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Student Experience in Southern Africa

This reflection was sent to us by Eliza Martin-Rosenthal, a student from Clark University that went on CGEE’s spring 2020 semester program to Namibia and South Africa. Thank you, Eliza, for the wonderful reflection and photos you have shared with us!

My Experience with CGEE in Southern Africa

My study abroad experience with CGEE was more intense, educational, emotional, and enjoyable than I could have ever prepared for. Arriving in South Africa in January, I was skeptical of the small size of our group (eight students), the hot climate, and the unfamiliar social norms. I was tired from the long flight and full of nervous energy, but as soon as I was greeted by CGEE staff and my fellow classmates, my nerves melted away. Our experiential learning in South Africa allowed for complete immersion into the social, political, historical, and economic spheres in the country, and I feel as though I learned and retained more information in those 3 weeks than I would have in an entire semester back home. We were able to experience South Africa’s tumultuous history through conversations with government officials and historians, as well as navigate museums, historical sites, and the cities themselves. I have always found myself to be a “hands on” learner, where personal experiences enable me to learn and question much more than an official academic setting.

A woman sits in a large chambers seat with the flag of South Africa on either side of her
Eliza at the UN in South Africa

Themes such as unemployment and the wealth gap, the apartheid legacy, immigration policies, and racialized

a large spotted cheetah rests on the ground with greenery behind it
A cheetah relaxing at N/a’ankuse animal sanctuary

cities became clear to me as we traveled, and I am now able to apply these concepts to my academics. In Namibia as well, CGEE’s promotion of experiential learning made it so that we went on field trips to places like

N/a’ankusê and the UNDP, and listened to esteemed speakers in class, learning content in an interactive and engaging setting. I did not only learn a lot about the history of Southern Africa that I would not have previously known but I also learned a lot about the culture and society of Namibia, as we were completely absorbed within it.

Namibia’s culture is significantly different from the one that I am used to, but I had such an incredible time experiencing it for myself and learning from my professors and their personal histories. A factor of my experience that I was not prepared for was how close we would become with CGEE staff, and how beneficial it felt to foster those familial relationships. I remember one Saturday, I walked to the corner store with Imani and Lilah to get some snacks, and we ran into Freddie and his daughter exiting the store. It was so amazing to see someone we knew out in public and it felt as though we were a part of the Windhoek community. Additionally, my internship at CoHENA (a local TB prevention organization) gave me the opportunity to engage with communities in Katutura and Khomasdal, and I was able to have invaluable conversations about health and family that gave me a deeper understanding of the relationship between personal health and community health.

It is so important to make connections within your community, and I feel as though I was able to meet amazing people and friends through CGEEs programming. Although our time in Namibia was sadly cut short due to Covid-19, I am so thankful for the opportunities I was given and the beautiful country I was able to call home.