It was a sunny and breezy day in the Western Cape. Myself, along with 20 or so other international students congregated around an antique outdoor dining table with hot coffee and rooibos tea in hand. We excitedly awaited the arrival of Patrick Gaspard, the United States Ambassador to South Africa. We had been invited to the Consulate General’s residence to speak with the Ambassador about the ongoing protests that had been (and still are) happening across South Africa. Access to higher education is not a reality for a majority of South Africans, and these protests are attempting to address the gaps in basic equalities that many people face. The Ambassador, a student activist in his youth in the States, and avid advocate for human rights sought to learn more about the protests from our perspective as students studying abroad in a country very unlike our own with a historic social movement unfolding before our eyes. The versatile backgrounds of those participating in the conversation, and our varied experiences with the protests opened up a very interesting discussion about access to basic human services, and the free and satisfactory education that the South African Constitution promises its citizens.
Our discussion ranged from our understanding of race and for many of us, how it changed so drastically because of the basic social climate of South Africa and to the excitement that we felt, to be able to participate in social change. The Ambassador made a point to commend the resilience of our peers, the people that at 20 years old have made global headlines, and have started a conversation with the national government of South Africa about making education more available to all young people in the nation. Ambassador Gaspard also made a point to ask us to critically think back on what we have learned from these protests. He recognized that his college experience was riddled with missed classes and forgotten readings, but only at the cost of changing the society he lived in. The events he attended and the action he took made a difference, and for us as American students in South Africa, we were lucky enough to witness the same process many years later.
While my abroad experience has been atypical in nearly every way possible, I see these protests, and the history that I watched happen from my lecture halls and even my bedroom window, as what makes studying abroad so special. You never know what type of experience you’re going to have. From the people you meet, the classes you take, to the random interactions you have with strangers that might just change your life. South Africa has been challenging, and these protests have not made life here easier, but what I have learned from the Fees Must Fall movement is something that can’t be put into words. In class I learned about racism inspired by colonialism and the colonization of Africa by European powers. But what they can’t teach you in class, and what they have successfully demonstrated through these protests is that the colonial legacy and the discriminatory practices that have been the foundations of South African policy can be changed. They aren’t just historical practices set in stone, they are stories of South Africa’s past that will some day be just a memory, and not a lived experience for the people of this country. Speaking with the Ambassador and my fellow American peers helped me to better understand how important these past few months have been, and how I will take what I have learned with me for the rest of my life.
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<p>My name is Claire. I am a thrill seeking millennial that is out to experience all the world has to offer. This blog will chronicle the greatest adventure of my life so far, a semester in Cape Town, South Africa. I have no idea what to expect, but my love for traveling and trying new things, as well as learning from the people around me has pushed me off the beaten path, and onto something completely new. Here's to the next six months of my life, I hope every moment is as unpredictable as I am.</p>