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Against all odds, SEGL at ALA Spring 2021 begins!

In these uncertain times, there is one thing we know for sure: This SEGL at ALA cohort is a special group of students! We knew that even before they arrived because of all they went through to get here: border closures and re-openings, visa applications, piles of paperwork, COVID-19 tests within strict parameters, a last-minute flight cancellation, a 15-hour layover, and a week of quarantine after arrival. They are now settled onto the ALA campus and will begin classes bright and early tomorrow.

And what a week it has been to get us to this point! After touching down last Monday morning, we made our way out to Paradys Bushveld Lodge, about two hours from ALA’s campus. We dubbed this week “quarientation,” treating our required post-travel quarantine as an opportunity to get to know each other and to orient ourselves for the semester ahead. We spent plenty of time outside during a beautiful South African summer week, and in between academic and interpersonal sessions, we were able to hike and walk the premises–sometimes catching a glimpse of the giraffes, zebras, wildebeests, and ostrich with whom we were sharing the grounds!

We packed this first week with traditions and conversations that will be familiar to any SEGL graduate: an opening ceremony including icebreakers, a review of our “ethics pledge” social contract, and a challenge to make our semester together the best of our lives; low ropes course-style activities (adjusted for COVID-19 precautions); a viewing and discussion of live coverage of the September 11, 2001 attacks; the first “4×4.” We also spent some time learning about key brain science principles and internalizing the four keys to success in SEGL’s academic program (speak with a current student to hear more!):

  1. Being smart doesn’t make you smart.  Practice makes you smart.
  2. The best learning happens in an atmosphere of shared vulnerability. If you are afraid of sounding dumb, you won’t learn.
  3. Narrow your gap.
  4. “It is no use trying to be clever. We are all clever here. Just try to be kind; a little kind.”

Of course, we have added readings and discussions that are unique to our program’s location, too. SEGL at ALA students complete a set of pre-semester readings drawn from ALA’s “Seminal Readings” program, so our students spent time this week engaging with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Horace Miner, and Binyavanga Wainaina, as well as South Africa’s Bill of Rights. This final reading led to a fascinating discussion of the purpose of aspirational documents and what we can learn about a country’s history and future from the vision of its constitution. (The students also used this discussion to launch the writing of their own “constitution” for how they plan to engage with technology, and particularly their cell phones, during their semester away.)

In their down time, students explored the lodge grounds, lounged by the small pools, participated in group exercise sessions, read, journaled, and learned to “braai”–the famous South African barbecue. (See photos below!) They also got fitted for their ALA uniforms, watched the Presidential Inauguration, and had plenty of time to create their own fun. This week was such a gift for the SEGL students to establish their bonds with each other before merging with the larger ALA community.

After receiving negative COVID-19 test results and taking one final hike to a beautiful lookout point on Saturday morning, we packed our bags, boarded the ALA bus, and made our way to campus. Upon arrival, there was a delicious lunch of rice, chicken, and veggies awaiting us (with alternatives for students with dietary restrictions!). Our students ate on the quad and were joined by a number of ALA students, including some of their roommates, who had just finished their classes for the day. In quick succession, SEGL students met with the Dean, Deputy Dean, and Dean of Pastoral Care; the Honour Council; and received campus tours from Student Ambassadors. When they returned to the front of campus at the end of the tour, we handed them their keys, they grabbed their bags, and their tour guides whisked them away to move them onto their halls for the semester.

Tomorrow, classes begin. Because of a current South African government mandate, students will have one week of virtual classes before independent schools (like ALA) are allowed to resume in-person instruction on Monday, February 1. All other campus activities are operating normally, and it was a delight to see students playing musical instruments, volleying a ping-pong ball, and sitting together in small groups around the beautiful, open-air campus all weekend. We are excited for the SEGL students to establish their rhythms over the coming weeks as they adjust to their new home.

Each week, we will also include student voices in our blog posts. To close this first one, a word from two of our students, Tyler Morales and Aileen Feliz:

Hi! I am Tyler Morales, and I am from New Providence, NJ. This first week we quarantined at a lodge in Moedwil, South Africa. The lodge gave us a chance to adjust to South Africa’s heat and insects, but most importantly, it was an outstanding way for all of the SEGL students to get to know each other before heading to ALA’s campus. We did some pre-readings from ALA’s curriculum before we arrived in South Africa and they led to many interesting discussions on topics such as feminism, intersectionality, and parenting styles. My favorite of those topics was intersectionality because it gave me a better understanding of how minorities in our country feel and how different types of oppression can stack on top of each other to form an almost unbearable type of oppression.

Now we’re on campus and getting to know ALA students as well. My roommate and some of his friends are from Liberia and they were talking to me last night about how much Liberia looks up to the U.S. and how much influence we have on their country. I understood the creation of Liberia and how it came to be through my AP U.S. History class, but I never understood how much influence we gave them. Things like the U.S. dollar are used in their country and it completely blew my mind. 

I also had a very interesting conversation with my friend Mbaka of Kenya, and she talked to me about politics in Kenya and how tribalist their elections turn out to be. There was a 2008 civil war in her country, but she said that most Kenyans will not admit that it was a civil war out of embarrassment. Mbaka was very open and talkative about the subject and then the conversation took a political shift and she began to talk about how people from one tribe always vote for their tribal members in elections, so the tribe with the largest population usually wins the elections. I cannot wait to be here for the coming months and to get into more of these intriguing conversations!

Hi, I’m Aileen Feliz and I am from Boston, MA. Over the last week, we have spent all of our time getting to know each other. I feel like I’ve gotten to know everyone very well in our quarantine bubble. In addition to all of the academic work described above, we’ve been endlessly playing games like spoons, darts, and paranoia. Chase has also been known to bring out his guitar, so we could all sing-along or try to play on it. My favorite times have been when we were all talking. Whether that was in/around the pool or at our ‘bond fire’ (a play on the word bonfire, where we got to bond), we had several meaningful and fun talks. As we enter the ALA campus, I’m excited to meet various new people and learn about the cultures represented here.

Jan 24, 2021 2:03 pm