Fifteen business freshmen from around Texas traveled abroad on their summer break, and each one says he came home changed.
Accompanying the Regents’ Scholars (first-generation college students) were Mays Lecturer Henry Musoma and Recruiter Corey Stone, as well as Courtney Meadows, senior advisor for university relations at Phillips 66 – the corporation that sponsored the trip.
The tour began with an overnight stay in Dubai, then took the group through Capetown, Cape of Good Hope and Stellenbosch, South Africa; Lusaka, Kitwe, Luanshya and Livingstone, Zambia; and Chobe National Park, Botswana. They toured companies such as Investec, Copperbelt Energy Corporation and PWC.
The trip broadened the horizons – literally – for many of the students. About one-third had not flown before. For 10 students it was their first time outside North America, and for 11 students, it was their first trip outside the Western Hemisphere. Four had gone on the Paris Trip with the Century Scholars, a handful have traveled to Mexico to see family. One student was born in Vietnam, another in Colombia.
Susan Blanco called the trip “a journey to more possibilities.” She considers their visit to Zambia the highlight of the trip, especially a day in Luanshya, when the group hosted a field day for the children in the nearby community. With money donated by Texas A&M faculty, staff and former students, two moonwalks and a water slide were rented, and Blanco said it was clear the gift was a luxury for the children, who ran to the Aggies with open arms and smiles.
She wrote in a reflection, “As we traveled from city to city I saw the great desire for prosperity that Africans possessed. There were women with babies on their backs desperate to sell us goods for little to no cost. I witnessed an endless amount of children, with such determination and hunger for an education, walking barefoot just to get to school. This experience was truly a blessing in my life, it served as a reminder of how lucky I am to be where I am.”
She said the experience motivated her to better herself and give to others. “Seeing the Zambian students so eager to come and receive an education motivated me to be someone who can facilitate that for them and return the hospitality.”
She wrote of the intense heat in Dubai and the beauty of Cape Town, South Africa. “Unfortunately, Americans have this misconception of Africa. They expect to find rural lands full of tribes living in poverty, and that is definitely not the case with Cape Town,” she explained. “Cape Town is growing and fully industrialized.”
The group visited Robben Island and saw the very cell in which Nelson Mandela was held prisoner. Many of the students were shocked to discover that former prisoners were now employed as tour guides within the very walls that one day held them prisoner.
“Our tour guide spoke about his past experience with such serenity that I was truly moved,” Blanco recalled. “It amazed me how I saw no resentment for the injustice he went through. It was amazing to see how someone could be treated so poorly and not have any hate in their heart. It seemed as if forgiveness truly set him free.”
The group also visited the hospital in South Africa in which the first successful heart transplant was performed. “The story the led up to the transplant was a bit bittersweet, a man after losing his wife and daughter simultaneously had the grace to give the consent so his daughter’s heart could be used to save a dying man’s life,” Blanco said.
Another student on the trip, sophomore accounting major Sayra Torres, said the trip changed her perception of Africa. “Most people think of poverty, diseases, and dirtiness when we think of Africa. However, I was proven very wrong, and I would like to get the correct picture across,” she said. “What I saw when visiting was development, desire to be better, strong willing people, and an amazing culture. They’re just like us, ambitious and wanting more for themselves.”
Torres called the trip “very enriching,” and said it opened her mind to many more things in life. “It made me believe that I can do anything in life. It gave me the motivation to do more than just the limit,” she wrote. “The experience of living and studying in another country was so eye-opening, it tested preconceptions and habits I wasn’t even aware were so ingrained in me. I also learned that we have to be able to adapt and be very flexible. Not every country is like America, which is why we shouldn’t expect them to be that way. This trip definitely changed my life for the better, I returned a different person with bigger goals, more knowledge, and tools to be a better global leader.
Torres advises students to pursue at least one study-abroad trip while in school. “If you believe you can’t, you CAN! Never let anyone tell you that you can’t do something because you can. Your only limitation is how far and wide you dream,” she said. “Don’t let your dream die before you even wake up.”
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