Roza in South Africa

Roza is a junior Hunt Scholar and Mustang Scholar majoring in communication studies in Meadows School of the Arts and political science in Dedman College. During summer 2011, she is participating in SMU-in-South Africa, a four-week study program that introduces students to South African history and culture. She plans to take two courses: “The African Diaspora: Literature and Culture of Black Liberation” as well as “Music Theater Workshop, West Side Story.”

Roza then travels to Washington, D.C., as the 2011 Jack C. and Annette K. Vaughn Foreign Service and International Affairs intern, through SMU’s John Goodwin Tower Center for Political Studies. She is working at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars with the center’s Global Health Initiative.

An unforgettable summer

As I reminisce on my summer, I feel nothing short of absolute gratitude. My internship experience has taught me more than I could ever have imagined. I am a better researcher, writer, thinker and worker because of it. More important, I am more aware of global affairs, especially in the areas of population, health and the environment.

Celebrating an SMU alum's birthday in D.C.

My stay in DC has taught me to be more confident and independent. I had never lived alone for an extended period of time, or had to transport myself, cook my own meals, or navigate an unfamiliar city without my family’s help, but now that I have traveled the journey, I look forward to doing it all over again.

I am grateful for the friends I have met in DC, especially the SMU alums working here. They are loving and still connected to that true SMU spirit.  I am thankful that so many of them happily opened up their arms and provided a welcoming environment for me. I look forward to doing the same for fellow SMU students when I become an alum.

With family in New York

The city’s great location also made it possible to explore New York City, a place I had been looking forward to visiting for quite some time. Although New York cannot compare to all the exciting political work in DC, it has a lot to show off. Whether it’s Times Square, shopping malls with some of the hottest fashion and unbeatable prices, or its proximity to several Ivy League universities, it’s definitely a must-see.

Of course my study abroad experience in South Africa also contributes to making this summer both unforgettable and incredible. I am blessed to be attending SMU, where the mission of the university makes it possible for students to explore their areas of passion. Where I am surrounded by such a close support group of professors, staff and friends who live to see students succeed. I don’t know very many universities that provide financial support and allow students to combine a study abroad and internship experience, but I guess that is why SMU is such a special place.

SMU and South African students

As I sit in the plane writing this final blog, I am already imagining myself on the campus. Granted, I am not completely prepared, but I guess two days should be enough time to spend some time with family, pack all my belongings and move into the Service House. Looking forward to seeing the beautiful campus, meeting all the incoming students, reuniting with friends and starting my busy but exciting course load I have lined up!

I had the opportunity to write about some issues I care about, including fistula, faith based organizations and maternal mortality. Be sure to read them below:

 

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Exciting work in D.C.

At the Capitol with an SMU alum

As the summer gets closer to wrapping up, the more I realize how amazing my whole summer has been. Honestly, this has been the best summer of my life. South Africa is definitely hard to top, but adding DC on top of it, unbeatable … I guess I’ll have to see what next summer has in store.

My internship has been keeping me busy, but it’s the good kind of busy. I’m grateful that unlike most DC internships, I get to do actual work; not the typical internship jobs where you copy papers and answer phone calls all day.

I spend my time researching international issues I care about – population, health and the environment. I have gotten a couple of my writings published on the Center’s website, and it’s really exciting to work alongside the staff.

When I am not busy researching and writing, I am attending discussions hosted by the Wilson Center. Last week I heard former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf speak about U.S.-Pakistan relations. He touched on controversial topics including Osama Bin Laden and relationships with India, and confirmed that U.S.-Pakistan relations remain inharmonious.

I also got to hear a lecture on AFRICOM at the Rayburn House building. I also visited an SMU alum who works there. She was busy at work because of all the debates about the debt, but took time off her busy schedule to give me a quick tour of Capitol Hill.

At the U.N. with my sister and cousin

When I am not at the Center or in a public discussion soaking in all of the latest foreign affairs developments, I am making the most out of my stay in D.C. I was lucky enough to get an East Wing tour of the White House! Of course, the White House is absolutely beautiful, but the feeling I felt as I was walking in the most important building in the world is indescribable. I know seeing doesn’t translate to anything more, but I got so excited because the more I am exposed to opportunities like this, the more I feel like my political career dreams will come true.

Last weekend my sister and brother took a vacation to come see me, so we all decided to be a bit adventurous and go to New York. We had an enjoyable time in New York. I insisted on visiting the United Nations, so we made sure to see the headquarters.

We also went on the ferry to see the Statue of Liberty and spent time in Manhattan before finishing the night off in Times Square.

I have two more weeks left in DC, and I am trying to make the most out of my stay by continuing to explore the city, meeting up with alums and attending as many lectures and discussions as possible.

Sightseeing in New York

To check out my published work from the Wilson Center, visit the following sites:

Maternal health challenges in Kenya.
Population, health and environment advocacy with the Sierra Club.
Family planning in the developing world.

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Busy in D.C.

At the Roosevelt Memorial

Yet another week has gone by, and D.C. only keeps getting better. My internship has really picked up its pace, and now I stay busy on weekdays from 9-5 doing Wilson Center work.

