Bridget Gilmore and Sarah Cherundolo both experienced a once in a lifetime opportunity that changed them as people, through a trip half-way around the world. They had the unique opportunity to increase their understanding of the people, history, culture and traditions of South Africa through direct immersion into the culture through community-based service. Studying abroad is something a lot of SJU students love to do at some point throughout their four years here. For many students, the top place to go is Europe. A place many people don’t go to is Africa. In fact, SJU does not directly offer a program there, but Gilmore and Cherundolo are both the type of people who live differently and went out of their way to find this unordinary program. Going to Africa is something not many people have the opportunity to experience, but they did and got to learn and participate in a lot of service.
Gilmore and Cherundolo, both seniors, have a love of service past the ordinary. They are genuine people who really want to make a difference. While many SJU students might do service on campus or even go abroad, very few go the distances they did to work with communities in need. Their stories show how studying abroad is a once in a lifetime experience, but more importantly how they became better people because of that experience. We asked them for some amazing pictures and were lucky enough to sit down with them and ask some questions about their time in South Africa.
What were some of the essential items you had to pack for your trip?
Gilmore: “Backpack; for hiking trips, road trips, service and school. Nalgene; it became a really important focus to take care of health, and staying hydrated was one of the first steps, I also started taking probiotics in South Africa, which helped me not to get sick as easily. Rain jacket; It never got too freezing during the day in Cape Town, but it did get pretty cold at night time. When I arrived in July, it was rainy season, but by November, the beach summer season was in full swing.”
Cherundolo: “Things I had to bring with me to South Africa were a raincoat, bug spray and hiking boots. The weather was unpredictable and when it rained, it really rained, the raincoat was extremely necessary. There were also a lot of bugs that I never even heard of before so the bug spray was essential. Hiking was one of my favorite things to do during my time in Cape Town, the hiking boots came in good use for that.”
Why did you choose to go to Africa?
Gilmore: “The service component was important to me, and since I find myself to be an experiential learner, I really value the connection between experiences and classes. This program also created a more holistic perspective of the diversity throughout the country. While I do hope to explore many other places, I thought that this would push me outside of my comfort zone the most, and these experiences have been the most fulfilling for me in the past. It’s funny because I originally thought that this “once in a lifetime experience” would be something that I could cross off my bucket list, but there is still so much more I want to explore in South Africa, and Sub-Saharan Africa, and all of Africa for that matter!”
Cherundolo: “When I started looking into study abroad programs I realized Cape Town was an option so I decided to go. It was the only place I wanted to go to once I started researching the program. Typical study abroad destinations were never really an option for me.”
What was your experience like?
Gilmore: “The service learning component of my program made it unique. I taught fourth graders two days a week in a township and definitely learned more from them than they did from me. It was not as easy to travel from country to country like it might be in Europe, so we mainly really immersed ourselves in our area, and I felt like a part of the neighborhood and community by the end of the semester”
Cherundolo: “My study abroad program was a Service Learning Program; I attended classes three days a week and worked at a primary school in a South African Township the other two days of the week. I had the opportunity to put my education to work by serving within the community. My service site let me better understand the ongoing transformation of South Africa by working with community educators. The program also involved an unconventional living situation. All nineteen participants of the program lived as a community in one house, which was a lot at times, but I would not have changed anything about it.”
If you could go back would you still choose to go where you went?
Gilmore: “Yes. I think that no matter where you go for study abroad, the place holds a special place in your heart. I am incredibly grateful and lucky to have had this experience. There are also so many other places in the world that I hope to be able to explore in the future!”
Cherundolo: “I would 100% choose to go back to Cape Town. I loved everything about it. I never lived in an environment before where I was able to learn so much in such a short amount of time. Everything I did in Cape Town was a learning experience and I wouldn’t trade that for the world. Not only did I get to spend five months in what I think is the most beautiful city in the world, I got to do it with people that I loved and immerse myself in a culture completely different than the one I was used to.”
Through their experiences they were not only able to travel to Africa and study abroad, but they were able to step out of their comfort zone and explore a new place. They not only changed and positively impacted the lives of others, but they were able to become stronger and better people because of it.