White water river rafting in Clarens, South Africa.


Today I conquered my fear! For those of you who don’t know me, I would like to tell you that I highly dislike large bodies of water. Besides the fact that I don’t know how to swim, I have a huge fear of open bodies of water. I should backtrack to tell you how I got into this situation of white water river rafting. A few weeks ago when I was completing my registration form to participate in the Global Leadership Summit at the University of the Free State, I was asked to choose three activities. At the time, I decided I would choose two safe activities that I felt comfortable with and one that went outside my comfort zone. Typically, I participate in activities that I am familiar with, are considered safe, and are indoors. So at the moment I had decided to be spontaneous and choose white water river rafting because I thought, “When will I ever get the opportunity to white water river raft in South Africa again”? That same thought is what got me into the situation that I was in today. Considering the luck that I have, I was given the activity that didn’t fall into my comfort zone. As much as I wanted to try something new, I secretly wanted to get my safe choice activity. Of course, I was given the activity that in my opinion was most challenging since it involved adapting to the harsh weather conditions while being mentally and physically active. On this particular day, it was cold and windy and the water was freezing. Even though I was extremely scared throughout the ride and wanted to give up on numerous occasions, my group reassured me that I would be okay. I didn’t fully believe them considering the wind was picking up and our instructor indicated that there was a high chance of falling over. But even with doubt and fear, I decided to stick through it. I will add that before going over the G4 rapid, I wanted to get off. I was scared and didn’t think I would make it without falling off. Well, I decided to stay on and finish the last rapid and fortunately I made it out alive. I cannot express how liberating it felt to have challenged myself and in the end succeed. Today I showed courage and I am proud to say that I white water river rafted on the Ash River in Clarens, South Africa. I would encourage anyone studying abroad to try something new and challenge oneself. I will say, be careful on what you choose because even though I got such an amazing adrenaline rush, this has been my first and LAST time white water river rafting. It was super fun but you won’t catch me doing that in the United States.

Lions, cheetahs, ostrich, and baboons, oh my!

Well, almost a week has passed since arriving in South Africa, and I have had some amazing experiences.  Since arriving, I have seen ostriches, baboons, and zebras in the wild.  We also visited a place where we could see captive lions, leopards, and cheetahs.  I actually got to pet a live cheetah, whose fur was rougher than I would have imagined, fluffy-looking as it was.



The Global Leadership Summit has been incredible.  We got to hear from Nelson Mandela’s personal assistant, Zelda Le Grange.  Nelson Mandela was the first black president of South Africa, and the first president after the Apartheid era.  His former assistant shared some wonderful stories about Mr. Mandela’s courtesy and respect for other people’s customs and culture.  We also heard from Candice Mama, whose father was murdered by the leader of the Apartheid government’s death squad.  She told the story of how she met with her father’s murdered, and came to a point of reconciliation and common humanity after many shared tears.  She was also kind enough to let me film an interview with her for the video project I am working on while here.


Today, we drove to the University of the Free State’s Qwaqwa campus (pronounced with the clicks of the Basotho language).  On our way we passed a small town.  Just looking at the houses from one side of town to the other, it was striking to see the vast gap in wealth that still exists in South Africa between those who were formerly oppressed under Apartheid rule and those who were privileged.


The rest of the drive was beautiful, including several rock formations that were reminiscent of pride rock in the Lion King.


The Qwaqwa campus (where I am currently) is right on the border of Lesotho, so it is very naturally beautiful.  I’m excited for some time away from the bustle of Bloemfontein.  This area is much more mountainous and open.  For dinner tonight, we were served Braai, traditional South African barbeque.  My plate had Boerewors (traditional Boerewors), steak, a chicken thigh, and a filet of fish.  4 dead animals on my plate at once!  That’s the South African way!  Until next time…

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Bloemfontein, South Africa


07/08/2015, Blog by Jessica Velasquez , Society, Ethics and Human Behavior & American Ethnic Studies, Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion via Dig­i­tal Sto­ry­telling in the US and South Africa


