A Lion, An Elephant, Bungee Jumping, and a South African Classroom

By Purnell T. Cropper | May 25, 2010

By Sarah R. Schwartz

“Africa just has a way of making you feel so small… it’s a grounded feeling, a human feeling, ” says Sociology major Jamie Snyder ’11, who just spent her spring semester studying at Cape Town University (UCT) in South Africa.

After participating in the First Year Study Abroad Experience (FYSAE), Snyder desired another similar experience but in a very different location. She knew that South Africa would allow her to learn from a captivating and recent social and political history while enjoying the breathtaking scenery. But Cape Town exceeded all of her expectations.

Of course Snyder has spent her time participating in some of the typical tourist activities such as bartering in Greenmarket Square or sunning herself on the beach. Over spring break, she camped through Botswana, pet a lion in Zimbabwe, came face-to-face with a wild elephant, and bungee jumped off a bridge at Victoria Falls over the Zambezi River. But determined to encounter as much of what South Africa has to offer, her experiences have taken her far beyond those any tourist will ever experience, to a fifth grade classroom in a local community.

Snyder volunteers with UCT’s Students’ Health and Welfare Centers Organization (SHAWCO) in addition to her full course load. SHAWCO offers both educational and medical services. Snyder chose to teach. Her favorite course, Xhosa Communication, is helping her connect with her students.

“Not only are the Xhosa people historically significant in South Africa, but it’s also fun to speak their language, she says. “It’s a ‘click’ vernacular meaning it has several clicking sounds you must use when speaking. When I volunteer with SHAWCO in Khayelitsha, my students sometimes speak to me in Xhosa, and it’s pretty awesome to not only understand them, but to be able to respond.”

As a volunteer, it is Snyder’s responsibility to deal with language barriers, keep her students interested in the lessons, and reach both advanced students and those who are struggling. Her experience with SHAWCO will prove to be invaluable as she plans to pursue a career in education.

“I think most employers favor those who have had the experience of immersing themselves in another culture because it demonstrates that they understand the importance of fostering global understanding and expanding their horizons,” she says.

As Snyder returns to the United States in June and begins preparing for her final year at Arcadia, she will reflect on her unique and transformative education. “My experiences abroad have changed me in ways I could spend the rest of my life figuring out,” she says. “There’s just so much to learn, to see, to experience, to try, to feel, and to enjoy in the world.”