South Africa 09 Cross-cultural Report

The atmosphere was electric, and the audience got caught up in the enthusiasm exuded by the 24 Eastern Mennonite University students who shared highlights of their fall semester cross-cultural seminar in South Africa in a university chapel program Wednesday, Dec. 8.

The group, led by Harlan de Brun, instructor in physical education and recreation, and assisted by EMU alumna Audra Baker, left campus on Sept. 2 and returned to Harrisonburg Dec. 5 for debriefing and wrap-up activities.

The students began their journey in Johannesburg, South Africa, where they studied the values and norms of South African culture, learned about the African Independent Church movement, did elementary Sesotho language study, focused on development issues and did projects such as tending a community garden.

They did readings and heard lectures at the University of Cape Town on the history and culture of Southern Africa that included how religious beliefs affected government policy during the Apartheid era.

The effects of Apartheid

Heidi Hershberger, a senior nursing major from Boyertown, Pa., shared excerpts from her journal related to Apartheid, noting: "It’s hard for me to understand how people could do such inhumane things to each other. But, at the same time, I asked myself what my position would be if I was a white South Afrikaner.

“The experience exposed my own prejudices,” Hershberger said. “We are all capable of heartless actions and stand in need of God’s mercy and forgiveness.”

The group did several sketches to depict recurring experiences on their study tour, including struggling with language intricacies when one word has multiple meanings, finding that few activities in the country start on time and “trying to keep up with Harlan (De Brun) while hiking.”

Life in Africa

The group offered it’s “top ten” list on "you know you’re in South Africa when:

  1. You attend a soccer game and aren’t sure whether it’s a sporting event or a dance party.
  2. Jumping into a waterfall or plunging into a rocky whirlpool is just a 30-minute hike away.
  3. The language you are learning has sounds that are impossible to reproduce.
  4. You are thrown into a classroom of nine-year-olds who have never seen a white person and are expected to do a three-hour lesson on American history (“And I’m Canadian,” injected Justin Reesor, a senior business administration major from Stouffville, Ont.
  5. The view from your front door puts the Skyline Drive to shame.
  6. You are awakened at 6 a.m. by roosters and cowbells but it doesn’t matter because you went to bed at 8:30 the previous night.
  7. You carry a roll of toilet paper wherever you go – just in case.
  8. You have the privilege of taking communion from Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
  9. In one day, you meet 10 locals who all speak a different language and each has a completely unique story.
  10. You become so close to your leaders that they are more your friends than anything else.

Sharing and songs

The students closed the chapel presentation by singing an original song written by Denay M. Fuglie, a junior biology major from Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia, that expressed their love for Africa and its people, followed by a slide show with indigenous music.

Watch video highlights of the South Africa cross-cultural chapel