Participating in the Social Justice in Higher Education in the US and South Africa: Reconciliation has been one of the greatest experiences of my life so far! I cannot express how fortunate I have been by being able to be part in the Global Leadership Summit at the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein, South Africa. Everyday I get to experience something new and today I had the opportunity to visit Naval Hill where Nelson Mandela’s statue stands overlooking Bloemfontein. I was there for over two hours and was able to capture great photos of the late president and the sunset. This six-meter tall statute of former president Nelson Mandel honors his significant impact of ending the war of apartheid in South Africa. His contribution to the country and around the world influenced me in such a way that I plan to create an event at UW Bothell where faculty, staff, and students get the opportunity to honor him for one minute for every year of Mandela’s public service. Typically, we would honor him on July 18th, the day of his birthday, but since most students are out of school by then we would incorporate this event sooner. The purpose of celebrating Mandela Day at UW Bothell will be to call to action for people to recognize their individual power and create change on campus and in the community for the better, which I think would be powerful.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” -Nelson Mandela


Touchdown in South Africa!

After two weeks of intensive study into the history, customs, and culture of South Africa, as well as two full days of travel, I have finally arrived in South Africa.  We took a total of 3 flights to get here.  The first flight was 14 hours and put us in Dubai.  The airport there was very interesting.  There was a prayer room right next to the restrooms, and we heard the “call to prayer” play over the loudspeakers.  There was a McDonalds in the airport as well.  I saw something called “The McArabia” on the menu.  It wasn’t a sandwich, but rather a pile of assorted food items.  I wasn’t brave enough to try it, so I stuck with the standard that can be found the world over:  the Big Mac.  While it is  advisable to try the local cuisine while traveling abroad, it is sometimes nice to get a taste of something familiar to stave off the homesickness.


The next flight was 8 hours to Johannesburg in South Africa.  After this, we took a 1 hour flight to our final destination, the city of Bloemfontein.  The birthplace of J.R.R. Tolkein, and the judicial capital of South Africa (there are three capitals total), Bloemfontein is also the home of the University of the Free State, where the Global Leadership Summit is being held.  After a friendly welcome yesterday, I crashed for a four hour nap.  Traveling for two days straight took a lot out of me.  After the nap, my group of friends from UW Bothell all went out to dinner at the local mall.


Today we attended an orientation where the program was explained to us, followed by a meeting with our “cohort” groups.  Each group is expected to create a 3-5 minute video presentation by the end of the conference (in two weeks).  The cohort meeting was followed by a campus tour.  Lastly, we attended an opening ceremony which included African drumming, a few welcome speeches from notable university officials, and a local comedian.


There are a few things I have been very struck by since coming to South Africa:

First, the culture has been very welcoming and inclusive.  We have been told numerous times since coming here that we are not just colleagues or visitors, but more importantly we are friends.  The principle of “Ubuntu” was explained to us at the opening ceremony, the idea that no person is an island, but connected (whether they want to be or not) to every other person around them.  It’s nicely summarized in the idea that “‘I am what I am because of who we all are“.  I find this aspect of South African culture very refreshing, and have immensely appreciated and enjoyed the selfless hospitality I have received since coming here.

Secondly, I have been a little surprised at how Western the culture of South Africa can be at times.  I’ve heard American music, heard South Africans talk about American movies and TV shows (especially Game of Thrones!), and seen common American brands at the local stores.  I can definitely see the huge influence that Western colonization has had on this area.  While the surface of many things here appear Western, there exists a huge melting pot of cultures under the surface.  Desmond Tutu called South Africa a “rainbow nation”, and I’m seeing that more and more as I interact with South Africans from different ethnic heritage groups.


So far this has been a fascinating journey, and I’m excited to see where it leads as we discuss difficult issues in the upcoming weeks at the Global Leadership Summit


On the road again…

5/20/2015,  Blog by Steven Kay, Computer Science and Software Engineering, Reconciliation via Digital Storytelling in the US and South Africa

dfsaThis will be my second experience with study abroad, a little bit older and, I like to think, a little bit wiser. I’ll be heading out to South Africa come July 2nd to attend a Global Leadership Summit at the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein. But first I’ll be taking a couple of intensive summer session courses designed to get me educated on South African culture and societal issues, and digital storytelling. I’m not even sure what digital storytelling is yet, but I’m excited to find out.

