Students reflections from spring South Africa intercultural

Students on the Eastern Mennonite University’s spring intercultural trip to South Africa are nearing the halfway point of their journey. Led by Andrew G. Suderman, professor of Bible, theology and religion, and Karen Suderman, the group continues to practice isiZulu, spend time with host families, volunteer, visit churches and historical sights—including the homes of Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, as well as the Apartheid Museum and Constitution Hill—and learn from local activists. The group is sad to be ending their time in Johannesburg, but excited to travel to and experience Cape Town.

Read about students’ experiences in South Africa from the EMU intercultural blog below.

Learn more about future interculturals on EMU’s website, and keep an eye out for updates on EMU’s other spring intercultural at the Washington Community Scholars’ Center.

Molly Piwonka writes about the group’s visit to Soweto:

As we drove through the streets and made a few stops such as the Hector Pieterson memorial, we learned about the unfortunate circumstances the people living in this area were dealt with. Small houses, made in cheap ways, which also contain very little resources cover the neighborhoods. These houses might be small, but as Andrew Suderman says: the homes within are large because of the warmth and hospitable spirit of the people. There might not be much space, but those that live in Soweto are very welcoming and hospitable; happily willing to add another to their compacted living spaces. This community also radiates hope. These streets are painted with streams of colors. Blue, red, green, yellow, purple, orange. Those living in Soweto contain a good deal of creativity. From advertisements painted on walls to street vendors to full-out murals, every corner contains something interesting. This street art helps to keep the atmosphere alive and shows how it can uplift those around it with its bright and colorful nature. Art is culture and even though those in Soweto have dealt with many harsh realities and pain, they seem to show up day in and day out with welcoming spaces and creative spirits that no one can ever take away.

Nathan Oostland writes about visiting Marikana:

On Thursday we visited Marikana, a mining town that was the site of a massacre where miners protesting for more livable pay were answered with bullets. This event from 2012 is still raw in the community and we were honored to visit the community and site in which it took place. Napoleon, a local activist, welcomed us into his four-room home to watch a documentary of the event entitled Miners Shot Down. He was a gracious host who pushed us just outside our comfort zones physically and emotionally. We learned the power of the everyday person in a fight for justice and the importance of sharing stories together. A beautiful moment from the day was sitting on top of the hill where miners sat on strike against the mining companies. The view over the landscape was stunning but hindered by smokestacks and huge industrial buildings. The domination these companies have over the community and land was apparent. But Napoleon didn’t let us leave with the idea that the people lost. They hadn’t, wages increased and the movement displayed the resilience of the community.

Read more student stories from South Africa: the first weeks in Washington D.C., the first days in South Africa, and more recent adventures on EMU’s intercultural blog.

Join the Discussion on “Students reflections from spring South Africa intercultural

  1. I appreciated learning about the students’ visit to Sorweto. I visited in the 1970s when it was illegal for Caucasians to do so. In a racially segregated society, Nelson Mandela was in prison. The homes (exterior) were drab and grim but tidy with the ground cleanly swept. No bright colors. We were given permission to park our VW Kombi against the wall of a church. A mother and her baby sheltered between the camper wheel and the wall and disappeared before dawn. Black citizens had to have a permit to be in Sorweto; it was dangerous to be homeless there. Residents were uncomfortable talking with us. The Grail sisters who brought us to the area told us that speaking to “whites” was frowned on. Officials overlooked their own work in clinics, etc.
    My EMU experience did not include study abroad, but my years there (1965-67) spurred my exposure to unjust situations and a desire for change.

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