Horns meet world. World meet Kristen Lenz. Kristen is an Urban Studies major at UT, but just this past summer she participated in the Urban Economic Development Maymester in South Africa where she got to apply some classroom knowledge to real world problems in South Africa concerning economic development.
Exhausted from forty hours of traveling, Ebola testing and proving my identity to South African customs, I could not wait to rest my bloodshot eyes. Although delirious, I was extremely excited to participate in the Community and Social Development program in South Africa. As we left the airport, I was on the edge of my seat – eager to take in my first views of Cape Town. My first sights of the city were unlike anything I had expected… the slums. Shack, after shack, after shack – the poverty struck me. I slowly realized these were the townships, and I knew in a matter of days we would be working in them.
In addition to our development courses, our program included service learning in social entrepreneurship. Service learning is a strategy that integrates meaningful community service to enrich one’s learning. Months before we left the States, all twenty-five students were partnered with local businesses in Cape Town: Mzansi Restaurant, an in-home restaurant; Legos Daycare, with employees from a range of African nations; Bethel Projects, empowering women survivors of domestic abuse; and Egoli, providing light to homes without electricity.
They welcomed us into their homes and families, trusted us to see the underbelly of their business, and showed us their community. As much as they learned from us, we learned even more from them.
The relationships we developed with our community partners were very special. They welcomed us into their homes and families, trusted us to see the underbelly of their business, and showed us their community. As much as they learned from us, we learned even more from them. All of our efforts came to an end on presentation day at the University of Cape Town. We spent the afternoon, group by group, presenting all of our hard work to our community partners. We gave them all of the materials we developed for their businesses, hoping it would sustain their business for years to come. The room was full of gratitude, closure, and wet eyes.
Reflecting on our transformation and realizing our capabilities, our professor Dr. Gilbert guided us through the process: “Close your eyes and go back to the moment when you were first accepted into this program… look at what you have been able to accomplish. You are an agent of change.”
Although studying abroad can be challenging, the outcomes are incredible and worth every minute of work it takes to get there. I developed special friendships with my classmates and South Africans. I have grown immensely as a person because of my choice to study abroad; my mindset is broader, my priorities are different, and my goals are bigger.
If you enjoyed reading about Kristen’s experience and are interested in the program, check it out here. If you want to explore some of the other Faculty-Led programs and Maymesters that focus on everything from Supply Chain Management in Hong Kong to Sustainable Architecture and Design in Munich, you can click here to explore all of the options you have available. Be sure to check in next week to see where in the world our horns pop up next!
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