February 15, 2012 5:45 AM
After a 20-hour flight, I touched down in South Africa to embark on a life-changing journey with 25 other American students during the fall semester. Although we faced many frustrations along the way, the four months spent in South Africa would expand our worldview and expose us to an array of cultures, traditions and languages that we had never before experienced.
We traveled to Durban, South Africa, the largest city in the province of KwaZulu Natal, to participate in a public health study abroad program through the School for International Training.
Although we focused on the country’s health issues, we also studied the cultures, politics and history that make South Africa such a diverse nation. We studied IsiZulu, the most widely spoken language in South Africa.
Our greatest culture shock came during the first week of the program when the American students moved in with home-stay families in the township of Cato Manor, which is composed mainly of black Zulu people — the largest ethnic group in South Africa. Although they live modestly, the Cato Manor residents are some of the most accommodating people I have ever met, and they were happy to open their homes to us.
The home-stay experience forced me to cross lines of class, culture and language and to truly put my life in perspective. We enjoyed participating in the Zulu culture, eating meals like “phutu” and “samp,” and watching popular South African soap operas like “Generations.”
During the final month for the independent study project period, I traveled eight hours to a small town called Manguzi on the Mozambique border. I focused my written report on multidrug-resistant tuberculosis, a disease that has claimed many lives throughout the county.
This invaluable experience in South Africa has made me realize that public health is definitely the right major and career for me.
Michael Celone is a junior majoring in public health.
Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000 firstname.lastname@example.org