Christiana Martin ’13 found a new place to call home when she set embarked on her study abroad experience at Rhodes University in South Africa. As a Biology and Psychology double major, Christiana was able to take courses that complemented her majors, but she also pursued courses that simply interested her.
Enthusiastic about her classes abroad, she explained: “I took a marine zoology class for my Biology major that had a large emphasis on the area where I was living; not only did I learn a lot about the Southern ocean and coast, but I was really motivated to learn, because it felt like a part of exploring my new home. The other courses I took were not directly related to my majors, and were either classes that I wouldn’t have been able to take at home, or wouldn’t have been the same if I had taken them in Gettysburg (imagine taking an ethnomusicology class about African music where you get to play all of the instruments and “class” involves a drum circle outside in the woods…).”
When asked about a prized or special item that she had brought back from South Africa, Christiana in fact turned the question around:
“I actually left something in South Africa… I know it sounds cliché, but I feel like part of myself is still there. Before studying abroad, I had never been to Africa, and it just seemed like an opportunity I should take while I could. I never realized just how attached I would get to SA, and how much I would want to go back. I came home with a connection to people I met there, a love for a country that I hadn’t known I could develop and such a strong desire to be there that there are days when I would leave everything and go back in a second. This is a weird feeling for me because I love being back home, and I didn’t expect to miss SA so much, but I have accepted this is what “global citizenship” is about. I can’t help but care about what happens to and within SA, regardless of whether I can ever fulfill my desire to go back. South Africa means something different to me now.”
When students return from abroad, they often find themselves being a source of “expertise” on their country of study to their family and friends. Christiana, however, was aware that no amount of study or immersion could fully encompass the various experiences people can have both in Gettysburg and around the world.
“South Africa is intensely complicated. Socially, politically, historically… nothing is simple, and spending a mere 5 months there didn’t give me the answers. There is a different truth from practically everyone’s experience, and it is impossible to find the ultimate answer. I learned to accept that I now know much more than I did (rather than all there is to know, as I would like) about South Africa and what it means to be South African. Now that I am back, I am realizing that this is also true at home. I do not have the ultimate experience that tells me all I need to know about being a Gettysburgian, an American, or other people I identify with. I must continue to discover the differing experiences of the people around me if I want to get the fullest picture possible of what it means to be who I am and live where I do.”
Finally, she offered some words of advice to students interested in the Rhodes program: “Make plans to travel! Because it isn’t a group program, you will only go on a few scheduled trips, and you will want to travel more. Plan accordingly… living expenses are really reasonable, but budget money for traveling, plan trips, and find people to go with (both South Africans and other international students). Also, it is easy to spend all of your time in the university culture at Rhodes, which is awesome and complex in its own way, but if you really want to get to know SA, you need to get out in the Grahamstown community. Make connections with adults in the community and take advantage of them. South Africans will be happy to introduce you to their South Africa.”
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