Sarah Grace Fitzsimmons, a sophomore from Woodstock, Va. “There we worked in the mornings and had campfires at night.... Lesotho was a get away, a reflective time for us.... We experienced life in its simplest form." Photo by Lindsey Kolb.

“Ubuntu” Abounds in South Africa Chapel

The sounds of the vuvuzela and dancing and yelling learned in South Africa found their way to university chapel as Eastern Mennonite University students regaled the campus community about their cross-cultural adventure.

The group of 26 was led by Harlan de Brun, instructor in physical education and recreation, and assisted by EMU alums Elizabeth Zook Barge and Jason Ropp. The group left on Aug. 31 and returned to Harrisonburg on Dec. 10 for debriefing and wrap-up activities.

Soweto, South Africa

The students began their journey in Soweto, a laboring-class urban area inside the city of Johannesburg, South Africa. Students studied the values and norms of South African culture, immersed in language study and participating in community projects.

“There was never a dull moment in Soweto, with the events ranging from late night dance parties, to playing soccer in the streets, to constant greeting of passersby,” said Kiera Stenson, a junior from Coopersburg, Pennsylvania. “Soweto was filled with love and ‘ubuntu’ (togetherness)—everyone lives as a huge family, your neighbor is your brother, therefore if your brother is in need of something you help him.”

A country inside a country

After spending 24 days in Soweto, the group traveled to Lesotho, an enclave of South Africa. Divided into two villages, the group experienced life with no electricity or running water and the challenges of bed bugs, run-away horses and rats.

“During the second week of our time in Lesotho, we packed small backpacks and crammed into two rickety taxis that took us to an MCC [Mennonite Central Committee] mission farm,” said Sarah Grace Fitzsimmons, a sophomore from Woodstock, Va. “There we worked in the mornings and had campfires at night…. Lesotho was a get away, a reflective time for us…. We experienced life in its simplest form.”

Living on the Cape

The final stop on the cross cultural brought the students to Cape Town, where South Africa’s parliament convenes. Students could choose among relaxing on the beach, visiting gardens and museums, and hiking Table Mountain. In addition, several group members 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.

Todd Hooley, a senior from Wayland, Iowa, said the group was able to share an American holiday with their host families.

“On Thanksgiving, many of our families wanted to make us feel at home, so they cooked us a traditional American meal…. Cape Town was a more western-feeling homestay, but we still experienced love and Africa through the city,” said Hooley.

Lessons from South Africa and Lesotho

The students closed the chapel with a video of the course of the cross-cultural produced by Joaquin Sosa, a junior from Utica, New York,

Listen to podcast of the South Africa cross-cultural chapel

View photos and read journals from the South Africa cross-cultural