Skip to main content

   Back to Countries | Submit a Reflection

South Africa

Kate Monfils's Experience

Name: Kate Monfils
Major: Mathematics
Program: Teacher Assisting in Stellenbosch
Traveled Abroad Before: No

Q: What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of your study abroad experience?
A: Awe. I was honestly in awe of everything we did - from being in the classrooms at the school to traveling and getting to see lions while on a safari. I was also in awe of myself. In the six weeks I spent in South Africa, I learned a lot about myself as a person. I proved to myself that I could do something like this and enjoy it. I was in awe of how much I learned, both about myself and about the world. I found that I liked doing things that most people couldn't dream of. I mean hey -- I went to South Africa!

Q: Why did you choose this destination?
A: I chose to go to South Africa because it was one of the only programs at the time that GVSU offered that directly connected to my degree. I also enjoyed the fact that it was not classroom work, but field work. I was actually placed in a school and got to interact with students every day instead of sitting in a classroom listening to lectures.

Q: What are some things that surprised you about the campus, the classes, the culture, customs or traditions?
A: I knew apartheid was a large part of South African society, but it still shocked me as to how visible it was. Apartheid only ended there in the early 90s and the country is still working on closing gaps that it created. Neighborhoods and schools are very separated, and the difference between the middle class areas and the townships is extreme. You hear about apartheid, but seeing the affects of it on a daily basis was eye opening.

Q: What are some things you would like students to know about studying abroad in this destination or the program provider you studied with?
A: As the program was through GVSU, I would expect nothing less than awesome. And it was. Professor Miller, who had been involved with this trip for years, had a really well planned program and had made many amazing connections in South Africa over the years. We took full advantage of the people she knew, the things she had organized and her knowledge of the country. The program could not have been more well done.

Q: What advice would you offer?
A: Keep an open mind. Life is very different in South Africa. One of the largest differences that we immediately noticed was the idea of time. Time in general is viewed very differently in South Africa than in the US. The clock does not run the people of South Africa as much as it does here. Learn the difference between the expressions "now", "just now" and "now now". To us, they mean the same thing. The meaning in South Africa is very different. The pace of life is slower, and once you adjust to it you will not want to readjust to the pace in the US.

Q: What was your academic goal while studying abroad?
A: My goal was to broaden my horizons while getting diverse classroom experience. I was at the point in my program where I needed to start deciding where I wanted to teach. I had never left the US before and therefore knew nothing about education in other parts of the world. The education system that I experienced in South Africa wasn't perfect, but it was different. When I came back to the US after my six weeks there, I wasn't quite ready to be back. That led me to explore opportunities abroad and I am now in my third year at a school in Taiwan. My goal was to figure out what I wanted to do, and the answer was that I wanted to teach outside of the US. I owe my current job to my study abroad in South Africa.

Question? Email Kate!

Sarah Summey's Experience

Name: Sarah Summey
Major: Education
Program: Teacher Assisting Program
Traveled Abroad Before: Yes

Q: What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of your study abroad experience?
A: AMAZING! Almost every day I look back at the photos the group took and the journal reflections I wrote each day. South Africa itself is beautiful beyond belief. The pictures I took do not do it justice. But the students I worked with and the people I met made this trip the trip of a lifetime. The students are absolutely precious. I lucked out with an extremely well behaved class (that I still keep in contact with via email). I cannot begin to put into words the impact the students had on me...they changed my life forever. I can honestly say that I will never forget my experiences there!

Q: Why did you choose this destination?
A: Africa had always interested me. This may sound silly but watching Oprah one year really made me determined to visit South Africa. The country looked beautiful. Then 2 years before and the year before I got to go, I kept track of GVSU students that I knew (while they were there). I HAD to go from then on!

Q: What are some things that surprised you about the campus, the classes, the culture, customs or traditions?
A: Even though Apartheid had ended, racism was still very prevalent in some places. I did not expect that! I was blown away by some of the comments and remarks (mostly) white males made about our black and colored children (without even knowing our students personally). The other thing that "blew me away" was the amount of respect my students (grade 6) had for adults! I will never forget all the "yes miss" and "you can sit here miss" statements made. After working with children in American settings I was just so excited to see the respect that students show in other countries...that made me want to teach abroad :)

Q: What are some things you would like students to know about studying abroad in this destination or the program provider you studied with?
A: I cannot emphasize this enough but it's a great experience! You should embrace every opportunity. Even if "you're tired" or something else that may prevent you from doing as much as you can...please do it! Our group was pretty ambitious and liked to go out and "experience" South Africa! There are SO many great things around Stellenbosch and the places you'll travel for holiday. Sandy Miller knows a lot about South Africa and the things you'll be doing, but sometimes it's fun to explore on your own as well. Use the resources (your host family, the students etc). My host family was a first time family and I learned more than I could imagine from them. The coolest thing about them was that they were a colored family. So meeting their friends and family and hearing their "sides" of things was very beneficial to me and my roommates. The students also have great insights (maybe I felt this because my students were older)! Also...during "break" times at the school please go outside and get to know the kids. It makes it 1000 times harder to leave at the end of your time there but you learn and gain so much more from your experience.

Q: What advice would you offer?
A: Just go out and explore. Listen to what Sandy, and the others have to tell you. Ask questions. Go to events (like netball or other sports). Enjoy yourself! It's easy to get home sick, but the 6 weeks goes waaaay to fast so enjoy as much of it as you can!

Q: What was your academic goal while studying abroad?
A: Our situation was a little bit different. No classes, just working in the schools. So my goal was to gain as much teaching experience as I could. Turns out even someone from America with very little knowledge of the rand can teach a Maths (not a typo...this is what they call it) lesson!

Question? Email Sarah!

Back to Countries | Submit a Reflection
Page: 1