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SOIS UWinteriM Empowers Students with Life-changing Experience

This past January, eight students got an incredibly formative experience. Led by two native faculty members, Dean Johannes Britz and Dr. Jacques Du Plessis, the students had the opportunity to see South Africa at a very personal level. Through their work at an orphanage and their visits to local government offices, the students learned about information poverty and how social change. The program is offered in cooperation with the University of Pretoria and Stellenbosch University in Cape Town.

This is the third time the program has been offered. According to Dr. Du Plessis, it continues to be a formative experience for everyone involved. Even after the program has been completed, students seek to continue their research and personal involvement in the country. He says that the program is not designed to answer all the students’ questions. Rather, it should be viewed as a chance for students to come to grips with the change that is on-going in our society.

One students on the trip, Hayden Murphey, said she always been drawn to Africa. The program worked out perfectly because it allowed her to explore the country while earning credits at the same time. Students are expected to write a series of papers on the trip as well as a final assignment that details a proposal for a research project. Several students have even begun implementing their research proposals with the help of the faculty.

Perhaps the most formative portion of the trip is the time students spent in an orphanage that houses children diagnosed with AIDS/HIV. The students read to the orphans, helped them with their homework, and tried to promote education as a fundamental step in curbing the AIDS/HIV epidemic in South Africa.

The students also had the opportunity to do some sightseeing in their three weeks. They went on a safari, visited a settlement of Bushmen, and toured the mountainous landscape of Cape Town. According to Murphey, the highlight of the trip may have been go to the city of Soweto outside Johannesburg, where two of the world’s Nobel Peace Prize Laureates – Archbishop Desmond Tutu and ex-President Nelson Mandela – live on the same block.

In the future, Dr. Du Plessis would like to focus the program more on service learning. “We’d like to give the students more time to stay in one location and unpack their suitcases,” he joked. By spending more time on the service learning aspect, he speculates students would draw more conclusions about how information is used and implemented in South Africa. As for Murphey, she states she will definitely go back.

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