Author Archives: Jessica luong

No more safaris heeyaw: the start of “study” abroad

Last week, we learned about the environmental factors that contribute to health. South Durban is home to many industrial developments, such as paper mills, oil refineries, and pipelines that leak underneath communities where people stay. The stench of toxins fill the air in Wentworth where we met with a representative of an NGO. Under apartheid, Wentworth was designated as a coloured community and racist environmental planning drove industrial companies and their toxins to Wentworth. About 50% of students at a certain primary school in Wentworth are diagnosed with asthma and/or tuberculosis. In addition to these environmental factors, education in South Africa is one of the worst in the world, almost entirely due to the unequal distribution of resources during apartheid that still occurs today. The lack of quality teachers and government corruption makes matters even worse. It is devastating that we can still see the damaging effects of apartheid long after it has ended.

View from a lookout spot on our Toxic Tour. Further to the left is the ocean.

We also learned about the HIVAIDS epidemic in South Africa and how community mobilization has allowed free antiretroviral treatments to all infected people. South Africa has one of the best programs in rolling out antiretroviral treatments in the world. However, access to these medications is still a problem as many that live in rural areas do not have easy access to doctors or pharmacies. We are learning about South Africa’s strategic plan to alleviate the epidemic. There are plans for preventative care, education, and more.

The view from our beachfront apartment that we stayed in before moving into our homestays. Durban is a surfing hotspot!

For the last month of the semester, SIT has us do either an internship or an independent study project (ISP). We are just beginning to think about what we might want to do (and it can be anything within a South African context!). I am thinking about doing an internship in a rural hospital where I will be able to shadow ER docs and help restock shelves with supplies. I have been doing some reading about how “mob justice” is so prevalent, especially in townships. Communities will take matters into their own hands and take care of criminals themselves using weapons. Stab wounds and gunshot wounds are relatively common, depending on area. Medical services can be inaccessible due to cost, location, and/or waiting times and people usually will avoid seeking out medical services unless they are dying. More than half of the population depends on public healthcare, which is often underfunded and/or overcrowded. Disclaimer for mom: I am safe.
Every day, I am shocked at how little I know. It’s an exciting position to be in. I feel like I am learning something new every day and it is more rewarding because I am meeting people in the community that I have come to care about. South Africa isn’t a problem to fix; it’s a place where people care deeply about tradition and their families and their country. I’m so thankful to be able to experience it as an outsider but also as a temporary member of the community. My host mama and family are wonderful. I seriously considered coming up with an ISP topic that would allow me to stay in her home. Also just fyi I am the best host student ever. I made my famous chili for dinner on Thursday and my mama got seconds!!! I am currently researching ways in which I can watch Skeem Saam, Isidingo (Trevor Noah was on this!!), Generations the Legacy, and Uzalo when I get back to America. I am hooked to these soap operas that we watch over dinner every night. Another disclaimer for mom: I am studying.

They call me Jessica Flay

On Friday, it was one of my classmate’s birthdays and we all went to a club. It was an experience. This isn’t Walla Walla anymore! I am thankful that all of the students are getting along and we don’t hate each other yet. There is also this restaurant downstairs from the program office that sells amazing toasted sandwiches (toasties) and I have made “toastie fridays” a tradition during lunch. All are welcome although only 3 participated this week :(. I will definitely be hyping it up for this week.
PS Trevor Noah’s book, Born a Crime is a MUST READ. Even better when you get to visit South Africa.

Safaris yeehaw

Sanibona sunshines! I am starting week 3 of my program and I’ve had a blast so far. This semester, there are only women so I’m getting a taste of sorority life! I thought I would hate it but its actually really cool to be around women with similar interests. We have a range of interests, from policy to public health, as well as pre-med and pre-nursing students. I’ve gotten to know my classmates really well. About 12 of us shared one small bathroom for 3 days in Johannesburg and we’ve chased lions, giraffes, and zebras (pronounced zeh-bra… ask Trevor Noah) in Krueger Park. We’ve also visited Constitution Hill in Pretoria and Freedom Park to better understand South Africa’s history and state of the nation.

Sunset Safari at Krueger National Park

 

A key part of an SIT study abroad program is intensive language and homestays. I have been learning isiZulu since day 2 and moved into my homestay this past Thursday. I have a host mama, Sylvia, and a sister and a brother as well as two dogs (Simba and Rose). Rose looks like my dog Hoku!!! They are all very nice and speak a lot of English. My classmates are staying in similar houses where they are also with host mamas. My mama likes to feed me a lot! The mamas like to brag to each other how well we are getting fed and love to see us gaining weight. We also love watching South African soap operas over dinner and they are so good. I am the resident soapie expert in class. We are staying in kwaMasxha, a small township in KwaZulu-Natal. My house was built by the government, a part of the solution for the relocation during apartheid. These mamas claimed these houses for themselves and now they own them. These are badass women and you don’t want to mess with them!!

Me n my host mama, Sylvia.

South Africa is still a largely patriarchal nation, which I find surprising knowing that all the mamas that literally run the town. As a part of our safety orientation, we were told that if we were ever in trouble, ask a mama for help and they will help you. Nevertheless, all of the South Africans that I have met are incredibly kind people. There is still gross inequality between areas that were designated white and black. Considering their past, it is a true testament to the strength and resilience of this young nation.

I admit to having a hard time with moving around so much in the first week. There were a lot of logistical things to cover with a program that moves around so much (Johannesburg —> Marloth/Krueger Park —> Durban —> Wherever your ISP/Internship will be —> Cape Town) and sometimes you just want to stop living out of a suitcase! I have to say that I’m glad that I brought a 70L backpack with me… so many pockets! While you are moving around a lot for the first couple of weeks, you get to see pretty much everything: Rural and urban areas, homestays in a township, the beach, and the three major cities of South Africa. You have to be flexible to thrive on this program or you will be miserable and everyone else won’t want to be around you. I’ve enjoyed learning how to adapt to new situations and am learning how to be a little less awkward about meeting new people. When in doubt, talk about food.

About SIT as a program: Professors here totally understand that you are far from home and what you are used to. The professors are receptive to feedback and ideas from students. The class size is similar to what you would find at Whitman and while discussions don’t typically happen during lectures, there are structured spaces where we unpack and discuss in smaller groups. I particularly love the Research Methods and Ethics course. We’ve only had a handful of these classes so far, but we have learned what it means to be an experiential learner and how you can incorporate your own experiences and ideas into research. It’s been a lot more philosophical than I thought it would be but I feel more excited for the semester ahead with these new perspectives on learning in a new place.