When we talk about study abroad experiences, it seems that classes don’t always take up the spotlight. And that’s understandable. We have to take advantage of our time in a beautiful and unique country — lots of our adventures were outside of the classroom, but in South Africa many of these adventures also included our professors.
In fact, I think it’s fair to say that one of the biggest reasons that our program in South Africa is so amazing is in large part due to the professors and the relationships we have been able to build with them. I remember a conversation the thirteen of us Northwestern students were having about our professors at Stellenbosch and how much we appreciated their willingness to connect with us outside of the classroom, recognizing that our identities are not just made up of our hours in lecture. “They treat us like real people,” to quote another student. It was refreshing and something about this trip that I will never forget.
One of my favorite memories is getting the chance to hike with Jacob, one of our professors at Stellenbosch and our academic program director. Beyond skillfully scheduling all our classes and overseeing the academic portion of our time abroad, Jacob really emphasized the importance of having a chance to explore all that South Africa has to offer. And that definitely includes the mountains and nature reserves.
As we hit the trails at Jonkershoek Nature Reserve just minutes from campus, we discussed the recent fires in Stellenbosch — responsible for burning much of the lush greenery Jonkershoek is usually covered in — and the implications that has on the preservation of the reserve as well as on the economics of South Africa. In between jokes and breaks for snacks, the small group of students and I actually got a chance to learn about Stellenbosch and South Africa in a way that I would venture to guess isn’t common for most college students. (Jacob also taught us a thing or two about hiking — and for me, how to figure out where the actual trail is. Never ask me to lead on hikes. Because I will get you lost.)
After taking a dip in a trickling waterfall, we stopped to relax near a small river and talked with Jacob more about the relationship between Stellenbosch and Northwestern and learned a lot about his motivation for fostering meaningful educational experiences, especially internationally. I think the three of us who were able to hike with him that day developed so much respect for his perspective on learning — large because we’re proof that some of these casual and personal moments can help you learn more effectively.
And thankfully, on this trip, Jacob is not the only teacher we got a chance to know outside of the classroom. Amanda Gouws joined us for wine tastings — adding her invaluable perspective as a wine-maker herself — and Cape Town explorations. Our course TAs became some of our good friends and accompanied us on the Garden Route excursion. David Bunn, mentioned before, was the best leader we could have asked for in Kruger National Park.
The people that we got a chance to learn from are unparalleled and something so worth leaving Evanston for.