My name is Josh Childs and I am a senior history and political science student here at WVU. This past fall, I had the opportunity to travel abroad and study at Stellenbosch University in South Africa from July until December. Going abroad was a big step for me. As a Morgantown native who had never been outside of the Eastern Time Zone before, I felt a lot of anxiety in the days leading up to my departure because I was nervous about everything from travelling alone and having to make so many connections by myself, to how I would find my way around Cape Town, to how quickly I’d be able to make friends at the university. Despite these initial fears and concerns, I ended up having the time of my life while I was abroad. Studying overseas was the most rewarding and enriching experience here at WVU, by far.
While I studied at Stellenbosch University, I took four main courses: China/Africa Relations, Transitional Justice in Africa, Learning Sustainability for Community Engagement, and Leadership Beyond Borders. I liked my new university and found the coursework generally interesting. One unique thing about Stellenbosch is that it has historically been an Afrikaans university. Since many of the “mainstream” courses there are only offered in Afrikaans, the university’s international programs office has developed similar courses specifically for international students that are taught exclusively in English. The first three courses I mentioned were all courses through the international programs office and only included other students who were studying abroad. This was great because it helped me make some friends quickly with other students who were in the exact same position as I was—in a totally new place without any kind of existing social connections. The main drawback of these courses was that there wasn’t much chance to engage with local South African students about the issues we discussed. Luckily, I was able to take a short course called Leadership Beyond Borders which was primarily made up of local Stellenbosch students. This was a great opportunity to become friends with some of the locals and gain insight into the way some South Africans view their own country and the world around them.
Though the vast majority of my classroom experiences were positive, I can say without a doubt that the most rewarding and memorable parts of my time abroad were the incredible people I met and the amazing travel experiences I was able to have. Over 300 students studied abroad in Stellenbosch last semester and my fears of not being able to make many friends quickly faded almost immediately after we had our first orientation session. I made some truly lifelong friends and will never forget the time we spent together. My semester was filled with so many new and exciting experiences like surf lessons, weekend hang-outs in Cape Town, whale watching, mountain climbing, island adventures, safari rides, bungee jumping, wine tastings, and many more. Most of my time outside of class was filled with these kinds of activities with friends. I was even lucky enough to be able to travel extensively after the semester had ended. In all, I spend time in eight different countries before returning home.
It was in these times that I learned more about myself and the world around me. Spending an extended time in foreign places, with foreign people was something that helped me become more of a global citizen with a better understanding of the cultures, values, and beliefs of the people we Americans share the planet with. Studying abroad helped teach me that in the end, we are all so much more alike than our many differences lead us to believe. It also helped me become more introspective about my own life and about my own country. This new mindset is something that I try to keep with me even now that I’m back home. Studying abroad is something that I hope every university can experience in some way because it was something that truly had an important impact on my life and will forever be a time of my life that I’ll look back on with the fondest of memories. I’m counting down the days until I can get back to South Africa.