CSUN study aboard program returns to Africa

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CSUN will expand its study abroad program to three campuses in Africa for the 2006-07 academic year, according to a study abroad adviser at CSUN.

The program will send interested students to the University of Ghana, the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University and the KwaZulu-Natal University in South Africa, said Marta Rezvani-Lopez, study abroad adviser at CSUN.

The International Programs office recently started promoting the expansion of the study abroad program after the CSU Chancellor’s Office approved it this summer, she said.

She said a study abroad program to Zimbabwe was suspended for the 2003-04 academic year and each year after that because of political reasons and U.S. travel warnings. A search was then made to find new places to study in Africa, and new schools were eventually chosen.

“I get a lot of interests, even through the Zimbabwe program,” she said. “I’m hoping to get a few to go.”

Tom Spencer-Walters, Pan-African Studies Department chair and a member of the Academic Council on International Programs, said all three universities would offer something beneficial to students.

“I will encourage more students to go, because Africa has always been a mysterious (place) to so many people,” Spencer-Walters said. “I think students should go there and make up their own minds.”

Spencer-Walters said the University of Ghana is well established and welcomes foreign students because the university has experience doing so, including students from UCLA and the University of Massachusetts. The University of Ghana has competing faculty who are familiar with the American education system, he said.

“Above that, a lot of professors there have been able to adapt to educational training to help development of new ideas and new curriculum structures that have been used to help build the country itself,” he added.

Students will find themselves exposed to traditional culture once they arrive to Ghana, Spencer-Walters said.

Legon is located 10 to 12 miles from Ghana’s capital Accra, only miles away from the Gulf of Guinea and the Atlantic Ocean, Spencer-Walters said.

Students will also have the chance to see many traditional performances and visit other villages that are known for cocoa, gold and weaving clothes, and they will also have the experience of traveling to other countries in West Africa, he said.

Spencer-Walters said he has visited a number of universities in South Africa, including the new CSU sites, such as the former University of Port Elizabeth and the former University of Durban-Westville when he was a student.

“I got a pretty good sense of (the) university’s structure of the country,” he said. “I began to think that this would be (an) excellent place to start a new African program.”

The Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, which is a few miles away from the downtown of Port Elizabeth on the southeastern coast of South Africa, restructured the university’s system when the University of Port Elizabeth and the Port Elizabeth Technikon were combined on Jan. 1, 2005, said Spencer-Walters.

Spencer-Walters said NMMU was one of the very first universities to integrate black and white students after the end of apartheid in 1994.

Spencer-Walters said when he was at the former University of Port Elizabeth in 2000, a black woman became a dean of students at the university for the first time in its history.

He said whites dominated the university prior to the apartheid.

The University of KwaZulu-Natal is in Durban, a major port off the Indian Ocean, also known as “Golden Miles” beach, on the eastern part of the country, Spencer-Walters said.

The northern area of KwaZulu-Natal province is known as Zululand, the oldest game reserve in Africa where Zulus live, and has many Indian immigrants, Spencer-Walters said.

UKZN will be helpful for students who are interested in studying African languages, such as the Zulu language, which is the most difficult language to learn because of its click sound, he said.

“Students would get a chance to understand these languages,” Spencer-Walters said. “And it’s exciting to learn somebody’s culture and language.”

South Africa is safe and “students will have no trouble at all,” he said, but they will have to be careful with some various health issues.

In the Kwazulu-Natal province, which is close to Kruger National Park, there are lots of mosquitoes because of humidity, so students traveling in the area, especially in the summer, need to wear long-sleeves and use mosquito prophylactic, he said.

“When I went to Kruger, a mosquito bit me and by the time I got out of town. I couldn’t walk,” he said. “I had to ride in a car and I had to call a doctor.”

Ghana is a laid-back and quiet country, he said, but students have to understand the rich culture and tradition, which is also male-dominated.

At the University of Ghana, male students generally hold high-ranking positions in student representation, and traditionally, when people talk to a man and a woman, they look to the man because looking at the woman is considered disrespectful to the man, Spencer-Walters said.

“These are small things, (and) students have to understand it because it’s a part of culture,” he said.

Melissa Bayro, junior sociology major, said she is interested in the University of Ghana and wants to educate herself about the African history and culture by experiencing it for herself.

“I think that going to Africa, the place where everything started, would be an enriching experience,” said Bayro. “Through the media you don’t always hear the best things about Africa, and I would love to go and experience the beauty and significance that seems to be so often overlooked.”

If she gets the chance to go to Ghana, Bayro said she just wants to be able to take everything in.

“I would love to meet new people and make new friends by crossing boundaries,” she said.

Students often start to look at the world from different eyes through study abroad experiences, Rezvani-Lopez said.

“More independent, they can make decisions,” she said. “They can become familiar with other cultures (and) increase awareness of being in the world.”

Rezvani-Lopez also said she especially likes the programs in Chile, Africa or Japan because they makes students “think out of the box.”

The deadline for applications for studying abroad is Jan. 27, 2006, she said.

Aya Oikawa can be reached at city@sundial.csun.edu.