I was literally the last person to board the flight from Dulles Airport (Washington, D.C.) to Johannesburg, South Africa. My flight from Minneapolis arrived at Dulles late, and I had ten minutes to get to the gate before they closed the plane door. I received my ticket assignment, paid for excess baggage, and rushed on the plane to row 69 seat G. At least I had an aisle seat! As I fastened my seatbelt, I was amazed at the number of what appeared to be college-aged students seated near me--there had to be at least fifty students with matching t-shirts from Arizona State University! When the "fasten seatbelts" sign was no longer lit, I had to ask the students behind me where they were going. It turns out that they were part of a group of 50 students heading to Zambia for a four-week learning abroad trip focusing on service learning at two different orphanages. I was fascinated to learn how their instructors had developed an orientation program for their students and had them participate in a retreat about two weeks before departure to learn important information related to Zambian culture, to build community among the participants, and to orient the students to the programs they will be participating in. I found this approach to a learning abroad program very compelling because I have heard from a number of former students that they had to complete orientation units online. When I studied abroad in China many years ago, I really enjoyed the face-to-face interaction I had with both my professor and fellow students. I look forward to discussing the options for orientation with these professors again, after they return home from their work in Zambia.
After a couple of busy packing days, I am happy to say that I have packed 130 pounds of supplies and 20 pounds of personal items into three suitcases and am ready to head to Africa. I am bypassing Europe on this trip, so I will be on a journey that South African Airlines describes as a "17.40 hour ride" from Washington, D.C. to Johannesburg. After a brief stay at a B&B in Joburg, I will take a short flight to Beira, Mozambique to begin 2.5 weeks of work at a project about 30 minutes inland from Beira. Although the main purpose of my trip is to consider what sites will be most viable for creating an undergraduate service-learning abroad initiative! First stop: central Mozambique! Thanks to all who have donated sports equipment, neckties, dresses, and school supplies!
Blogger note: This blog was set up as part of a project for my involvement in the TREKS Explorer program in June 2011. All CEHD colleagues who are interested in participating in this learning abroad blog are welcome to learn more about the project by contacting me. Thanks.