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Going Global


Published: Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, April 25, 2012 02:04


This week’s column is written by Victoria Rau, FCRH ’13

When Olivia and I first hatched the idea for this study abroad column, I do not think that either of us anticipated the depth and breadth of experiences that would appear week after week.  While I have noted a familiar name here and there among the columnists, and I can recognize many of their voices through their writing, our experiences abroad are undoubtedly changing us.  Imperceptibly at first, these changes will shape our opinions and our goals going forward.

Perhaps it is in seeing the seasons change that it dawns on me that I am actually living in another country. The landscape on the road between Johannesburg (South Africa’s commercial center) and Pretoria (its capital), lush and invariably green in January, now sports fall colors dotted throughout the vegetation. This change in the landscape, coupled with the fact that I have written papers and taken tests here, makes it clear that this is not merely an extended vacation.

South Africa, with its multi-layered and unique history, is still a country of two worlds, which becomes increasingly noticeable the longer I am here. When my parents visited recently, we ate at a nice restaurant in an upscale suburb of Pretoria (incidentally called Brooklyn). Throughout the meal, we could have been anywhere: New York, London or Pretoria.  When we folded ourselves into a cab afterwards, however, it felt much more like Africa, or at least what most people think of as Africa.

“Are you sure this is a cab?” my mom asked incredulously.  I assured her it was fine and negotiated the fare with the driver. There was no meter and no identification of the driver or the cab service; the driver spoke rapidly into his phone in an African language for most of the ride.

The stark contrast between posh neighborhoods with houses surrounded by walls and informal settlements that lack basic sanitation also illustrates the tension between the first world and third world. 

Frustration and a sense of disquiet naturally come into play when grappling with harsh realities like this, which is an experience that not every study abroad program can offer.  Standing on the top of Table Mountain in Cape Town and watching a leopard climb out of a tree and pass a few meters from our vehicle are just two of the many awe-inspiring experiences that I have encountered that show how beautiful and unique this country is.

At the core of any study abroad experience are the people. South Africans are some of the most welcoming, hospitable people I have ever met, rivaled only by my Italian relatives with their tendency to push food on guests. Living in one house with eight fellow Fordham students has its challenging moments, but seeing acquaintances grow into close friends in such a short span of time represents another remarkable and rewarding element of this program. None of us will be exactly the same upon leaving as when we arrived, changed for the better, I hope, as a result of our rich experiences.

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