“Never underestimate the power of dreams and the influence of the human spirit. We are all the same in this notion: The potential for greatness lives within each of us.” —Wilma Rudolph
My thoughts are completely all over, and I am still processing my return to America. It has not sunk in yet that I am in the United States again because upon my return I have been busy with relocating to a different city for the summer. I returned home to Buffalo before flying to LA for my summer internship. Upon my arrival, I have been busy with orientation and workshops for my internship this summer, therefore I have not fully reflected on my study abroad experience as much as I would have liked to upon my immediate return, but I am learning it is a process.
I can not help but share an emotional conversation I had with Natanya before I returned home. Natanya works in the Cape Town IES Abroad Office as the Centre Director. I remember visiting the IES Abroad office in Cape Town to say, “see you later,” to Natanya because it was the last week I would have seen her prior to my departure from Cape Town. We had a conversation about the importance of her career, the importance of studying abroad, and we reflected on my experience as a study abroad student. Approximately halfway through our conversation, I began to cry as I articulated my deep satisfaction with my decision to study abroad in Cape Town, South Africa. It was in this moment I knew that my experience was truly divine and worth the investment. In that moment, my soul felt so fulfilled and I was proud to acknowledge the tremendous amount of growth I had experienced while studying abroad. None of this would have been possible without my willingness to challenge myself by placing myself in new and uncomfortable environments.
Coming back to America was hard! As soon as I arrived at the airport in New York, I sensed a cultural shift immediately. I began to feel sad because these moments made it extremely real for me that I was no longer in Cape Town. I remember calling my mom at the airport to converse with her about the thoughts that were racing through my head and I cried to her, too, about how transformational my experience in South Africa was.
I am so excited to tell anyone who is willing to listen, how much of an impact studying abroad had on me and the reasons why. Everyone’s study abroad experience is different, but it is essentially what you make of it. Students who truly challenge themselves while abroad, will encounter life-changing moments during their adventures abroad.
There is one image that has not left my head since the day I left South Africa. I vividly remember hugging everyone outside of CampusKey, which was our place of residency while living abroad, prior to getting in an uber with two other study abroad students named Matt and Zach. As we began to drive away from CampusKey, I saw two of my many South African friends, Wang and Mercedez, standing at the end of the driveway waving goodbye.
This image has not left my head since then. It is this image that caused me to feel very uneasy leaving South Africa because I had established some very strong connections with the students there and I became very accustomed to the culture in Cape Town and The University of Cape Town. I used language specific to student culture on campus and off campus during my time in Cape Town.
Currently, I am still seeing the image in my head I described above to cope with not being in South Africa and it has been challenging to readapt to American culture especially because I am interning at a talent agency, whose culture is completely different from the culture I was exposed to during my semester abroad in Cape Town. It feels very weird to be back in America, but the transition is of course manageable.
The main difficulty I have with my return to America is the reverse cultural shift, and processing not being in South Africa anymore because this was an experience that truly made an impact on me, and it is hard for me to cope with not being in an environment that truly affected me positively in ways unimaginable. I miss the entire experience so much!
Studying abroad contributed heavily to my personal and professional growth. It is such a safe space to truly reflect on your life in alignment with your international experience. It was an experience I did not know I needed. I was able to be to myself in moments I needed to be alone to reflect on my personal goals whether it was about prioritizing my health, and what I aspire to do during my GAP year after I graduate from college.
Additionally, studying abroad influenced my decision to work in both international education with other countries and domestic education in America. Additionally, my service-learning experiences with the three different amazing organizations I worked with not only helped influence this decision, but they also reconfirmed why I am so passionate about the field of education and social justice. I am most proud that my service-learning experiences enabled me to think about the fields mentioned above through a global lens.
My educational experience abroad was challenging. It was challenging because I had to adapt to a different school, classroom structure, grading system, teaching style, and distribution of course material. My ability to adapt to The University of Cape Town, which is the highest ranked African university, will enhance my future experiences in education as both a student and a professional. This contributed to me developing more autonomy over course material and how I organized my study plans, and I know this will enhance my ability to create an inclusive learning environment once I transition into my career in education.
Studying abroad truly made me prioritize the act of continuously researching current and past world history related to politics, social issues, culture, and other important concepts. I seek wisdom daily, therefore this experience was extremely beneficial in my search for knowledge in an international context.
Ultimately, studying abroad is the best decision I made during my matriculation at Howard University. It was such a divine experience for me. I did not mention this above, but I plan to bridge the gap between education and entertainment in my career as well. Encountering stereotypes during my time abroad as an African-American man proved that we need more representation of black Americans in media and entertainment, especially regarding telling our own stories. I will use my experience in education to produce documentary films and write untold stories that need to be told on a national and global scale.
I can not help but think about how my hike to the top of Table Mountain was an excellent representation of my study abroad experience. I fought hard to climb to the top of Table Mountain. I took several breaks, water breaks, and prayed to God that I would finish. When my body felt weak, I kept pushing. Half way up the mountain, I wanted to turn around, but I told myself I came too far to quit now.
These exact thoughts and feelings I had about climbing Table Mountain align well with my study abroad experience. During my entire experience in Cape Town, South Africa I challenged myself weekly. Whether it was learning about someone’s ethnic group, making a new friend, learning about South African history, or joining a social club, I consistently put myself in uncomfortable situations intentionally to grow as an individual.
My favorite class abroad was community development. This course was the truth! It provided an excellent overview of community development in a South African context and connected this concept to state of South Africa politically, economically, socially, and intellectually. One of my favorite things about this class was the service-learning component which also provided me with the opportunity to conduct research about inequalities in higher education in South Africa. I highly recommend this course to any student who elects to study abroad in the beautiful Cape Town, South Africa.
Again, studying abroad in Cape Town, South Africa was the highlight of my entire college experience! I highly encourage all students and especially black students, to study abroad during their college journeys. I noticed that black students were underrepresented in my specific program and research also communicates the lack of representation altogether of black students in study abroad programs. My dream and goal is for this to change because I think this is an experience that more students should highly consider taking advantage of.
As I continue to reflect, I feel so blessed and my soul is full. It was extremely bitter sweet leaving South Africa, but I will return. My dream came true! It was always my goal to visit Africa since I was a kid. I did not care where in Africa, or which country it was. I just knew I wanted to visit Africa to witness the rich beauty and culture that thrives here. I am still in disbelief that this experience has come and pass. I feel like I am in a dream, but I know this is reality.
For any student reading my blog, please challenge yourself. Do not fear studying abroad! It is a life-changing experience if you make it so. Also, I highly suggest choosing Cape Town, South Africa instead of other common countries that most students elect to visit. I will be creating another blog to continue talking about my study abroad experience and inform other students about specific things I encountered while abroad that impacted me tremendously. I am here to help in any way by informing other students about my experience with my number one goal of persuading as many students possible to choose to study abroad while in college. There are so many benefits you gain from such a unique experience.
Thank you for following along with my IES study abroad blog and I hope my blog was entertaining and educational. My study abroad experiences in Cape Town, South Africa will live inside of me forever and my heart is filled with joy. This was the best decision I could have made while at Howard, and I look forward to sharing more information about my adventures in Cape Town.
Study abroad is what you make it, and I hope any student reading this makes it abroad. Whatever you do, study abroad! #MyStudyAbroadJourney
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I am Ameer Dunston, a junior finance major & television & film minor from Buffalo, NY at Howard University. Additionally I am a 2016 Gates Millennium Scholar and I love to uplift others through any source possible.