A student perspective by Brandon Williamson

Don’t just go, LEAD has become synonymous with my time in Cape Town.

Not only did I enhance my leadership skills but being among several amazing leaders—whether academic counselors, community leaders, peers, or other staff—this experience was full of inspiration, self-reflection, gratitude, and appreciation. During the first days, we experienced authentic African culture at “Gold Restaurant.” Being able not only to learn but also to participate in the culture through dance, drum-beating, and authentic food made the experience more memorable.

Leadership development was a focal point throughout this entire experience. Before departure, students were responsible for watching the film “Invictus,” which highlights the African Rugby team following the election of President Nelson Mandela. Our responses to the film helped determine the African leader we would be assigned to research for an assignment. I was assigned to research activist and South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu. His philosophy of nonviolence and his recognition that religion is not the issue but how people attempt to use religion to justify their actions helped identify alternatives and create strategies to overcome segregation and oppression. This research also demonstrated that true leaders help and enhance other leaders, as Tutu’s work with President Mandela allowed their impact to grow internationally. Leaders constantly work to improve the lives of others.

This experience abroad challenged me academically because there was so much to learn within such a short time frame. Dr. Mario Chandler provided insightful details and inclusive discussions to help students understand the current and previous challenges in South Africa. One of the first lectures discussed the political system, and with the recent political election it explained the current political situation. This was the first time since Mandela’s election in 1994 that the African National Congress (ANC) did not receive the majority vote, but fortunately for supporters, they were able to form a coalition with another political party. Numerous lessons highlighted significant events, people, music, and culture. Learning and visiting Robben Island and seeing the cell where Mandela was incarcerated, helped me understand that what society considers today’s communist can be tomorrow’s leader. Nelson Mandela was incarcerated due to his aggressive and radical behavior with the promilitarian wing of the ANC known as the uMkhonto weSizwe (MK)political party. While in prison, he remained revered as an influential figure. The Robben Island tour was led by a former inmate who served time with Mandela, making it both a learning opportunity and an adventure.

Among other adventures, hiking one of the highest mountains in the world, Table Mountain, helped me recognize my ability to challenge myself. Through resilience and determination, once I reached the top, I felt accomplished and confident in facing life’s challenges. Whether hiking, walking with elephants, shark cage diving, or zip lining, there were numerous activities to challenge and explore my potential. Seeing animals during the safari helped me realize that the world is an open arena full of opportunities to be among different people, animals, and environments. Everyone and everything is not always fair, making life difficult and different.

Participating in community service revealed that helping others is not just a quick day’s work. Visiting several communities showed that all communities have different issues but all need support. As we arrived at the local school, Bokamerie, students quickly approached the bus and greeted us with smiles and friendly faces. Considering that many of the students came from poverty-stricken areas filled with drugs, crime, and other issues, they remained happy and thankful. Interacting with students through games, conversations, crafts, and other activities made the experience special. Their talents in singing, dancing, cosmetology, sports, and other activities were amazing. Visiting the Amy Foundation and Soup Moms also recognized that neighbors and other people want to be there for their community and desire to help in any way possible.

This experience was both an academic and adventurous one and a personal journey toward discovering my future. As a History major, I not only learned more about the culture and history of Cape Town, South Africa, but this experience also solidified that education and assisting students is where I belong. I understand that students face different challenges but desire to reach greater heights of success. I recommend that students consider studying abroad to learn more about themselves and experience the cultures and adventures of another country.

Find out how Brandon made his trip to Cape Town, South Africa, possible here: https://www.uwa.edu/news/uwa-history-major-receives-scholarship-to-study-abroad/