Our inaugural semester in Johannesburg, South Africa is underway, and we couldn’t imagine a better group of students to pioneer it!
As many of you know, last year we formed a special partnership with the African Leadership Academy (ALA) in Johannesburg. It is this partnership that makes our South Africa semester program–called “SEGL at ALA”–possible. We continue to run our DC semester program, which starts this Saturday. (To read more about our partnership with ALA, click here. To read more about the SEGL at ALA program, click here.)
After a 16-hour group flight across the Atlantic Ocean (we also have one South African student in the cohort!), our students arrived to campus at 8:30pm on Saturday night. A throng of ALA students, including those who elected to be roommates with the SEGL students, was ready to greet them and help them carry their luggage into the dorms. Before letting them start to unpack, we whisked the SEGL students away for our opening night meeting: an SEGL tradition designed to break the interpersonal ice and establish guidelines for making the most of the semester. Their ALA roommates came back to fetch them once that meeting was over, and they began the process of settling into their new home in Honeydew.
On Sunday morning, a group of students participated in a run around campus–the jet lag had many of them awake before dawn! After breakfast with their roommates and a campus tour from three ALA Student Ambassadors, the SEGL students convened once again for some more SEGL opening weekend traditions: an ethical diagnostic (taken at the beginning and end of the semester to measure their growth as ethical thinkers) and a session on the four keys to success in SEGL’s academic program (speak with a current student to hear more!):
- Being smart doesn’t make you smart. Practice makes you smart.
- The best learning happens in an atmosphere of shared vulnerability. If you are afraid of sounding dumb, you won’t learn.
- Narrow your gap.
- “It is no use trying to be clever. We are all clever here. Just try to be kind; a little kind.”
After lunch on the quad with Lisa Simelane, ALA’s Director of Teaching and Learning (and her two adorable children!), the SEGL students embarked on a series of “low ropes course”-style activities: Trust Falls, the Dream Reach, the Minefield, and the Ancestor Walk. Not only did these challenges help to foster a positive group dynamic, but they also gave students an opportunity to reflect on our morning conversation about leadership and followership, providing a personal starting point from which to grow.
In the late afternoon, each student met with their SEGL advisor. Students in the SEGL at ALA program will have two different advising experiences: a one-on-one meeting each week with one of the SEGL faculty, and a group meeting with an ALA advisory family. In both contexts, students can reflect on social dynamics, academics, the transition onto campus, and the eventual transition back home.
Our students had dinner with new friends from their halls, and we celebrated the birthday of one member of our cohort, who was serenaded across campus at least three times! Then the SEGL students convened again, this time with the small group of ALA students who will be joining the Ethics & Leadership class. (Our faculty has been designing this dynamic course over the last several months, and we are excited that several ALA students have opted to join it.) Like much of what we do in our first few days, our first academic session on Sunday night is an SEGL tradition. Together we watched live CNN coverage of the September 11, 2001 attacks–a difficult thing even for these students, who have no memory of the day, as well as for the non-American students in the room. Our conversation afterwards was intense and collegial, and every student participated at least once. It was a memorable start for a dedicated group of emerging young leaders.
This morning, our students were fitted for their ALA uniforms. In designing the SEGL at ALA program, we opted to have our students wear the same uniform as ALA students in order to integrate more fully into our host community. They finished up just in time to have their first classes of the semester, and now our academic program is officially underway!
Some things are the same no matter which continent you’re on: the French students had madeleines and tea this morning, and we’ll be chasing after Skittles tomorrow. More on that soon!