For a global study class, the itinerary was daunting: There were scholarly lectures on migration, health policies, HIV, xenophobia, and a deep dive into the regional “blue economy” based on aquatic and ocean industries. And that was just one day of an 11-day class.
But for the Schar School of Policy and Government students who made the trip to Pretoria, South Africa, earlier this summer, the academically oriented program, titled “Political, Economic, and Social Challenges in South Africa,” was exactly what they wanted. The itinerary was designed by Schar School director of external programs Michal McElwain Malur and associate dean of academic affairs Matthys van Schaik, who has led graduate-level study abroad programs for 20 years. Maxi Schoeman, deputy dean of the Department of Political Sciences and Humanities at the University of Pretoria, also assisted in the program.
The students said the journey more than lived up to expectations.
“It was an eye-opening experience for me,” said Helen Yu, a Sunnyvale, Calif.-native who is studying in the Schar School’s Master’s in Public Administration program with a concentration in Emergency Management and Homeland Security.
“All the lectures were amazing and built on one another,” said Laila Smith, who is in the Schar School’s Master’s in International Security program, the No. 2 program in the country according to 2019 U.S. News & World Report rankings. “The cultural experiences and lectures complemented one another very well.” Her favorite lecture, she said, was Pierre Brouard’s presentation on “HIV and AIDs in the Context of South African Health Policy.” Brouard is the deputy director of the Centre for the Study of Sexualities, AIDS, and Gender and the University of Pretoria.
That’s the kind of experience students would not get in a typical classroom—and it’s the benefit of global study. “It is important for our students to get ‘in the field’ exposure,” says van Schaik, “not only because of the practical nature of the master’s programs, but also because the approaches and content of the programs often challenge their way of thinking and encourage them to see issues from a different perspective.”
While there were presentations on politics, foreign relations, economy, education policy, food safety, international security, development challenges, energy policy, land issues, and other talks presented by regional experts, no visit to South Africa would be complete without a wildlife experience.
The “walk with the lions” also was a learning experience, said Arlington, Va., native Daniel Tiznado, also in the Schar School’s Master’s in International Security program. Tiznado’s previous study abroad trip was to Donegal County, Ireland, to study global health.
“My favorite visit was to Ukutula,” the conservation center, “biobank,” and game reserve about an hour northwest of Pretoria, he said. “It was a fun experience to see the wildlife in South Africa and learn about their conservation efforts. The sessions complemented many of my courses—some of the same themes emerged in Public Policy: Introduction to Public Administration, specifically.”
The students also took in the Sterkfontein Caves south of the city, with a tour led by professors from the University of Pretoria and Aarhus University of Denmark. The fossil-filled “cradle of humankind” is a World Heritage Site, as is Robben Island, another destination they visited. Robben Island is best known as the location of the prison where Nelson Mandela was kept for 18 years.
They also visited the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg and took a flight to Cape Town for a walking tour of apartheid landmark District Six, and lectures on land issues and energy policy in the region.
“There was a great mix of classroom time and cultural activities,” said Michelle Artson, a Master’s in Public Administration student, with a focus in International Management. The Woodbridge, Va.-native was making her first global study trip.
“Overall, this was truly an amazing learning experience. I highly recommend it,” she said. “The alignment to overall public policy and governance is fascinating, especially in the wake of issues surrounding re-emerging health epidemics.
“I'm now considering a certificate in this area,” she added.