Even before the pandemic, we always planned to keep our students in South Africa for spring break, opting to coordinate a series off-campus outings rather than a long-haul flight home. And what a break it was!
On the first day of break, ALA organized 5 different trips for all SEGL and ALA students to enjoy together. Each student signed up for and was granted the trip of their choice. These trips ranged from weaving through Honeydew Mazes to hiking at Cradlemoon Resort, from running around at Kreature Paintball to touring Alice Art Gallery or exploring the Maropeng Caves. (All of these venues were pre-vetted for COVID-19 compliance and safety!) After two months on the ALA campus, the buses departed with loud cheering from all of the students for their first outing since arrival.
The following day, we took the SEGL students on a tour of Soweto, Johannesburg’s largest and most famous township. We began our tour at the famous FNB soccer stadium, then made our way through the sprawling township to different neighborhoods, from informal settlements to upper class enclaves. We had time to browse along bustling Vilakazi Street (former home to two Nobel Peace Prize winners, Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu), and we learned the tragic history of Hector Pieterson, a schoolboy shot and killed during the 1976 Soweto uprising, when the police opened fire on black students protesting the enforcement of teaching in Afrikaans. (After several Zulu language lessons as part of our Ethics & Leadership course, the SEGL students have a nuanced understanding of language politics in South Africa.) We concluded our tour at the famous Soweto Towers and enjoyed an open-air meal at Chaf Pozi, a famous local restaurant. To close out the first weekend, we took the students to the rooftop Rosebank Sunday Market, where they got to put some of their Zulu language skills to the test and bargain with local artisans and vendors for gifts and souvenirs.
The following week was the true highlight: We took a three-hour road trip out to North West province for an evening and a morning of safari in Pilanesberg National Park. Just moments after entering the park, we got stuck behind a meandering elephant who was so enjoying his meal that we weren’t able to move past him for nearly thirty minutes! We saw elephants, wildebeests, giraffes, zebras, antelopes, jackals, rhinos, and countless other animals, but the most exciting were the four lions we saw the following morning during our sunrise safari. It was an incredible experience to share together in the middle of this very special semester.
As our guide told us before setting out on our first game drive, “Safari is like a slot machine. You can never predict what you are going to get; sometimes you win, and sometimes you don’t.” The same could be said about a semester away, but what these students have learned in the last three months is that you do get out what you put in during the SEGL at ALA program. As we head into our final six weeks together, they know the chances of finishing strong are better than the odds at a slot machine, and they are prepared to put everything they’ve got into the home stretch.