levels creating rich and lasting friendships.
Me? In China?! by Amahree Archie, Maymester 2017
Wow! A little black girl from Texas in China… Who would have THUNK!!!
A little over a month ago I had the amazing opportunity to visit China. While there, I gained great friendships, went on beautiful excursions, and even climbed three different mountains. Not in my wildest dreams did I ever think that I would have the opportunity to go on this trip.
When returning home, many people asked what was the one thing that I had learned while there. I would have to say that it taught me to never give up. There will be many times in our lives when we look to our left and our right and find there’s no one there but us to fight the fight. When placed in that position, I’ve learned, it’s time to do the work and climb to the top of the mountain.
I can’t even put into words what this trip meant to me especially on a spiritual level. I’m so grateful to God and of course the LCAE staff for giving me this amazing opportunity. It is official, I have been bitten by the traveling bug!
The Great Wall of China by Jennifer Eze, Maymester 2017
May 24, 2017, I set out for an adventure with so much fear and excitement in my heart. It wasn’t my first time traveling abroad, but it was my first time traveling abroad alone. Not to mention the fact that I was flying to a continent and country I had never been to or even imagined I would ever be in. To say I grew as a person exponentially in China is an understatement. The four weeks I spent there were some of the most challenging and frustrating, yet I had the most amazing experience of a lifetime. In one of my pictures posted, I’m pointing up to the sky, because I’m acknowledging God and all the blessings He poured over me during my journey. Amidst all the adversities and trials it took for me to be in China, He never left my side once and saw me through every fear I thought I had. I’m so thankful for everyone who helped me get to experience Beijing. This journey was definitely an experience that cannot be rivaled.
Should I Return Home to the States? by Christina Hampton Maymester 2017
My experience in Ghana was so incredible that I actually thought about missing my plane back to the states. I was able to travel to all parts of Ghana including Accra, Kumasi, Cape Coast, Togome Village etc… all while learning, creating and immersing myself in Ghanaian culture. I created yards of batik fabric, glass and clay beads, and ceramics as well as learning how to drum and dance to traditional West African music. The food there is heavy and spicy, just the way I like it. I tried fufu and goat light soup, banku and tilapia, red red garnished with kelewele, jollof rice, stew, plantain chips, and many more delicious traditional foods. Ghanaians are so welcoming and happy that the enjoyable vibes really over powered the sticky and extremely hot heat that I experienced. Being around so much joy and excitement really made me forget about the climate. One of my most memorable experiences was being able to visit and feel the Elmina and Cape Coast Slave Dungeons. These sites were breathtaking and thought-provoking. Being inside a genuine slave dungeon while overlooking the beautiful Gulf of Guinea was an emotional juxtaposition. While it is not as relaxing as sunbathing on the beach, it is more powerful. The chilling discomfort of seeing and touching the remaining artifacts of slavery is the best chance that humans have to learn from history. Having the opportunity to feel the gloomy chill of the dungeons instead of merely seeing a picture in a textbook provided me the opportunity to feel the gravity of the abominable slave trade.
From my time in Ghana, I have learned more about the world and myself. More importantly, I have begun finding my identity as an American and as an African. While there were many times where it was very apparent how American I was and looked, it forced me to acknowledge the very real impact that both influences had. I really do see myself in Africa and when I look up and see the painting I bought in Ghana on my wall, I am saddened, but I let it serve as a reminder of a place that I love and to which I will one day return.
After Being In China For One Week by Brianna Allen, Maymester 2015
I have been in Beijing, China for a week and a half now! I remember getting off the plane and the first thing that came to my mind was what the bathrooms were going to be like and am I going to be able to breathe in this air pollution? I must say the bathrooms were a struggle at first, but once I got used to it, it wasn’t too bad. During my first week I really enjoyed seeing all of the beautiful architecture of the sites of Beijing like the Tiananmen Square, the Temple of Heaven and Cuan Di Xia.
After being in China for a week I must say that Americans are very spoiled and you really do not realize it until you come to another country. I have realized how much water the U.S. wastes on the daily. We take it for granted because now that I am in a place where clean water isn’t easily accessible and I feel like I will have a greater appreciation for it back home. In our dorms we have shower cards so essentially our showers are timed because however much water we use deducts from our money on our card. This made me very appreciative of having the luxury in the U.S. to take showers for however long and when I go back to the U.S. I will have a greater appreciation for all of the little things in life like water and air–the things we do not think about on a daily basis.
My Favorite Thing About China by Thaïs Moore, Maymester 2015
China was challenging. Between the crowds of people and the pollution in the air it became a bit overwhelming. But it’s saving graces were the fresh fruit markets, the family style meals, and of course the climb to the Great Wall of China. No wonder the Great Wall is a part of the Seven Wonders of the World–it’s absolutely amazing. I was tired just getting to the wall–I can’t imagine trying to build it, brick by brick. The countless stories about the people who sacrificed their lives building this 4,000 mile divide between China and Mongolia is what stuck with me the most.
