We chatted with AIFS alum, Quinn Walker, who spent a semester studying abroad in Stellenbosch, South Africa back in Spring 2009. We asked him to give feedback on his experience overseas and to talk a bit about how studying abroad influenced his career and life decisions.
When and where did you study abroad?
I studied abroad with AIFS in South Africa at the University of Stellenbosch, about 50km from Cape Town. I was there the fall semester of my junior year. Go Maties!
What is one of your favorite moments from your study abroad experience?
There were so many favorite moments! I really enjoyed the trips coordinated through AIFS, especially the ones to the Cederberg Mountains and the tour of the Garden Route. After our organized tour of the Garden Route, some of us decided to continue traveling on our own and explored the “Wild Coast.” One sunrise along the Wild Coast, we saw several pods of dolphins playing in the surf. It was an incredible sight!
How did your study abroad experience impact your career choice and/or lead you to your current job?
Studying abroad was a major catalyst for me wanting to do the Peace Corps. This revelation moment came when I was volunteering in the Kayamandi Township. Kayamandi was an impoverished community of over 50,000 and was quite the contrast to the Dutch colonial town of Stellenbosch. I started volunteering there as a basketball coach and facilitated 2 practices a week and one game on the weekends. I started to build good relationships with the players on the team but right when I really started to know this community better, pick up a little of the local language, and make lasting friendships the semester was over and it was time to come home. I started asking myself how I could continue having experiences learning from different cultures, trying new foods, and speaking new languages. I didn’t want these experiences to end.
My study abroad experience was the first time I had a clear picture of what it meant to actually leave the familiarity of America and immerse myself in another culture. It helped me realize that didn’t have to spend the rest of my life in the U.S if I didn’t want to. It was suggested by my study abroad advisor to consider the Peace Corps, which led me to my career today. After serving in the Peace Corps for 2 years in the Republic of Moldova, I moved to Dallas, Texas to recruit prospective applicants for Peace Corps service.
Have you been back to your study abroad location since your time abroad as a student? If yes, what was that experience like for you?
I would love to go back. I plan to go as soon as possible!!!
Are you still in contact with other students or anyone you met during your time abroad?
Yes! I’m mainly in touch with friends I studied abroad with via social media. Studying abroad is a great way to make friends from around the world.
Are there any activities or traditions from your time abroad that you have continued back in the US?
I love to Braai! It’s South Africa’s version of BBQ. The meat is cooked on a braai, which is basically a grill. It’s only cooked over wood which means it takes longer to get the fire set-up and cook the food. That experience waiting for the food is what makes the braai special. You enjoy the conversation, company, and experience. It’s not something that can be rushed and you make lasting friendships during the braai. I’ve tried replicating the braai experience in the U.S with varying degrees of success. It’s never the same as in South Africa however.
Where have you traveled abroad since your time as a student? What are your top destinations for future travel?
I definitely caught the travel bug while studying abroad. Since my experience in South African I’ve been to Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, Malawi, Moldova, Romania, Russia, Ukraine, Morocco, Spain, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Nicaragua. I’m currently planning an extensive trip through South America this summer!
Any advice for students who are considering studying abroad?
Say yes! Say yes to all the new experiences and embrace the discomfort that comes with putting yourself in unknown situations. When you find the humor in cross-cultural situations that are different/challenging you truly grow as a human being and citizen of the world.
Any advice for recently returned study abroad students?
Join the Peace Corps! It’s an amazing opportunity to continue having authentic intercultural experiences while serving your country at the same time.
Interested in having the experience of a lifetime like Quinn? Check out our study, internship and service learning opportunities in Stellenbosch, South Africa.