Cultural Contrast Abroad


August PelliccioNews Writer

Patrick Heidkamp said students cannot expect to fix Africa in a study abroad program, but should expect to learn. The most recent trip he led to South Africa was fruitful in that respect.

Over the most recent winter recess, Heidkamp, associate professor of geography, took students from GEO 405 to Khayelitsha, a township in Western Cape, South Africa.

“It’s a very nice location; it’s a very safe part of the state,” said Heidkamp. “Safety is a concern always when we take our students to South Africa.”

He said the gated community is home to many friends that the department has made connections with during previous years’ trips. Because of this, Heidkamp expressed the importance of repeat locations when teaching abroad.

“There are very many study abroad programs at other universities where geography professors will take students on a trip to Europe, and then a trip to South Asia,” said Heidkamp, “but it’s always different students and it’s always a different trip.”

By essentially repeating the same trip each year, Heidkamp said he is able to teach better, and follow the progress of the community.

“There’s a Nigerian community that basically says, ‘we don’t need people that work in the mall to come over for one week and think they can fix Africa,’” said Heidkamp.

A key issue Heidkamp said the class has been learning about in their travels over the last couple years is the current and ongoing water crisis in South Africa. The connection this has to environmental justice, Heidkamp explained, is the alarming effect this lack of natural resources has had on the community and economy.

Associate professor of geography Scott Graves said the previous year when the group was in Khayelitsha, they took out one of their friends from the local community, and their family, for dinner.

“It was at a cost that they would never have the money to pay for,” said Graves, “and it was relatively cheap.”

He explained an average farm worker was then earning roughly the equivalent of $100 per week.

Being exposed to the different culture affected different GEO 405 students in different ways, as they each explained during a panel presentation March 6.

“One thing that I found super powerful,” said Joe Minor, a Southern student present on the trip, “was this idea of intra-disciplinary work,”

Minor explained that he discovered this method, especially helpful for humanitarian efforts, of bettering the community by implanting himself into it. Minor said as a learning experience, it provided a sense of pride to live and work in a foreign environment, taking note of social justice issues.

Georgienna Driver said her experience living within a community where wealth and technology were so sparse gave her guilt on the way home.

“I didn’t want to come home,” said Driver. “I was coming home to my car, my [cell phone], I was coming home to my swimming pool and my hot tub.”

She said life was so much different in South Africa, especially the way they appreciate things, and the way they communicate with one another.

This is what Heidkamp said makes the experience rich, and why he will continue to bring students to the same environment, where their community friends really allow them to be part of the culture.

Photo Credit: August Pelliccio

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