Brien’s Semester in South Africa

This post was written by Brien Griffin, ONE Campus Leader at the University of California, Santa Barbara. In this piece, Brien shares his South African study abroad experience during the 2016 fall semester. 

As my plane flew over the monstrous Table Mountain, I had no idea what the next six months would entail. I was 30 hours from home in another country: South Africa. The plane landed and I immediately felt an intense level of excitement. Barely caught up on sleep from the two long-haul flights to Cape Town, I hit the ground running when it came to seeing the sights.

I saw the Old Biscuit Mill and Mizoli’s within the first weekend in the Mother City. Catching a Stormers rugby match became the norm and waking up at 4 a.m. to take a sunrise hike up Lion’s Head was a weekly routine. The beautiful beaches of Muizenberg and the haunting memories sketched into the prison cell of Nelson Mandela on Robben Island provided a contrast of two different worlds in South Africa.

During my six months in South Africa, I traveled along the Garden Route; rode ostriches and played with lemurs; jumped off the highest bungee jump in the world at Bloukrans Bridge; kloofed through canyons and rivers; rode alongside lions and cheetahs; and kayaked through Wilderness National Park. Finding myself in a cage surrounded by great white sharks was a blast and traveling to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe was amazing. The beauty everywhere in Africa simply cannot be matched.

Throughout all the fun and games, and the daily memories created with friends, there remained a constant underlying theme of hope. Volunteering at a local education based after school program, SHAWCO, I worked with 7th grade students on academics, sports, games, activities —you name it. It was a humbling experience.

The University of Cape Town looks like something straight out of a dream. Built on the backside of Devil’s Peak, the campus’ location is surreal to say the least. But it’s by far the single most stunning campus I have ever stepped foot on — that’s saying something, given I usually attend the University of California in Santa Barbara, which is on a beach cliff. The ivy crawling all over the buildings as you walk up the steps to the main portion of UCT’s Upper Campus is the icing on the cake.

My work with ONE throughout high school and college inspired me to go to South Africa. Through petitions, tabling, and spreading the word about ONE Campus’ mission, I decided I had to study abroad to further my knowledge. Ending world poverty is one of the main goals of ONE and I wanted to see up close and personal the effects of ONE’s work. Thirty cents a day can treat HIV and one more handwritten letter can help end malnutrition. Once you see the level of poverty that exists, contrasted against the immense wealth also evident in South Africa, you begin to understand the necessity for change—change ONE Campus believes in. I will now be able to carry back to UCSB first-hand experience with the issues for which we advocate, which will broaden the impact of ONE at UCSB.

My study-abroad was the experience of a lifetime, and it will forever remind me to be ready to use my voice to help those in need.

Did you study abroad? Share your favorite experience in the comments below!