Summer Abroad in South Africa

Zinhle in South Africa
August 29, 2016

This summer, with the support of the PAF program’s Professional and Academic Development Fund that is made possible by donations from PAF alumni and friends, I studied abroad in South Africa. I curated an independent course with Professor Leslie Jacobson of GW’s Theatre and Dance department where I explored cultural diversity theory and expression. The primary research site was a teen youth center and a daycare center, known as the Bokamoso Youth Foundation.

The Bokamoso Youth Foundation seeks to empower youth in Winterveldt, South Africa, through life and work skills training, professional counseling, and the administration of scholarships. As part of the program, I led several writing and art workshops and collected photo and video content from about 45 Bokamoso Youth.

During my month in South Africa, I travelled to Johannesburg, Cape Town, Soweto, Pretoria, Pilanesberg, and Winterveldt. I had the opportunity to experience national political elections, indigenous South African sporting competitions, and national holidays -- all while grappling with the country’s complex history involving the apartheid.

Among the literature read for this course was a piece from Beverly Daniel Tatum who argues that racism, is like smog. It is:

“Sometimes so thick and therefore visible and other times it is less apparent, yet it is always there each day and we are breathing it. The knowledge that smog is out there whether we see it or not does not lead us to label ourselves as prejudiced), but if we live in a smoggy place, we cannot avoid breathing the air. By the same token, because we live in an environment in which we are bombarded with the stereotypical images in the media, or are frequently exposed to the ethnic jokes of friends and families members, we will certainly develop negative categories of the other.”

I’ve spent a large part of last year navigating this ‘smog’ through the documentary film Hands Up. Traveling to South Africa provided further strategies for working with diverse communities and exploring the role of a storyteller, documentarian, and communicator in social justice, advocacy, and conflict resolution. Feel free to view additional images I’ve taken for the course, here, and a video here

The reality is that the intricacies of race, socioeconomics, prejudice, and land I explored during my study abroad remain equally relevant in the United States today. As I begin my new placement at the Multicultural Student Services Center, I am thrilled to expand my knowledge and ability to discuss the difficult but necessary topics of diversity, equity, and identity within communities. 

Zinhle Essamuah

PAF Class of 2017
BA '15
MA '17