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A Land of Sacrifice and Beauty

Posts from Whitworth's South Africa Study Program

By Kyla Parkins, '18

In January 2016, I joined 18 other students and three professors on an adventure to South Africa. The trip was structured for journalism and political science studies, with Gordon Jackson leading the communications side and Megan Hershey leading the political science side. Cynthia Wright also accompanied us to research for a future health science trip. We began our trip in Cape Town, worked our way up the coast, and ended in Johannesburg. Throughout the trip, we toured places like Parliament, the South African Museum and National Art Gallery, and Constitutional Court. We also had the opportunity to meet with journalists, politicians, educators and even a Whitworth grad, Maseko Nxumalo, '89. As we traveled, we stayed with seven different host families, giving us the chance to view life in South Africa from diverse perspectives. Below are some journal entries I recorded throughout this journey.

Jan. 10, 2016
Mandalay, Cape Town (first homestay)

Tonight was incredible! We experienced South African food (lamb chops, kocksitasa, chicken curry, lamb stew, rottie, pop, etc.). Everything tasted wonderful. All the host moms were gathered in the kitchen, putting everything together and serving us in the most nurturing way. Pam, my host mom is sassy and outgoing, but also wise and kind, and her dance moves are killer. Her and her husband, Max, just swept us into their home in a whirlwind of love and joy, treating us like sisters and making us instantly feel like we belonged. I think tonight is when it really sank in that I'm in South Africa. I want to learn from these amazing people. I want to love the way they do. They make it look simple and it is easy to be around them! Max played music and everyone broke out in a dance party. We were feeding off the energy, enjoying each other in the deepest capacity we have thus far. (I think shyness is sometimes a wall that keeps me from being my full and true self. Tonight I broke down that wall. I felt brave and loved and joyous.) Host families are probably not always great, but this one was fantastic. It definitely makes me less anxious about the rest of the homestays!

Jan. 12, 2016
District 6 Museum, Cape Town

I am full of emotion today, having to say goodbye to some wonderful people and learning more about the cruelty people in this country have suffered. I cannot define my feelings exactly. It is something like sorrow mixed with the deepest gratitude to have this experience and the deepest admiration of those who have suffered and also the deepest joy for their triumphs, and both anxiety and hope for their continued pursuit of equality and everything else they deserve. It is a strange sensation to feel so much for strangers, but I am thankful to be learning the stories of glorious South Africa.

Jan. 18, 2016

Emily and I were discussing the difference between this homestay, with wealthy white families, and our stay in Mandalay, with middle-class colored or black families. One thing associated with that difference is guilt. We are in this luxurious home while others are living in shacks. However, we've been told along the way we shouldn't feel guilty, because we all want the same things and guilt won't change anything. I don't think it is wrong to want a house big enough for your family, with hot water and healthy food and nice sheets. It isn't wrong to want to be comfortable. But I feel as if, within our comfort, we must be bold enough to enter uncomfortable territory with those whose lives don't match the comfort of ours. There is no disputing I have unearned privilege. Aside from the drawbacks of being a woman, I am a white Christian born in America. I am not considered affluent when compared to the majority of the American population, but I am privileged nonetheless. How will I respond to that? I do not believe the answer lies in denying myself comfort, but I will deny myself unnecessary luxuries. If it is not functional, sentimental, or encouraging to community, I can do without. Beyond that, I believe we must balance our taking with our giving, although giving should carry more weight. We should be cheerfully and wisely giving to change the lives of those with less privilege.

Jan. 19, 2016

We had a pretty uncomfortable situation in a mall in Butterworth where a guy was following us. In addition, everyone was staring at us. We did not belong. There aren't many white people here, apparently. I could feel fear shutting me down, could feel myself drawing close to those who made me feel more comfortable. It feels pathetic that I could be so rattled by the glares and strange glances, but I feel like I am still recovering. I pray I never make anyone feel that way, never alienate or attack them. We were not attacked, but I absolutely felt fearful and uncomfortable. I plan never to replicate that type of experience in myself or anyone else.

Jan. 26, 2016
Constitution Hill, Johannesburg

There is something about this artwork and these people that pinpricks the core of my humanity. To be flooded with so much compassion and emotion feels both foreign and natural. To love this country is to understand the sacrifice and indignity of oppression and the unique beauty of the ones who survive, as well as those who die trying. I have felt compassion before, but not this deeply. South Africa has awakened the indescribable in me. It has reminded me what it means to be human, both in pain and in joy.

Jan. 28, 2016

Today is my last full day in South Africa. Although I hope to return to this country, who knows if I will? Regardless, I leave this country as a different person. Some changes are small, some larger. I have a deeper understanding of a different culture, as well as more knowledge about the history of this country. I also feel I have a deeper understanding of humanity, of the things which both unite and divide people. I have a more developed sense of global concern. I am excited to start exploring where these changes will take me!

From Cape Town to Whitworth

Gordon Jackson retired in 2015, after serving at Whitworth for 32 years and leading the South Africa trip six times.

In the early '90s, Jackson and Professor of Political Science (now emeritus) John Yoder discussed expanding Whitworth's study-abroad options; in January 1994, they committed to the first trip to South Africa, just four months before the country's first democratic elections.

Jackson grew up in South Africa, coming to the U.S. after earning his B.A. from the University of Cape Town. He also holds an M.A. from Wheaton College and a Ph. D. from Indiana University. In January he co-led his final Whitworth trip to South Africa, this time with Assistant Professor of Political Science Megan Hershey.

The South Africa trip is a unique one, according to Jackson.

"Regardless of a student's major, he or she will be able to learn an enormous amount about the country," Jackson says. "We cover a great deal of territory: small towns, large cities, affluent communities and desperately poor ones. Similarly, students get exposed to a wide range of perspectives on this complex country. Our program is special in that since the beginning we have provided homestays, predominantly with church families. This allows Whitworth students to learn firsthand the views of a wide range of South Africans, of differing racial and political backgrounds."