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Student-Athletes Abroad Written by Megan foster, women's basketball

This summer, Lindenwood women's basketball player Megan Foster had the opportunity to study abroad in South Africa with the program Student Athletes Abroad. During her internship, she took pictures and notes of her experience. Below is her summer in her words:

This summer, I had the amazing opportunity to study abroad for three weeks in Cape Town, South Africa. The program I signed up with, Student Athletes Abroad, is a nation-wide program, so I didn’t know anyone else going into it. There were twelve of us in total, all the way from Boston to San Francisco and we met at the JFK airport in New York City to fly to Cape Town together. First, we had a fourteen-hour connecting flight to Dubai, then a ten-hour flight into Cape Town. Once we got into Cape Town, we went to our lodging (which was a dorm concept within a house) to settle in and catch up from the seven-hour time difference.

Before we could start our internship programs, it was important for us to learn about the culture and history of Cape Town and South Africa. We especially needed to learn about apartheid, a white South African system of segregation and discrimination based on race that started in 1948 and ended in 1994. To learn more about apartheid, we took a tour of Robben Island and the prison where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated. Interestingly enough, our tour guide was actually an ex-inmate in the prison for a number of years. We also toured the District Six museum, which was a memorial to an area in Cape Town that got destroyed during apartheid, and again, our guide was an ex-resident. Having an ex-inmate and ex-resident tell their own stories and personal memories gave unique insight and perspective into the reality of their situations and the hardships that they went through.

It was important to learn about apartheid and its repercussions because the areas where we interned are in the townships that were created during the apartheid period. Townships are small areas that the white people marked off during apartheid where only black or mixed-race people could live. For example, the township of Heideveld was only for people of mixed race, while the township of Langa was only for black people. Since the white people never were restrained or consolidated, they were and still are seen as wealthy. Even though apartheid ended twenty years ago, the townships are still very active and poor today.

I interned in the townships of Langa and Gugulethu at a non-governmental organization called Project Playground. Project Playground is an after-school program that gives children in the townships the recreational, educational and supportive help that they need to feel empowered. Children in the townships are very susceptible to involve themselves in drugs, alcohol, crime, gangs, etc. Therefore, Project Playground helps to keep them off the streets and focus their free time into productive activities that could lead to bigger opportunities than life in the townships. Some of the Project Playground staff members took us on a walking tour of the township so we could see the environment that these kids call home. Almost every house was a small shack made of tin. There were many people wandering the streets and most of the kids we passed, the staff member told us of that kid’s story of addiction or crime or something of the sorts at an age of at least twelve years old. We even had the opportunity to visit a student’s home, which Project Playground had just raised money to reconstruct. We had to walk through a very narrow alley to get to a two-room shack that housed five people. This shack was smaller than my bedroom at home. When I saw their conditions, my heart broke, I realized how lucky I am, and it made sense to me why Project Playground does what they do. It was no wonder that there were so many people wandering the streets all the time, because there was no room for them to do anything at their home other than sleep. Nevertheless, the family that I met was so happy, kind and grateful, regardless their living situation. It made me realize that these people in the townships do not know any other way of living, and would be in absolute awe if I ever showed them my house back in America. Some of them have never even been outside of their township, so they do not realize the opportunities possible.

As a college basketball player and exercise science major, I was assigned to work with the netball and soccer teams. While soccer is common and popular for boys in South Africa, netball is common for girls. Girls are not near as supported to participate in sports as boys, as sports are seen as a manlier hobby. So, when I got the opportunity to coach a girl’s sport, I made sure to make the most of it and supported them as best as I could. At first, I was nervous to coach any of the teams because I did not know if they would listen to me since I did not look or sound like them, but I am glad to say that I was wrong. My netball girls took to me extremely well and we always had a fun time. I taught them a proper warm-up and cool-down program, taught them some different drills and even got to play with them. Once practices were over, we went to the cafeteria where I got to serve my team a meal before they went home. For some of them, this might be their only guaranteed meal of the day. Although these meals would never look like something I would voluntarily eat, these kids never complained and always licked their plates clean. Because we wanted to help in any way possible, the other interns and I raised over $2,500 in less than a week to give to Project Playground for whatever they needed. The staff was very appreciative and that money will definitely be put to good use. Working at Project Playground taught me so much, but, overall, I will never forget how happy and friendly the kids were, and how helpful and grateful the staff was.

Since we were all student athletes, the program made sure that we had a place to go to work out. We also had a quiet work place to go to where we could work on our individual or group projects. Even though we were in a different country and could get distracted very easily, we still had work to get done in the classroom and within our athletics, so it was nice to have these places to go to ensure that we were productive.

During the weekends when we weren’t at our internship sites, we got to experience so many great excursions. We took a tour of the old Castle of Good Hope in the middle of Cape Town. We did a three-hour hike up the rocky focal point of Cape Town called Table Mountain, that was half hiking and half rock climbing. We also got up early one morning and hiked another mountain called Lion’s Head to see the sun rise over the city. In my opinion, the hike up Table Mountain was more fun, but the views of Lion’s Head were prettier. We went to the local beaches and watched the sunset on multiple occasions. We went to the local markets that sold tons of different hand-made African crafts. We got to try (and some I definitely did not try) many different South African cuisines, such as ostrich, lamb, curry, lamb head, chicken feet, coconut fried doughnut balls, and many more that I can’t pronounce. One of the markets was set on a harbor bay that was home to over 8,000 seals. Some seals were perched up on the docks, while you could see and hear others playing in the water right behind it.

We also got to go on a safari that was a wildlife reserve set on thousands of acres of land for the animals to roam free. We were able to see elephants, zebras, giraffes, ostriches, hippos, rhinos, water buffalos, springbok, lions and a cheetah. You could just tell how much more free these animals felt compared to those that you see in a zoo. We then went shark cage diving in Mossel Bay, where we had to suit up in wetsuits and goggles and take turns going into a cage that fit six people at one time. The scariest part of that experience wasn’t even the great white sharks being one foot away from me, but rather going into the cage first, not knowing what to expect. Once I was in the cage though, I felt perfectly safe and excited to see these massive creatures in their natural habitat. We also got to go to an elephant sanctuary where we got to pet the elephants and feed them all different types of fruits and vegetables. What amazed me most about the elephants was how big they actually are and how muscular their trunks are. The ends of their trunks are like muscular hands without fingers, and they were grabbing things out of our hands with ease. Just like with the animals on the safari, it was great to see these elephants wild and free in their natural habitats. The last excursion we took was to Boulder’s Beach in Simon’s Town to see the African penguins on the beach. The colony of small penguins was burrowed within the sand and the dirt of the trees. We were within a couple feet of many of them and they were unbothered by their human visitors continued to waddle around and play in the waves of the ocean.

By the end of our three weeks there, I made so many great relationships with the other interns and residents. At first when we met at the airport in New York, it was awkward because we knew nothing about each other, but when we were leaving New York to go our separate ways across America, it was tough to say goodbye to them. I guess traveling across the world together, living together, working together and going on excursions together for three weeks straight will really bring people closer. I am so thankful for them because they made the experience so much more fun and enjoyable.

Overall, traveling abroad and studying in Cape Town was such a memorable and life-changing experience for me. For anyone interested in studying abroad, I would highly recommend it because it will impact you, teach you, and make you realize things that you never knew before. Thank you to Lindenwood, Project Playground, and Student Athletes Study Abroad for this experience, and I can’t wait to see where my next experience takes me!

For for information on Student Athletics Abroad, click here

For more information about Project Playground, click here

To learn about Lindenwood Study Abroad, click here

Credits:

Megan Foster

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