The staff I work with is really incredible, and I enjoy my responsibilities. The best part of my internship is that I get to attend all of the Center’s lectures and forums, and for someone who loves international affairs as much as I do, it definitely suits me well.

Thus far I have attended lectures pertaining to maternal health in Kenya, U.S.-Arab relations, environmental issues in Tanzania and the launching of a new book by a Wilson Center Scholar, Rock the Casbah, which addresses the counter-jihad movement.

Although I intern for the Center’s Global Health Initiative, I also work closely with the Environmental Change and Security Program (ECSP), so I also get to help set up ECSP events. Besides helping to set up for the events and attending the forums, I have been working on writing an event summary, blogging, researching and compiling daily headlines related to health and the environment.

At the Roosevelt Memorial with SMU student Afsana

When I am not interning, I am touring all over D.C. On Saturday I saw the memorials with a fellow SMU student. we saw the Jefferson, Roosevelt, Lincoln and Vietnam War memorials. I also went and had lunch at Shake Shack, the restaurant where Michelle Obama was recently seen having a burger and a shake.

I have also been trying to meet up with SMU alums, and so far I have met all three I had hoped to meet! The first week I met up with the director of Public Affairs at Progressive Policy Institute, and then with a former Hunt Scholar, who also got to interview me for my scholarship. She works in the U.S. Congress, serving as a press secretary for a congresswoman.

At Georgetown Waterfront

Just recently I had dinner with an SMU alum who is the Operation Manager at the American Committee on Foreign Relations.  She took me to the Georgetown Waterfront, which is such a beautiful place surrounded by a beach and nice restaurants. The waterfront reminded me of Cape Town, not only because that is the name of the hotel we stayed at in Cape Town, but also because the scenery is just as beautiful.

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And on to D.C.

On the Capitol lawn

I didn’t get much time to sit and reminisce about my South Africa experience with my family because my flight to Washington, D.C., was at 7 am the next morning.  I have spent exactly a week in D.C., and I must say I have had quite an introduction to the city. Besides the few complications of trying to adjust to new means of transportation and familiarizing myself with the venues, I have enjoyed my stay thus far.

At the World Peace Talk

On Saturday I had the honor of listening to the Dalai Lama give a speech on World Peace on the west lawn of the Capitol building. Since I missed him when he came to SMU, seeing him the second time around was a must. Although I  had to wake up at 6 a.m. and wait in the sun for three hours, it was totally worth it.  Thousands of people came to hear him speak, and special appearances by Whoopi Goldberg and Skylar Grey contributed to the success of the event.

Lunch with a White House intern

Other adventures I have partaken in so far include eating at an Ethiopian restaurant and Good Stuff Eatery (restaurant owned by a “Top Chef” contestant), spending time with White House interns, visiting the Library of Congress and meeting up with successful SMU alumni.

My internship at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars also officially started the day after I arrived here. I am currently at the introductory level of learning about the Center, but I will start working on projects soon.

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Goodbye, South Africa

The SMU group in Cape Town

The three weeks I have spent in South Africa will forever remain the best memories of my life. I have met friends I plan to keep in touch with forever, and my eyes have seen some of God’s most beautiful creations. Although I hate to leave it all behind, I’m looking forward to coming back and reliving those movements.

After my wonderful experience, I cannot help but be an advocate of study abroad programs. I am not going to lie; initially I had reservations about my journey. I did not think that I would find studying abroad as enjoyable as everyone else made it out to be.  However, now that I have gone through it, I understand why there is so much buzz and excitement about abroad programs. South Africa 2011 is hands down one of the best experiences of my life!!

Thank you to SMU, Mr. and Mrs. Hunt and the CCPA department for the financial support. Thank you also to my support group of family, friends, faculty and administrators who encouraged me to partake in this journey.

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Long road to equality

Nothing makes you forget  about all your problems and worries like visiting District Six, Robben Island, and learning all about the political prisoners who fought against apartheid. During the apartheid era, District Six was proclaimed a whites-only area, so all the non-white residents were uprooted from there and displaced, many of them left homeless. To walk around the buildings and the area where only blacks were allowed to enter just a few years ago, brought back the same feelings I had while I was on the Civil Rights Pilgrimage visiting the Little Rock Central National Historic Site.

Once the tour of District Six concluded, we made our way to Robben Island.

Robben Island by itself, separate of its history, is beautiful. In fact, all of us got off the tour bus and had to take pictures by the island. Of course, the history highlights a different kind of reality.

At the Robben Island shore

The group at Robben Island shore

This tour was perhaps the most enlightening experience of my entire trip. To walk into the cell where Nelson Mandela spent 18 years in prison was an experience like no other.  Hard to believe that such a courageous and successful leader of the country was tortured and locked up in a tiny cell. His cell contained minimal belongings, a thin blanket laid on the floor,  a pillow made out of a bundle of linens, a small tiny desk stand, and a bucket. Other than that it was a cold and barren cell that imprisoned one who would eventually become one of the world’s most powerful political leaders.

