Center for International Programs - Study Abroad

Student Profile: Caitlin Lavorgna- Marquette University, South Africa

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Major(s): Sociology       

Minor(s): Linguistics       

Abroad Program: Marquette University

Where & When:South Africa Cape Town, Fall 2013

Favorite Course: African Philosophy

Highlight: Living in a community with 16 students    

Best Excursion: Mid semester trip camping through Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa.

Favorite Dish: Warthog

Least Favorite Dish: Fat cake (a doughnut like sandwich with liver inside)

Next Destination: Hopefully South America!

How did the location enhance your academic experience?

The location enhanced my academic experience by happening not only in the classroom, but also was continued outside of the classroom. Each of my 5 classes linked to some facet of South Africa, one that stands out was a philosophy class Race, Culture, Identity. In this class we learned about the different racial categorizations within South Africa and how these categorizations have created the way of living for some people. In the classroom we were able to absorb this information, but leaving the classroom and going into the towns and townships it became clear how real these groupings were. In our Leadership in Grassroots Organizations we learned about how to start an organization and how to start it with the support of the local communities. Many of my roommates and myself saw this in action in the service sites we worked it. Some of the sites were very new and it was clear which organizations had been started from the local community. Each of my 5 classes gave deeper meaning to an experience outside of the classroom.

What was one challenge you faced? How did you deal with this challenge?

One challenge I faced was understanding cultural differences. On Nelson Mandela’s birthday the practice is to do service in honor of the service he has done. My roommates and I went to a local hospital to play with the children there for a few hours. There were 5 children in the room I was in, all below the age of 10, and only one of them had a parent with them. This was strange to me that such young children would be alone at the hospital. In my experience in the United States a child would never be alone in a hospital, I had forgotten we were not in the United States. I asked on of the nurses where all of the children’s parents were and she told me that many of the parents do not have enough money to take a bus or a taxi to come and see their child. Mentally, I had put my foot in my mouth. I was anticipating that things of this nature would be the same as in the US, but I was very wrong. It was difficult to overcome the initial instinct to say how could these parents leave their young children alone? To realizing that the poverty in the area is unlike any poverty I have ever known or seen. It was a challenge to change my mindset, my lens on life, to understand the situations I would encounter. 

Describe your living situation.

I was lucky enough to live in community with 16 students in the South Africa Service Learning Program and from all across the United States. We had a U shaped house in which there were two students to a room. We were specifically asked to not room with someone from our home university, so I directly lived with a girl from Marquette who will certainly be a life-long friend. We had 11 females and 5 males living in the house together. Living with males who were not related to me was much different than anything I had ever experienced. Luckily I have two brothers, so living with males was a bit less of a transition for me than it was for others. We had 5 communal bathrooms and we shared a kitchen. The kitchen was hectic around dinnertime with all 16 of us trying to make our meals, but somehow it worked out with a lot of “excuse me” and “sorry” as we danced around each other. Living in community is something I will treasure forever because I learned so much from it. For the first month we thought we had to go places as a group of 16, it was extraordinary difficult to coordinate what each person wanted or to try and please as many people as possible. I learned the importance of patience and how being direct in a kind way can help sort out a situation. The living arrangements were unlike anything I have ever had, but I greatly enjoyed it.