The Responsibility of Studying Abroad

Mary Kaitlin Enright
February 17, 2020

As human beings, there are a number of responsibilities to which we must attend. As family members, we have a responsibility to our parents and siblings. As students, we have a responsibility to our education and those who make it possible. As friends, we have a responsibility to those we care about and those who care about us.

As study abroad students and tourists, we have a responsibility to the place we are temporarily calling home.

As I have begun my adventure of studying abroad in Cape Town, I have also begun to learn the chords and patterns of its everyday rhythm. In doing so, I am becoming a part of that everyday rhythm. I am more steps on the sidewalks, another voice in a crowded room, and I am fortunate to be a part of it. As I bring my chords to someone else’s song, I have a responsibility to do so with respect, care, and openness. And this is an important thing to keep in mind.

I came to this realization upon the experience of an orientation field trip to a very special place called Langa. Langa is a township in Cape Town with a deep historical and cultural significance. While we (in the United States, anyway) think of a “township” as a county, a town, or a neighborhood, the word holds significantly more weight in South Africa. During the Apartheid, black South Africans were forcibly removed from their homes and relocated to communities that segregated them from the minority South African white population. Over time, these communities, known as townships, have become symbols of struggle, resilience, culture, and power. Rich with culture and vigor, these townships now offer tours to students like us who are looking to learn more about the culture behind South Africa’s tumultuous political history.

While we were there, wandering through the streets of Langa, we were guests in someone else’s home. Not your conventional guests—we didn’t stay in their homes or eat at their tables—but nonetheless, we were guests.

Have you ever had a guest that came to your home and rearranged your furniture? Maybe they dropped a plastic water bottle in your living room and decided not to pick it up. Maybe they fed your little brother or sister a piece of candy when he/she isn’t typically allowed to have sweets before dinner. Sounds a little bit impolite, don’t you think?

I imagine that is a little bit how people in Langa feel. “How do the people in Langa feel about buses of tourists coming through their community to look at it?” someone asked our tour guide. He nervously shrugged his shoulders, and I watched as words rearranged themselves in his mouth before he spoke.

“Tourism is very good for our economy,” he shared. “If it weren’t for you guys coming and buying our goods, eating our meals, we wouldn’t live the way we do.” It felt weird to be thanked for consumerism. “But, it all needs to be responsible. There are people who come in and they give the children candy, they give them attention. These are our kids, this is our home. We don’t want to teach our children that they will just be handed things, they need to earn things. Tourism helps us, when it is responsible tourism.”

Challenging as it is sometimes, we need to remember that each and every one of the countries and communities that we are visiting as study abroad students are opening their homes to us. As guests, we have a responsibility to treat that gift, and the people who are granting it to us, with respect.

We asked an Uber driver what he would say the biggest industry is in Cape Town. What did he say?


If we, as tourists, make up the biggest industry in Cape Town, don’t you think we probably make an impact on the city? On the country? On its people?

It may feel like an experience to us, like a time away from home to explore and enjoy a new culture, a time to study and learn from new and international perspectives. Yes, studying abroad is all of these things. But it is also a time to take a step back and recognize what role we play in the larger picture of the countries that we are visiting. 

Studying abroad is a responsibility. And I hope to take that responsibility with a full heart and a heavy intention. Who’s with me?

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Mary Kaitlin Enright

<p>I was born and raised in Glenview, Illinois, a suburb of the beautiful city of Chicago. When I was fifteen, I was surprised by the unexpected opportunity to move to Hong Kong, when my family was transferred there. That was the very beginning of my relationship with the travel bug, by which I have been afflicted ever since. I spent time traveling around Asia with my family throughout high school, then traveling through Europe in my first year of college while studying abroad in London. Now a Marketing student at Villanova University with minors in Creative Writing and Communication, my next stop is Cape Town, South Africa, and I am excited to share my experience with the world.</p>

2020 Spring
Home University:
Villanova University
Glenview, IL
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