What I learned in South Africa Vol. 1

January 27th, 2015 | Uncategorized

On our fourth day in Cape Town, myself, Kelsey, and the other students in the International Management and Global Business course woke up bright and early to experience some of the townships that comprise Cape Town, or what some would call the “real” side of Africa. Townships are essentially towns or cities that were formerly designated for black only occupation during the Apartheid era in South Africa which ended only about 20 years ago. Today, they tend to be socioeconomically destitute localities, presenting sizeable areas of problematic impoverishment, mostly coming as a consequence of the racially divisive and oppressive elements of the former Apartheid system. 


The first township that our group visited was Langa, where we brought gifts for the school children and met some people in the town. The reality of how a significant quantity of the African population lives on a daily basis was astonishing, humbling, and even upsetting. These sentiments were only amplified after visiting the Khayelitsha Township, walking through a town very unlike that where we were being accommodated throughout our trip. Although immensely grateful for the opportunity to experience South Africa with a certain level of comfort and relaxation, the inescapable reality that so many South Africans are forced to confront seems quite detached from the casual vacationer’s attitude that marked most of our trip. I am very happy that we were able to provide some gifts and educational materials for children in the orphanages to use. However, after giving some kids in the townships Sport Changes Life bracelets and soccer balls and noticing the exact same elation in their demeanors as children from any other part of the world that I have dealt with before, I now realize the difference between sympathy and empathy.


Anyone can have a bit of sympathy, as it does not test ones humility to feel sorry for another’s situation. One can maintain comfort while feeling immensely sympathetic. A person can help out, give, do, and have great influence simply through sympathy. However, when empathy is injected into an understanding, a purpose, a motivation, or a mission, the change occurring takes on a new life. Rather than giving, or helping tangibly through visible activities, empathy involves being. It is an intangible transformation that occurs when you can actually feel and associate with what others feel and experience. As a Victory Scholar, I now understand that sympathy for those in distress in simply not enough. To feel sorry does not delve deep enough, it does not confront the fact that your comfort and privilege often have drastic implications for the struggle that others cannot escape.


Rather, I am learning that our efforts as Victory Scholars to transform attitudes and outlooks are best reached through a focused and concerted mission to feel and experience on a level that transcends the personal. The empathetic heart survives through interpersonal connection, while the sympathetic is internal and individual in its essence and scope. So although I can and will recount a million other awe inspiring things that happened during my time in Cape Town, this realization of how I can be a better Victory Scholar and human being through my interactions with others was one of most indelible take-aways from my recent travels. Food for thought? See you soon.


Victory Scholar: Jonathan Nelson

Sport League: ATLANTIC 10

Present University: University of Limerick

Alma Mater: Dayton University

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