Becoming an International Local in Rural South Africa Past Review

By (Denison University) - abroad from 06/18/2012 to 08/12/2012 with

ThinkImpact: South Africa Institute for Health or Social Innovation

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
This program was absolutely worthwhile. I have no problem saying that ThinkImpact changed my life for the better. Before I left for South Africa, I was a recent college graduate without a clue of what I wanted to do with my life. ThinkImpact has pushed me in a career direction that I would never considered. Sustainable international development has become a bit of a hobby of mine and driven me to pursue a life-long career in it. I not only learned a lot about international development, but I also discovered a lot about myself.

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? 6 months+

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

This is definitely not your typical study abroad experience. This is not a sit in a classroom and read a textbook sort of education program. ThinkImpact wants you to recognize your own skills and assets that you have required through previous experiences and use those to your advantage. The Innovator was an incredible source provided by ThinkImpact that guides you through the process of asset-based community development, but also allows you to create your adventure.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

ThinkImpact does a great job of recruiting experienced advisors and country coordinators to provide valuable support throughout the entire program. It was a very easy adjustment to village life because of the great support system that the staff provided. I always felt comfortable talking to them whenever I felt something was wrong or if I needed help working through an issue I may have had in the village. I saw my advisor not only as someone who was in charge of me, but also as an equal because they were many times in very similar situations as the scholars.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

My host family was incredible. My host mom, Sahlina, although she didn't speak English, loved me and took care of me as if I were her own biological son. Every day when I came home, even if it was for just a couple of minutes, she had a small snack prepared for me. She was constantly checking up on me and my roommate, another scholar on the program with me. My host brother Brian was also great. He was fluent in English and was always willing to help translate anything to our mom if she did not understand what I was asking. I loved hanging out with him in his room and listening to music and talking about South Africa and the United States. The one thing I would say to future scholars is that you must be prepared to share a bed with another scholar. It was weird at first sharing a bed with a stranger, but after a couple of weeks, sharing such a small space became second nature. It felt weird when I got home from South Africa, and I wasn't sharing a bed with my roommate anymore.

* Food:

I really enjoyed the food that I ate while I was living in Thlavekisa. Sometimes I did not always know what I was eating, but I am an adventurous person and tried everything. A lot of the time our meals consisted of the same foods, but I never really got tired of it. Most meals consisted of a porridge called "pap" and a little bit of protein, usually chicken. If we were really lucky, sometimes we got rice, but that was usually saved for Sundays or special occasions. Breakfast was usually buttered bread and juice. I was lucky enough to have fresh mangos growing in our yard that we could pick straight from trees. I think my favorite meal though was when my roommate, Elijah, and I convinced our mom to let us cook dinner for her. We made spaghetti with meat sauce. She seemed to really enjoy having the opportunity sit down and let us serve her dinner.

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

I would give this a rating of more than 5 stars. Cultural immersion is everything that ThinkImpact stands for. Our first full day in the village was one of the most enjoyable and positively overwhelming experiences in my entire life. I walked around the village with one our translators and everyone welcomed me into their yards and wanted to talk to me and ask me a million questions. I really felt a sense of welcome and that this was going to be a very easy adjustment to village life. One very important part of the ThinkImpact curriculum is taking part in shared cultural experiences. These are activities that you do that allow you to get a better understanding of life in the village. It can be as simple as washing your clothes by hand with your host mom, to slaughtering chicken. These activities create bonds and earn respect amongst the community members. Do as many as you can, and do not hold back.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

I unfortunately, like a few other people on the program, had a health scare, but it just added to experience. I felt that ThinkImpact trained our advisors and country coordinators to handle the situation in a proper and efficient matter. I had to go to the hospital for some sort flu-like infection and I felt that I got great healthcare while I was in country. I never felt like I was unsafe or needed to go home. In fact, it was some of the best healthcare I think I have ever received (this is coming from the son of a doctor and a nurse.) I told my parents that I went to the hospital and they praised ThinkImpact for the way the situation was handled.

* Safety:

I have no problems saying that I felt safer walking around Thlavekisa by myself and than I do back home in the suburbs of Chicago. Working and living in the communities allows you to become just another community member. Many people would ask me if I needed an escort to go from place to place in the community. I always told them that I would love their company because it was a great way to learn more about them and the village.

If you could do it all over again would you choose the same program? Yes


* Money: How easily were you able to live on a student's budget?

(1 = not very easy/$200+ on food & personal expenses/week, 2.5 = $100/week, 5 = very easily/minimal cost)

ThinkImpact's tuition covered two meals and all of our living expenses. I had to pay for lunch everyday and any extra food I got when we were able to go to a grocery store. I also had to pay for any souvenirs or traveling I did after the program was over.

Not including program expenses, about how much money did you spend on food and other expenses each week? I brought the equivalent of $500 with me but I probably only spent between $200 and $300 when I was on the program.


* Did your program have a foreign language component? Yes
How much did the program encourage you to use the language?

0 = No encouragement, 5 = frequent encouragement to use the language

During the in country orientation, we were taught a few basic phrases and numbers. ThinkImpact did encourage us to learn more when we were living the villages but it was not expected of us to speak the local language 100 percent of the time. Many people were either fluent in English or knew enough to communicate. While living in the village, we had translators that were able to help us communicate with community members.

How would you rate your language skills at the beginning of the program? None
How would you rate your language skills at the end of the program? Beginner
What was the highest level language course you had completed prior to departure? None
How many hours per day did you use the language?
Do you have any tips/advice on the best ways to practice the language for future study abroad participants? Yes. I would advise people to just to try and learn a couple of new words a day and use them in conversation. It was the best way to learn and remember.

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Host Family
* Who did you live with?

Select all that apply

  • Americans
  • Host Family
* Who did you take classes with?

Select all that apply

  • Other
About how many local friends did you make that you will likely keep in touch with?

A Look Back

* What did you like most about the program?
  • Cultural immersion
  • Focus on sustainable international development
  • My host family
* What could be improved?
  • Expansion into other countries
* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? I did not know what to expect before taking part in the Innovation Institute. The whole program was a pleasant surprise and I would do it again in a heartbeat if given the chance.

Reasons For Studying Abroad

To help future students find programs attended by like-minded individuals, please choose the profile that most closely represents you.
The Nearly Native or Trail Blazer
Craving the most authentic experience possible, perhaps you lived with a host family or really got in good with the locals. You may have felt confined by your program requirements and group excursions. Instead, you'd have preferred to plan your own trips, even skipping class to conduct your own 'field work.'