Meager furnishings in the cell where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned

After listening to horrific stories about the ways in which the prisoners were mistreated, I had a better understanding of why South Africans idealize Mandela. Without him, the nation would still be under the same apartheid system – segregation in public schools, housing, public facilities and health care, among other areas. However, Mandela and his political leadership team worked diligently to overturn the Nationalists’ racist policies. Although South Africa still has a long way to go from achieving equality, Mandela’s leadership has brought significant improvements.

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On to Cape Town

We took our final examination for the African literature course and finished with all our classes; at least all the learning that happens in an inside classroom setting concluded. Now the last three days will be spent on excursions in Cape Town.

Leaving Durban behind is one of the hardest things I have had to do. I cannot help but get close to people, especially when the people shower you with so much affection and enrich your experience. Part of me wishes that I didn’t get too attached to these people; perhaps then, saying goodbye would not have been as emotionally draining as it was. My three weeks of stay in Durban contain memories and friends of a lifetime. Sadly, all good things must come to an end, so we all said our goodbyes and headed to Cape Town. As disappointing as it was to leave Durban and head to Cape Town, at least I was not leaving South Africa yet, so I clinched onto that last bit of hope.

Cape Town did its fair share of trying to make me feel less sad by competing with Durban’s beauty and exposing my eyes to unbelievable scenery.

Table Mountain

Immediately after our flight landed, we went on a bus tour and I just could not believe that so much beauty was packed into such a small city. Unlike Durban, Cape Town is more cosmopolitan, cleaner, and unfortunately much colder.  Cape Town is surrounded by Table Mountain and is also the home of Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela spent 18 years in prison.  On top of that, many beautiful beaches surround the city, so there was definitely much to look forward to.

After we finished oohing and awing over the city, the tour concluded, and we stopped by the beach to watch the sun set. I could not resist getting a picture with this gorgeous view!

Cape Town sunset

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Birthday in South Africa

Never in my life did I think I would celebrate my 20th birthday away from home, much less outside of the country. As much as I would have enjoyed to have my family and friends around, I cannot say it was not a unique experience turning 20 in South Africa.  My friends took me shopping to one of Durban’s well-known malls. After shopping, I had a taste of traditional South African Braai, also known as BBQ. One of the students I met while studying here insisted on throwing me a party, so he welcomed me and all my classmates to his house for BBQ…I still cannot get over how loving and welcoming every single African I’ve met has been.

Spending my birthday in a beautiful city with loving people helped me forget about my sadness of reaching my “milestone” birthday. Of course many people make fun of me when I talk about feeling old and how much I wish I did not have to turn 20; however, all  I have to say is 20 may not mean I have aged, but it means I am no longer a teenager, and more important it is much closer to the age most people start accumulating big responsibilities – finding a real job, getting married, owning a house and all the other obligations I am not looking forward to at this time.

I just want to continue enjoying SMU and not have to worry about big responsibilities anytime soon.  I cannot imagine a life outside of SMU or the amazing experiences it has brought, such as this opportunity to study abroad and interact with people who come from different backgrounds and nationalities, while taking both challenging and intriguing courses.  Basically, SMU has blessed me in more ways than I can imagine, so of course I am not looking forward to any age that gets me closer to graduation.

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Wild animals and Zulu dancing

Stopping for a picnic

Before we got back to the books and papers, we had one more adventure for the week: an African Safari!! We had to drive three hours to our destination, but once we got there it was all worth it. We saw rhinos, giraffes, elephants, and zebras, among other wild animals. We were hoping to see a lion, but unfortunately that didn’t happen.

Once we returned from our safari, dinner was waiting outside. At first I thought to myself, it’s already cold enough inside, what kind of reasoning is it to have dinner outside? Well, that is until I stepped outside, saw the scorching fire that was blazing and the buffet of food that was all ready and waiting near the fire. Then I thought to myself, this is not only logical, but a genius idea!

I would have been content with just the delicious dinner, but we were told that there was a surprise for us after dinner: Zulu dancing! After our first introduction to Zulu dancing, all of us have fallen in love with it and were eagerly waiting for the dancing to start. This dancing was a bit different than our first one at the Zulu Land. We were told that they would only perform one song, and we had to pay careful attention because after that, we would have to join them.

Sure enough, they were not joking. After they did an exceptional performance, they pulled all of us (all 7 of my SMU classmates) and had us perform in front of everyone. I can’t say I was not a bit shy, but not for too long because Zulu dancing does not allow for shyness – only the movement of your feet. It was such a beautiful night and all of us went to bed feeling grateful for the amazing experiences South Africa has been offering us thus far.

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Day at the beach

To celebrate a successful performance, my classmates and I went to the beach and had a relaxing day. The beach in Durban is absolutely gorgeous. Of course being at a beach resort anywhere is exciting, but to have it topped off with such beautiful scenery and perfect weather is even more exciting.

Even as a fellow African, I would have never imagined such beautiful places existed in South Africa, but gladly I was proved wrong. We all had such a great time relaxing at the beach. After the beach, we went out to an Italian restaurant and concluded the day with delicious food and great conversations.

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