Jordan Ashwood '09; South African Teaching Internship

Jordan spent the summer of 2011 in South Africa with SIT Study Abroad program

My summer studying and experiencing the education system in Durban, South Africa was intellectually and culturally engaging. The most important thing I learned from the incredible people I encountered is that the power of global unity is unmatched and has the potential to affect true social change.

 I dedicated six weeks of my summer to developing a deeper understanding of the historical and current situation of South African education. While the lectures I had daily were compelling, it was my students’ explanations of their own education that were the most informative. I received statistics and academic opinions from lecturers, which provided a foundation for understanding the stories from my students about student-faculty interactions, student opinions on how anti-apartheid movements affected their current access to strong educational opportunities, and their belief in their own power. My most enriching experience teaching this summer was the feeling of standing in front of a class of 60 10th graders, asking them if they believe they have the power to affect social change, and without having to coax them along at all, receiving a resounding, “YES!”

 Learning about the education system in South Africa provided both intellectual and personal growth. I became well versed in South African history and began to understand the complexities of South African identities, but I also increased my comfort level conducting a classroom and made lasting relationships with my students that were based in our shared appreciation of education and our belief in the potential for change when youth unite. 

I am an only child, but this summer I gained two sisters: Sne and Nosipho Dlamini. They opened my eyes to the intricacies of Zulu culture and language, making me eager to embrace and immerse myself in the Zulu culture. My sisters and my South African mama welcomed me into their home as a true member of their family. At one point, Sne would only speak to me in Zulu because, as her sister, she expected me to be able to understand Zulu. I have never in my life had such an incredible cross-cultural experience, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to have connected with this family with whom I am sure I was destined to meet.

 Through working with South African youth, my academic and professional goals have become better defined. I would like to pursue a thesis on the power of youth in affecting social change, particularly using the arts as a medium for doing so. I want to work with youth and educate them on the world’s need for their creativity and brilliance. I would eventually like to develop my own youth empowerment program that uses the arts to engage youth about global issues that need their help and attention.

 My time in South Africa will certainly affect my time left at Harvard. I want to take further courses on South African history, and I would like to become more involved with youth empowerment on and off campus. I plan to join and help develop the Harvard College Youth Leadership Initiative. I also am going to assist in increasing awareness at Harvard of the Kasiisi Project, a program, started by Currier House Masters Elizabeth Ross and Richard Wrangham that provides strong education and empowerment programs for youth in Uganda.

 I have matured immensely this summer due to new experiences teaching, developing curriculum, living with people who did not speak the same language as myself, and simply waking up each morning in a culture different from my own. By interacting with South Africans on a personal level through my family and students, I have learned that the world is becoming increasingly smaller due to the connections we all share with each other. I connected with people who live lives quite different from mine through music, food, language, and most importantly, our shared value of education and belief in the power of youth to affect social change.

The connections I made I will carry with me always, and I cannot thank you enough for helping me discover and strengthen those cross-cultural connections.

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