Last summer I traveled to Beijing, and made the serious mistake of not studying anything about Chinese culture or history before traveling there.

Due to a massive language barrier in China, I ended up learning far more about China via Wikipedia perusing when I got back than I ever learned while there. In hindsight, I wished that I had acquired that contextual information BEFORE visiting those awesome places and experiencing that awesome culture. So this time around I’m digging deep.

I looked at my library for a book recommended to me by an professor here at UW Bothell called “Cry, the Beloved Country” that goes deep into societal tensions in South Africa. Unfortunately, I was able to find nothing but Cliff’s notes and the like. I finally resorted to buying it online through a Thrift book retailer for 5 bucks. I think I’ll also have to re-read “The Power of One”, a story about a young English boy growing up to become a professional boxer in South Africa. It was made into a move back in the 90’s as well, which was decent, but I think the rule of “the book was better than the movie” holds here.

Besides delving into these literary works, I think I’ll have to get some cinema going, as well. I loved District 9, and may have to re-watch that as part of a personal going away party. I’ve also heard “Searching for Sugarman” is a great documentary about an little-known American musician who became the musical voice of Apartheid. Being a musician myself, I think this will be enjoyable, as well as a possibly great introduction to the history of Apartheid (which I know next to nothing about). Maybe “Long Walk to Freedom” and the autobiography it’s based on (written by Nelson Mandela) might be worth checking out, as well.

After courses, books, and movies, the last gaps will no doubt be filled by Wikipedia.   The amount of information organized and made available on Wikipedia is amazing to me. I can spend (and have spent) all night on Wikipedia jumping from article to article, learning things I would never have touched in a University setting.

I’m excited for South Africa, but equally excited to expand my brain. Let the learning begin!

Team Togo

After only a few days of being home I still can’t believe that I just got back from three weeks in Ghana and Togo. It was a whirlwind experience, but I learned so much and really enjoyed working with our wonderful UW team. This was a great experience as a primer for my service in Peace Corps next year in Togo. In many ways it helped me get a better understanding of what living in Togo will be like.
I learned so much working in the clinics. Before I left for Togo, I was a little unsure how my knowledge in public health would be very useful in a clinic, but I realized that so many of the systemic problems in Togo directly affect the people coming into the clinics. For example, we saw in many clinics that people were unable to go to the hospital because of transportation or the cost of hospitalization. These challenges were difficult to face and really drew on my initial thoughts that Togo is a forgotten country. There was much less aid seen in Togo compared to Ghana. The infrastructure was significantly worse and there was a clear difference in accessibility from one country to the other. It made me really appreciate that I choose to spend the first 4 days and the last 4 days in Ghana and use the comparison to better understand the need in Togo.
This was a fantastic experience and it really put the concepts that I have learned in health studies and other BIS classes into a real world perspective.IMGP3341

Go, Go to TOGO

Blog Writ­ten 7/9/2014 by Aimee Desrochers, Major: Health Studies, Study Abroad: Togo



As I organize my clothes, bug repellant, and mosquito net into one back pack to bring to Togo, West Africa tomorrow I wonder if I will be packing up all the same things in a year to start the Peace Corps. Tomorrow I am leaving for about three weeks in Togo to learn about global health in a resource poor setting. I am so excited to learn from the organizations and people we are going to be working with for 10 days and get hands on experience in global health. I am a senior in the health studies program and when I graduate in December I will be leaving for two years, living in Togo for the Peace Corps. I am so fortunate to be able to study abroad there before I move there and get a better understanding of what my life will be like there.

I am leaving a little earlier than the rest of the group and doing some sight seeing in Ghana and staying a little longer at the end to hopefully meet fellow peace corps working in the area I may be stationed. For ten days we are working with a team of nurses and doctors to provide primary health care and screening to individuals with little access and resources. I am going to be doing wind shield surveys and community assessments to determine what the community wants and what resources they have. I am looking forward to learning from the communities about their lives and what they want for their communities in the future. This is going to be an amazing experience and I cannot believe I am leaving tomorrow.