I attended my first preparation meeting for my Cape Town Study Abroad program yesterday. I immediately felt like an outsider among the other 20+ students that I will be attending the program with. While giving introductions it became common for people to express their past study abroad experiences, almost like it was a requirement to have one. One person told an anecdote of how they just came back from Rwanda; another explained how she was excited about going “back to Cape Town.” Me? The only black male in the room, (of course) I don’t even have my passport yet.
Sometimes I feel so negatively bound to this country and so ignorant about my lack of experience abroad. I am excited about my plans for South Africa (you know what i’ll learn and how I will hopefully use what I learn to help students here on the south side). I have made the proper arrangements, so that I am not just another student stuck in a “University of Chicago Bubble” at a resort in Cape Town (which is basically what we will be living on).
My hope and expectation for my trip to Cape Town, is that I will be able to participate civically in a society that is completely foreign to me. I have made arrangements to go into communities, learn, and help with education, performing arts, social justice, and civic participation. While in Cape Town, I will be working with an organization that I participated in as a high school student. Here in America, it is called “Facing History and Ourselves”, but the program in Cape Town is titled “Facing the Past.” They work with students in high schools challenging them to look at the history of apartheid, learn from it, grow from it, and also to broaden their “Universe of Obligation” and care for the people around them. I hope to mirror this pedagogy in Chicago, specifically using the information I will have learned about South Africa’s educational system from my study abroad experiences. In Chicago, I am a founding member and artistic director of a student group on my campus called PAECE (Performing Arts for Effective Civic Education).
I want to use what I will learn from working with students in Cape Town and lead a seminar class with high school students in Chicago, teaching them to make comparative analyses between their education system in the South Side of Chicago and the education system in Cape Town. In various ways both systems have institutional failures when it comes to educating students in poverty. When teaching students in Chicago I want them to know that they are part of a universal struggle to receive a fair and equal education. In these seminars, I will lead the students in workshops in which we will create poems, skits, and short stories around the subject of international and local education and perform them at different community centers and colleges around the city of Chicago.
I want to help community members more effectively enact their roles as civically active citizens who thrive toward the achievement of social justice, this is why it only seems appropriate to take my experiences in Cape Town and use them to give students in Chicago insight into educational struggles in other countries (particularly South Africa). Toward this end, I will use innovatively entertaining theatrical, poetic, and musical tactics to take what the students will learn and spread them to other individuals throughout the city. The PAECE civic topic upon my return to Chicago will be based on an intercultural exchange that will be guided by my experiences in South Africa.
So these are my plans. I will be blogging about all my experiences in Cape Town, so lets keep out fingers crossed and hope that people there are a little less racist, a lot less homophobic, and a bit more welcoming than people here in the states. But then again, considering the history, that might be a tall glass to fill.