When I made the decision to study abroad in Cape Town, I selected the CIEE: Arts and Sciences program in Cape Town solely for academic purposes. I study Political Economy and Africana Studies, and I had taken classes at my home institution with a focus on South Africa. It made sense to travel to a country that has recognition for its ability to address its racial and economic disparities that intersect with both the political and personal parts of life. After a few weeks in Cape Town, I soon realized that my journey would involve more than just learning in the classroom. It evolved into a rich opportunity that made me learn and understand the essence of what it means to love, care, and respect others.
I started university in 2016, which was a very crucial time in American politics. My university became a place where discussions were no longer dialogues but debates. Students had to search for safe spaces where their identities could be centered. My friends and I suffered due to an overwhelming feeling of wanting to belong. Unfortunately, I soon realized that this was not just on my college campus, but across the nation.
Living with this reality, I soon questioned what it meant to respect and love others. It was not being modeled in the communities that I took to for guidance, and I soon concluded that it will take time for these traits/acts of humanity to be modeled again.
It was challenging navigating life abroad, but I was surrounded with a family, or what I like to call my “community of care,” who helped me in so many ways.
From the CIEE staff to my friends I met in the residence halls to the baristas I met in the local coffee shops, they all demonstrated what it meant to genuinely care for and respect people. With the help of Alicia Ludidi, the Community Engagement and Program Logistics Coordinator, I found a great therapist, who always greeted me with open arms. My South African friends and I had deep, political conversations that did not turn into discourse, but learning moments where we could tie our different experiences together to see the truth. Through these experiences, my friends showed me that we live in a world of difference, but that is not a good enough reason to turn someone away or disrespect them.
The day before I left Cape Town, I started the process I dreaded: saying goodbye to everyone. When I came to say goodbye to everyone in the Global Institute, Quinton Redcliffe, Director of Diversity and Inclusion, was not in the office for the day. Before I knew it, he came back to the office to say goodbye to me. I silently told myself, “This is what it means to care for and about others. This is what you need to do.”
It felt very strange returning to the United States, but I feel stronger. I feel strong in my ability to treat others, and to others like they are human. I feel stronger knowing that I did not have to stand on my own, but I had my community of care that would always love and support me.