South Africa Study Abroad Program Reopens

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South Africa Study Abroad Program Reopens

(Kevin Stoltenborg/The Fordham Ram)

(Kevin Stoltenborg/The Fordham Ram)

(Kevin Stoltenborg/The Fordham Ram)

(Kevin Stoltenborg/The Fordham Ram)

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By Hannah Gonzalez

(Kevin Stoltenborg/The Fordham Ram)

The South Africa study abroad program has returned for the spring 2018 semester after the university suspended it last spring. This January, the five-month Ubuntu program will take 11 students to the city of Pretoria to study in and engage with the South African community.

In Jan. 2017, The Fordham Ram reported the primary concerns behind the program’s suspension were the safety and academic experience of students abroad. Amid protests against the tuition increases of higher education, some universities in South Africa had temporarily closed. Fordham’s partner, the University of Pretoria, had prohibited some students involved in the protests from registering. The Ubuntu program was suspended and placed under review.

According to Stephen Freedman, Ph.D., provost of the university, the two primary focuses of the review were community engagement opportunities and the academic and curricular quality of the program. In support of program’s return, he said, “I am very confident that the program we are putting in place has the type of programmatic and curricular opportunities that are the highest of quality.”

The dual emphasis on academic experience and community engagement will continue to be a defining feature of the program, according to Maura Mast, dean of Fordham College Rose Hill. “As in the past, the Ubuntu program will offer students a combination of formal, in-class learning, opportunities for personal reflection and learning from the community and opportunities for learning about the culture and the country.”

Natalie Ward, FCRH ’19, attributed her decision to take part in the program this semester to this combination of classroom and community-based learning. “I was looking for a study abroad experience where I could both work on my major and engage in service learning,” she said. “The Ubuntu program allows me to do both.”

Last year, students had similar hopes for the program. Annie David, FCRH ’18, planned to study abroad in South Africa and was disappointed when she learned of the program’s suspension. “We were not given any forewarning that the program wasn’t a sure thing,” she told The Fordham Ram. She elected to instead enroll in the Casa Bayanihan program, with a similarly community-based learning program.

With its return this semester, Ubuntu’s coursework is designed to work in tandem with hands-on learning. According to Mast, students will take two courses from the University of Pretoria and two Fordham courses, Poverty and Community Development and Modern South Africa Stories. These courses will supplement their experiences in the South African community as they work with local organizations.

“Student will reflect on their community experiences in the two Fordham courses,” said Mast. “They will also reflect on these experiences through an Ignatian Reflection Component, led by the Head of the Jesuit Institute of South Africa School of Spirituality.”

Partnerships with local colleges will also contribute to the experience of the students, as Fordham receives support from colleagues at the University of Pretoria and the Jesuit Institute in South Africa. “This strong partnership is crucial to the success of the program and is why the Ubuntu experience is really transformational for Fordham students who participate in it,” said Mast.

According to Mast, community learning will be enhanced through field trips and excursions to South African cultural centers such as the Apartheid Museum and Nelson Mandela’s house in Soweto. “Professor Themeli has organized an amazing semester for Fordham students in South Africa,” said Ward. “He has arranged for trips to Cape Town, Durban and the Limpopo Village, where will be learning about South African history and culture while also taking part in service learning. “

Through the program, Ward hopes to gain a better understanding of South African history, as well as interact with students from another part of the world. “Through service learning I hope meet as many people as I can and learn all about South African culture,” she said.

Students in the program will be departing this week and returning in late June.