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Meeting Mandela: Denita Shares her Story

August 6, 2013

ISEP’s former Director of Direct Programs, Denita, hails from South Africa. Today she shares what makes this country special, why the University of Johannesburg is a unique place to study, and what it’s like to have a real-life brush with political revolutionary and inspirational leader Nelson Mandela.

I’ll never forget the day I met Nelson Mandela, or Madiba as we South Africans call him. I woke up that morning not knowing what treasure the day would hold for me. I was traveling with a provincial field hockey team. We were in between flights at the Durban airport when my teammate and I decided to visit the bookstore in the airport. As we left the bookstore, we became aware of a small crowd of people and reporters hovering around a fellow traveler. We walked out of the bookstore into this traveling commotion, and noticed that our fellow traveler was President Nelson Mandela. We joined the small crowd in attempt to see him and hopefully shake hands with him — which is exactly what happened. Mr. Mandela graciously greeted everyone in the crowd. When our turn came he recognized that we were with a sports team and he inquired about our games. I remember shaking his hand. I realized the uniqueness and the importance of the occasion and yet I could find no words appropriate to honor the moment.

I was speechless, of all the times to be speechless! Thinking back on that fateful day, I remember as a 19 year old young woman feeling very honored to have met Nelson Mandela in person. I walked away remembering Madiba’s kind and calm demeanor. This brief encounter may not have changed my life, but it changed my perspective and broadened my view of myself, of others, and of our shared humanity and responsibility in this Rainbow Nation.

Johannesburg (or Jo’burg for short) is a a compelling place to study abroad: 60% of South Africa’s GDP is generated in Johannesburg, making it not only one of the 50 biggest metropolitan cities in the world, but the wealthiest city in South Africa. We have in this city the convergence of globalization, technology, and emerging markets, capturing a new reality full of promise for the future of Southern Africa. Any student with a remote interest in emerging markets, business, management, education, or social welfare will find Jo’burg a place of rich complexity.

In addition to acting as South Africa’s hub for financial, industrial, and commercial endeavors, Johannesburg’s music and arts scenes boast tremendous creativity from African artists and musicians. The well known South African band, Parlotones, often called the Coldplay of South Africa, is native to Jo’burg — check out their music below.

From a socio-cultural aspect, the University of Johannesburg offers a realistic glimpse into the reality of modern day South Africa. The faculty are engaged with their communities, working to not only improve their communities but expand access to opportunities to many in South Africa. Specifically, faculty involvement in community engagement ranges from education issues such as “Science on a Shoestring,” to the “Kopanang Women’s Empowerment Project” which focuses on teaching women artists life skills to support their families. You can find more information about these projects (and others) on the University of Johannesburg’s website here.

If exploring complex social issues in one of the world’s top business centers sounds like your ideal study abroad experience, hop on the next plane to South Africa and spend a semester (or two!) at the University of Johannesburg. You can learn how to make it happen with ISEP.

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