As anyone who has participated in this program will attest, there are no words or pictures that can begin to adequately capture the beauty of the scenery or hospitality of the people in Cape Town. Therefore, this blog is merely intended to provide an overview of the program and a glimpse at some amazing adventures and life-changing experiences had by the students and staff of this program who have traveled together as co-educators and companions on the journey. As Resident Director and Faculty Advisor since 2008 it has been a privilege and honor to accompany an incredible variety of wonderful UConn students to a place we have all come to know and love.

In peace, with hope,
Marita McComiskey, PhD,
Assistant Professor in Residence
Women’s Studies and Cape Town Study Abroad
University of Connecticut

Program Overview

Getting Out of the Classroom and into the World!

Since the early 1990s, South Africa has witnessed sweeping changes in its political and cultural landscape. Once stigmatized as a racist regime and egregious violator of human rights, it is now celebrated as one of the most tolerant nations on earth with one of the most progressive constitutions in the world. South Africa's constitution is indeed the only one with specific language on women's rights, children's rights, workers' rights, health care rights, education rights, and environmental and conservation justice.

The UConn in Cape Town Study Abroad Program draws on the University of Connecticut's core value of Human Rights as it places students into the living history of South Africa by directly involving them in institutions that are wrestling with South Africa's troubled past and as they strive to create a modern, democratic civil society. At the heart of the program is a three-day per week internship designed to meet the specific needs, interests, and career aspirations of each participant.  Working in non-governmental agencies whose mission it is to address issues of social injustice, student-interns are assigned to a supervisor/mentor who guides each intern to function as a team member in whatever organization they are placed.   Since this program is open to students from all majors, and appropriate field placements must be selected for each, it is imperative to have a Cape Town native who is both sensitive to student interests and knowledgeable of a vast array of potential placement sties. The program is fortunate indeed to work with such a Cape Town Coordinator is extraordinary at filling both those criteria.  

Each fall semester Rev. Vernon Rose travels to UConn to interview all applicants and then returns to Cape Town to secure an appropriate internship for each individual who is accepted into the program. These specifically chosen placements enable each student to integrate academic knowledge with professional experience in meaningful ways that are both educational and productive. Combining such fieldwork with relevant coursework enables all to become fully immersed in the culture of the country as they witness the challenges confronting the present and learn first hand about the work being done to help ensure a better future.

Taking two courses taught by native Capetonians who experienced the struggles of the past and are now tackling challenges of the present, affords students personal accounts in addition to pertinent scholarship. The ‘History and Politics of South Africa’ course enables students to place what they are seeing, hearing, and experiencing within the broader historical and contemporary social context.  ‘Research Methodology on Non-profits’ assists interns in better understanding the particular organization in which they are working by looking not only at the vision, mission statement, strategic plan, and annual reports, but also at the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and potential threats faced at their specific placement site.  The ‘Comparative Study of Race, Class, Genders, and Sexualities,’ taught by a member of the UConn faculty, is structured to encourage students to analyze issues they face in South Africa with situations they may or may not have been aware of in the U.S.A.

A Human Rights Training Weekend, which brings together UConn students with young adults from throughout Africa goes beyond a mere theoretical understanding of universal human rights and national civil rights.  Traveling to an olive farm outside the city, participants take time out from their daily routines to experience the complexities involved in arriving at consensus with individuals from backgrounds and perspectives very different from one’s own.  Through such cohesive fusion of their academic and personal experiences students broaden their understanding of what it means to be a consciously engaged citizen of the world.

The week long “semester break” excursion in March includes a trip to Johannesburg to visit many of the historical sites previously studied, such as: the Apartheid Museum; the Hector Pieterson Memorial; the former Mandela Family Home; the site of the Sharpeville Massacre; Freedom Square; Constitutional Court; and many other historically significant places. And since many believe no trip to South Africa would be complete without seeing at least some of the “big five” for which the country is famous, the excursion concludes with a trip to Kruger National Park where everyone enjoys a sunrise and sunset game drive, and some also sign up to participate in an afternoon “safari walk.”

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