Sydney, I Have Arrived! by Danielle Lauren Smith, Maymester 2015
Isn’t that view amazing? I have only been on a plane twice in my life, the first time was to Atlanta for my 21st birthday and the second time was a 15 hour flight from Los Angeles to this beautiful place of Sydney, Australia. It was quite the experience and with God on my side the flight was smooth and the landing was spectacular. It is kind of amazing the feeling I received after landing in the airport. I felt as if I was in a new world. Sydney is so clean and crisp; it is quite the city. Being one of the few African Americans in the city I haven’t received crazy stares or points but rather there are people who have embraced my diversity and asked me many questions. The people in Sydney are very honest and blunt but some of the nicest and most cheerful people you will ever meet. I will be working with the Midnight Basketball organization this year and taking a class at Sydney University. Excited for the experience and excited for all the questions and answers and more than anything I am ready to begin my journey.
My Thoughts About South Africa After Three Days Here! by Denice Carpenter, Maymester 2014
Whoa! Is my first thought. It is so much to take in at once. First I will begin with the diversity of people living in Cape Town. When people mention Africa the first thing that comes to mind is Black. Individuals who are my color and darker. Yes, we discussed the diversity of South Africa before leaving America however it does not really hit you until you see it for yourself–Africans of every shade. That phenomenon amazed me–I didn’t know.
Next is the pure hustle! Soooo many people are hustling to make a living for themselves and for their families. It the way of life for many people. Everything is really fast paced in the city and you have to keep up. Before I came, I assumed things would be a little slower but it reminds me of New York. The area we are currently staying is very modern and has a huge mall with similar stores as in the US. Something that really strikes me is how so many “White” people live in this area and are mostly well off.
Be Safe!!! I am not sure if during the orientation they were trying to scare the crap out of us. Or just wanted to leave a lasting impression of how we need to be very cautious. However one thing that stuck with me is that we were told before going abroad was that because we are Americans, that makes us a target because its as if there are $ signs on our foreheads. We were even advised to hand over our belongings if we got robbed. The violence of some people living here can be tied into the shocking unemployment rate of 40% (this was a collective number of different parts of South Africa). I remember listening to one taxi driver and he mentioned how he moved from Zimbabwe to find work. He has been living here for about 3 years now and he never has time to really do anything else but work. Working is basically the way of life for many. I think to myself, will their hard work ever pay off? What do they get from the satisfaction of working so hard just to keep a roof over their heads and food in their mouths? Is that really living life to the fullest?
After attending a local bible study this morning I realized that yes, their life can be fulfilling. Many people have faith for better in life and to find their purpose, even if that means to fellowship with others as one in the presence of God or simply to smile and make someone’s day. Your purpose can be fulfilled each and everyday you are living. This experience is teaching me to appreciate who I am as an individual and the moments I share with others.
Hope in Cape Town by Denice Carpenter, Maymester 2014
We have been out of slavery in the U.S.A. for over 100 years and we still have oppression and injustice going on within our society. Apartheid ended just 21 years ago and has a long way to go. It is really hard for me to be settled about the entire thought process of peace and forgiveness when still today individuals are still living in horrible living conditions. I mean really how do all of those individuals living in townships feel. Are they in the mindset of peace and forgiveness? When will the land and property stolen from them be rightfully returned? Walking up and down the streets I saw people working not to save up for a fancy vacation, but to survive! They tell them that education is the way but is it truly brainwashing individuals to be submissive under the rule of those in control?
According to Google hope is defined as a feeling of expectation and desire for a particular thing to happen. Hope is what keeps a person going everyday, even in the lowest points of their life. It is an expectation that something may not happen right now at this moment but it will eventually change. Hope is what gave Moses, one of our study abroad leaders here, the courage to travel all the way to New York on less then $400 in order to find a job. Believing that he would soon return to South Africa and start up his company Southern Ambitions in order to create an income for not only himself, but for other young people as well. Hope is what keeps Moses’ employees believing in him when he tells them that he will not be able to pay them at the time, but will eventually. Hope in racial, economic and social equality is all that some individuals in South Africa have in order to continue living.
Reza, the Enterprise Development Manager of Shanduka Black Umbrellas made a statement that I live my daily life by. He mentioned that everyone was created for a purpose and asked us what our purpose was. I am a firm believer that we all have a purpose here on earth. We are like missing puzzle pieces that once we come together we create a clear image. Through each one of us understanding our own purpose we can then begin to come together in sharing a universal bond all throughout humanity. We are all working to support each other in the midst of all circumstances, knowing that we are all valuable to our environments. As the great Myles Munroe stated, “You weren’t born just to live a life and to die, you were born to accomplish something specifically,” he said. “Matter of fact, success is making it to the end of your purpose, that is success. … Success is not just existing, success is making it to the end of why you were born.”