If you’re researching a study abroad program and want the inside scoop on what it’s *really* like, consider connecting with its alumni! You’ll gain invaluable insight by hearing from someone who has actually been through the process, or experienced the location or program you’re interested in. We caught up with AIFS Alumni Ambassador, Sara Sprague, who chose to study abroad in South Africa with AIFS. She spent her Spring 2018 semester in Stellenbosch studying and volunteering abroad by participating in a service learning opportunity. Read on as she reflects on her experience and gives advice.
Why did you choose to study abroad in South Africa through the AIFS in Stellenbosch program? How did you learn about it?
I found AIFS to be very organized and credible. I enjoyed how quick they were to respond to my questions, along with their website setup and everything that is included in the program. I wanted to go somewhere different and to have an experience that challenged me, AIFS provided me a great opportunity to go to South Africa. Not only this, but I love service learning programs, therefore this program is everything that I wanted. The AIFS website is very feasible and organized, so finding the program was not difficult.
What is your major and was there a connection to your choice of program location?
I am studying Sociology. Yes, there was a connection; the courses offered are very diverse. I ended up taking some social justice courses and then the 9-credit LSCE [Service Learning] course, which was highly connected to my major, but I got an incredible hands-on experience. It allowed me to put theory to practice in a way unimaginable.
What are the strengths and unique features of the AIFS program in Stellenbosch, and the city itself?
The people were an incredible strength. Hestea, my [Resident Director], was a second mom to me. I love the people in South Africa, along with their culture and diversity. The landscape was beautiful and AIFS offered incredible excursions. South Africa is rich in their diverse cultures which allows for many new perspectives to be learned.
Can you tell us about some of the highlights of your experience?
Without a doubt, working with the primary children was a highlight. They brought so much joy and even challenges to the experience, it was a very active learning curve. I loved my time in Cederberg… the stars were something out of a movie. I also went to Namibia and we went hiking and tried Zebra. All the hikes were big highlights; Table Mountain is an incredible wonder as well.
Was there anything you did not expect?
I did not expect to feel so accepted while abroad. Being a person that is both black and white, I had concerns going to South Africa. This was not as big of an issue as I thought, there was actually no issues at all. I actually learned more about my identity. I also did not expect to meet lifelong friends, that is the beauty of it, seeking the unexpected.
How did you learn, grow or change by studying abroad?
My perspectives were challenged — I experienced times of immense dissonance, but I also had time to reflect. Everyday brought a new opportunity to learn something new. I hope more and more people come to understand this while abroad. I grew a lot as well. It was a whole period of growth that I would not take back.
Do you have any advice for future students who also study abroad in South Africa?
The food will take time for your body to get used to. You may get sick, but know that you are in good hands, especially under Hestea’s care. Keep in mind of the water issues that have faced South Africa in the past and be aware of the lens you wear while abroad. Also, be mindful and embrace the new changes and challenges, it is important to have an open mind. Stay in the moment.
Would you recommend the AIFS in Stellenbosch program to other students who want to study abroad in South Africa?
Absolutely, no doubt. I wish I could go back and back again. There is so much growth and beauty within this program.