Student Profiles

South Africa becomes part of MU international exchange program

By: Chris Froehlinger

Michael Ondish is 21, single and seeking a degree in international studies and economics.

Dave Kenyon is a married 40-year-old father of five who returned to school seeking a degree in government in hopes of attending law school.

While at different points in their lives, both men were inspired by a visiting professor at Millersville University . They were so inspired that they traveled to South Africa to study and perform community service work there.

Professor Suzanne Berry came to Millersville in January to teach a course on Zulu and South African culture as part of the university's international exchange program.

Her visit is the result of a partnership with the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa , said Kirsten Bookmiller , director of the Office of Global Education and Partnership and professor of government and political affairs.

"We started researching the African continent about three years ago," to add it to the exchange program, she said. " South Africa is exciting with its post-apartheid experience."

To encourage student interest in South Africa , Berry was invited to teach about human rights issues there.

The advanced course, open to 30 students, was filled immediately, Bookmiller said. "There was something magical about the class; the students bonded with her."

Ondish and Kenyon agreed. After taking the course, they and fellow student, Nicolle Nestler, traveled to KwaZulu-Natal for a five-week course.

"The students got an introduction to Zulu and a look at the South African society. They also did a service-learning component, so they got a hands-on [experience] with the local culture," she said. "The whole experience was life changing."

"I'll go back," declared Kenyon. "I'm in contact with the professor over there to see what they need."

Kenyon, who decided to make the trip after taking Berry 's class, said he had written a paper on apartheid in high school. "Yes, apartheid was around when I was in high school," he said.

"The changes that happened didn't seem all that real, and the reality is there is still economic disparity and economic repression. I wanted to see first hand what is really going on," he said.

Ondish said he made the trek because Berry "was just amazing. Her teaching style was amazing and she taught us a lot we didn't know."

While Berry drew the three to the other side of the world, the work they did there transformed their thoughts and their hearts.

Nestler, 21, said she worked in a clinic during her trip. "Everyone [in the clinic] had HIV or AIDS," she said.

"I got to work in all aspects of the clinic: the pharmacy, the administration, with the doctors and nurses and even psychiatry."

Nestler said most people spoke English, so she was able to learn a lot about the way of life in South Africa . "I learned so much about the treatment of the disease, too."

Her time in the clinic was not pretty, but she said she tried to focus on the positive. "While people died there every day, we also got to see others who were able to go home to their families."

The hope she saw among the patients, she said, has inspired her to want to continue helping others.

Kenyon spent his time with Street Wise, a program that works to get runaway children off the streets. He worked with boys, ages 9 to 14, who have already been taken from the streets, cleaned up and settled down.

"Our job was to get them back into the classroom and help them gain vocational skills so they could move on," he said.

"While we were there, we did a mock election for them. We wanted to give them something helpful but not something that was already offered."

Ondish served in a library in the middle of an informal settlement: a shanty town on the outskirts of the city.

"People build homes out of what they can find so they can be close to the city for jobs and services," he explained. "The kids have little to nothing."

The library was a large room with adult materials on one side and children's on the other. "They had fairly good resources for the kids," he said.

"On Fridays, we went to different places in the community so we could see what real life is like there," he said. "We got to see places even South Africans don't get to see."

The students wrote papers about their experiences and how they feel the communities could best be helped.

Bookmiller said the service-learning component of the exchange program makes it different than the typical internship. "This is a grass-roots link to the community, and it's rather new to us," she said.

"I'm so pleased that this is the model we're working on because the benefits are enormous at a time when the world's view of us is, let's say, not the best. These are powerful ambassadors."

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Millersville Faculty Exchange


After three Millersville students participated in the education abroad program this summer with the Office of Global Partnerships’ new affiliate, University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) in Durban, South Africa, they have been greatly inspired.  Each student engaged in a service learning project abroad and has brought home stories and new ways to raise awareness about the issues in South Africa on campus.

The students who were in Dr. Suzanne Berry’s class, a visiting professor from UKZN last semester at Millersville, are putting together a shipment of clothes and related items to send to Durban.  After Becca Zortman, a recent Millersville graduate, was inspired by Berry’s course on “Southern African Human Rights” to start this project, the students who studied abroad wanted to continue her endeavor. 

“The credit for the clothing drive goes to Zortman, who completed Berry’s course and really wanted to do something to help those in the Durban area who struggle with poverty and the impact of the HIV-AIDS epidemic,” said Kirsten Bookmiller, director of Global Education and Partnerships.  “She single-handedly got the word out for clothes and other kinds of donations.  Now several other students from Dr. Berry’s course who went abroad as well as the campus Amnesty International Chapter are chipping in to store clothes and get the drive further organized.  We are currently looking for financial donations to get nearly 40 boxes shipped over.”

Students claimed their experiences abroad were extremely memorable and are determined to raise awareness about the culture on campus and continue their service projects South Africa.

“I have a heart for Africa and South Africa, a heart for the poverty stricken, the homeless, the parentless and the unfortunate,” said Nicolle Nestler, a student who traveled abroad. 
“If I am able and God-willing, I would go back to South Africa to work with a non-government organization to help bring the poverty level up and help people get their basic human rights that so many of them are not able to have.  I would also consider working in an HIV and AIDS clinic, with an orphanage or with an agency that develops the needs of children.”

“Dr. Berry showed us so much that we would have never seen if we were just studying abroad,” said Mike Ondish, student.  “She knew much more about the culture and taught us every time we went out with her.  The country of South Africa has a rich and recent history that is very important to the present day economy.  My time studying abroad was a life-changing experience.” 

The Millersville-UKZN link has sent four students in the first eight months of the partnership.  Two students are going to South Africa in the spring of 2008 and Millersville will be welcoming the first student exchange group from UKZN. 

“It will be rewarding to see where these continued points of contact lead Millersville,” said Bookmiller.  “It’s been really exciting, because we had not demonstrated student interest in South Africa before we established the link.  Much of the credit goes to Dr. Berry’s course.  She inspired them and generated a passion for South Africa in a way that Millersville could never have done through regular programming.”