Country of Contrasts: South Africa Learning Expedition
March 25, 2013 -- Guest post by Ali H. Bachani T'14, a participant on the 2013 South Africa Learning Expedition.
From the day we got there, South Africa was a country of contrasts, defying easy categorization and generalizations. A visibly multi-racial society, it was difficult to believe that Apartheid had ended just 20 years ago. Yet, no conversation long enough and no drive past the leafy suburbs of Johannesburg left any doubt of the scars that Apartheid had left on the “Beloved Country”.
Led by Professor Phil Stocken, an accounting professor at Tuck and South African native, who was a university student in Johannesburg at the end of Apartheid, the trek provided 20 Tuck students an understanding of what it means to live, work, and do business in Africa in general and South Africa in particular.
We covered industries as varied as wine in the area surrounding Cape Town, mining in South Africa, the retail trade in Southern Africa, and the shipping industry across Africa. We talked about the approach to and impact of black empowerment post-Apartheid by government and businesses, CSR as a means to develop entrepreneurs, as well as the grassroots efforts of non-profits and social enterprises. We visited the famous Black township of Soweto (quick fact: Soweto was originally short for South West Township), an Apartheid museum dedicated to students, and the street that was home to both Bishop Tutu and Nelson Mandela.
As we traveled through the country, we also tasted local cuisine (from a steakhouse in Johannesburg to a Braai in the middle of a game reserve, to a traditional Braai* at the Stocken’s family home in Cape Town), came face to face with a 55-year-old elephant most recently famous for overturning cars (“but he means no harm”), photographed cheetahs, lions, zebras, and giraffes (among many others), lounged by the poolside looking onto animals passing by on a game reserve, had sundowners on the beach in Cape Town, and hiked to the top of Table Mountain.
Most of us leave South Africa not just with a greater understanding of the local culture, but also having forged a closer relationship with one of my favourite professors at Tuck and with each of the students and staff member on the trek. Now if only I could convince the school to let me go again next year as a Teaching Assistant…
*A braai is a traditional South African BBQ/Grill
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