Academic Travel: South Africa!

Hello everyone!

The past two weeks encompassed several of the most beautiful moments of my life so far. I had the great fortune to travel to South Africa with 22 seniors who I feel so grateful to know. Professor Zanecchia gave us the gift of a lifetime by sharing his time, energy and love of South Africa with our class. It's really difficult to put into words how incredible of an Academic Travel it was, but I will try!

The theme of our travel course was Culture and Resource Conservation where we focused on the challenges of economic and political development and the ties to wildlife and natural resource conservation. We were lucky enough to partner with a fantastic organization, Conservation Global and were led by Franklin alumna, Ellie Leaning '14, around the Cape Town region. Ellie worked in Boston before moving to South Africa to join Conservation Global. The organization was founded in 2011 with the motive to provide students within the faculty of conservation science and sustainable resource management with experiential education courses to bridge the gap between theory and practice, bringing students into contact with real life examples of conservation. Franklin is all about experiential learning, so this organization was a perfect fit for an Academic Travel, and even more meaningful for me because it was led by an alumni.

While everyday was unique and memorable, several days stood out to me, and I know they will remain ingrained in my head for a very long time. We had the opportunity to have a talk with Patrick Lekota, who was a prison mate of Nelson Mandela and who has been an instrumental figure post-apartheid in South African politics. He shared his experience of being in jail with Mandela as well as his thoughts on what's happening in the government of South Africa today. To have the chance to sit with fellow Franklin students and listen to a person who played a pivotal role in the history of the country we were visiting was a once in a lifetime experience. While in Cape Town, we also had the opportunity to hike Lion's Head at sunrise, and be led by a nature guide who described the local terrain and conservation issues plaguing the city and surrounding communities.

We also visited the District 6 museum and had a lecture by a man whose home had been torn down by the former South African government. District 6 was a vibrant, eclectic community of freed slaves, merchants, immigrants, artisans, etc. that was declared a 'white' area in 1966, with 60,000 people being forcibly removed in 1987, watching as their homes were destroyed by bulldozers. What was so striking to me about this day was not only the opportunity to talk with someone whose life had been entirely uprooted by this event, but how recent these events had occurred. The changes which have taken place in South Africa post-apartheid inspired me throughout the trip, but we also witnessed ample ways in which there is still a lot of work to be done for South Africa to accomplish all goals.

As a Finance major at Franklin, it was fascinating to see how depreciated the South African Rand was, with the ZAR being extremely undervalued compared to the dollar. There is enormous economic  opportunity and potential in this diverse country, as we heard from various lecturers throughout our travel. We also learned more about sustainability and the economy firsthand when we visited a local college, Tsiba, whose mission is to ignite opportunity through education and to graduate entrepreneurial leaders. It was so special to talk with fellow students and learn about their lives and what their hopes and dreams were. We all left our visit at Tsiba feeling inspired, uplifted, and hopeful, with many new friends to keep in touch with.

We took beach walks, went on hikes, learned about beekeeping in South Africa, visited a wine vineyard, stood on the divide between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, went on safaris... it was a full, beautiful two weeks. My favorite part of the trip, and in fact, the best day of my life, was at Gondwana Game Reserve, in Mossel Bay. We went on several safaris and saw so many incredible animals, including elephants, lions, rhinos, giraffes, zebras, hippos. Driving around a game reserve with some of my closest friends and the warmest, kindest safari guides is something I will never, ever forget. We were exhausted, sunburned, and uplifted, I wouldn't have wanted to be anywhere else in the world the days we stayed at Gondwana. A game drive is something I hope to do again very soon, as it was the most remarkable memory and for me, the highlight of our conservation-focused travel.

We spent an afternoon talking with the owner of the Reserve, Mark Rutherfoord, who described his passion for conservation and how he had come to start Gondwana. We also were able to learn more about the endangerment of rhinos, and what we can do to protect them.

It was extremely bittersweet going on travel for the last time, and I know my class was all hyper-aware of it being our last travel. Academic Travel is not only one of the primary reasons I came to Franklin, to take my learning outside of the classroom, but it has been one of the biggest provisions of my time at Franklin. From my first Academic Travel in London where I met and made some of my closest friends, to this last one where bonds were strengthened and transformed, it made me appreciate my Franklin education all the more. Not only was the topic fascinating, but I really feel I learned so much about my individual impact on the environment and how important it is to be aware of what we as humans are doing to protect and conserve our precious resources. Learning alongside some of my most beloved Franklin family members was just the icing on the cake!

Everything about our Academic Travel was remarkable. There isn't a single experience from our adventure I would've changed, and I am so grateful to Professor Zanecchia and the team at Conservation Global for all of the time and love they put into planning this travel.

Until next time, South Africa!



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