Name: Jateria Pittman
Destination: South Africa - University of Johannesburg
Why did you choose this program?
I got to attend the University of Johannesburg participating in an exchange program. I wanted to go to a place in Africa that is really diverse and modern with a lot of history. South Africa was everything that I wanted.
What did you expect to get out of this experience? What did you actually get out of it?
I expected to learn a lot about the culture and people. I expected to get a lot of cultural experiences and to meet people there and get to know them better. I wanted to have an experience that I wouldn’t be able to get anytime of my life. The most amazing experience was the people that I met there. It made me realize that you could have friends all the way across the world. You can have two different types of culture and living situations, but you can still relate to each other and respect each other.
Did your time abroad give you a new perspective of yourself and your own culture/country? In what way?
A lot of people like to say how America is so free. I never understood that because I have always grown up in this environment. You go to another country which is not particularly as free. People are so conservative in many way. It made me realize that, wow, I really do have a free life back home. I am free to do whatever I want to do, not having to be so conscious of things and opinions around me. That was definitely new perspective.
This trip solidified that I know myself and I know myself well, especially with how I react in difficult situations. It has helped me continue to be the person that I am. Even in a different country and culture, I can still be me and not to be or act differently. I am still me no matter what.
How will this experience enhance your future career?
Adaptability and cultural understanding: I want my future employers to know that I am definitely global-minded. I am able to adapt quickly not just to the workload but also to people, and to do things under pressure and in a different environment. I want employers to see not only my work skills but also my personality, character, and the traits that I gained from studying abroad.
How did you spend your free time while abroad?
I would go to this neighborhood market every Saturday. It is international food and craft market that has a crafty and artsy environment. It was early in the morning. I enjoyed hanging out with friends that I met there. We did not have a TV there. There was nothing to do, so we just sat in each other’s space. We really got to know each other well. We would cook together.
What did you know about the host country? Was there anything your were wrong about? How did your understanding of the country change after being there?
Both the 20-year-anniversary of democracy and the one-year-anniversary of the death of Nelson Mandela were coming up. I thought there was racism there but not like how racism is in America. But when I got to South Africa, I realized that, yes, there really was racism with all the separation of race and religion. It’s crazy to me that this country has only embraced democracy for 20 years and that it’s so westernized. There is not a rooted African culture there. When people from South Africa go to Nigeria, they say that they are going to Africa. The people consider South Africa an extension of the state of London. They look it that way because there was no culture. When I try to talk to my native friends from South Africa about music and dance, they have no idea. They did not grow up speaking a native tongue in school. So there are a whole bunch of racial issues that I did not imagine running into. Even though white people are the minority there, they are still able to have more power than the native people of South Africa and the continent all together, which is mind-blowing to me.
What was the most challenging aspect of studying abroad? What was the most rewarding part?
The most challenging part of the experience was not having the things that I needed. The University of Johannesburg was a self-service school. There was no meal plan at the University so I had to go buy and cook my own food. During the first few weeks, I did not have access to a fridge or cooking utensils, so I ate out every day and ran out of money by the first week. I had to eat rice cakes, peanut butter and oranges for a long time until I could get food storage and equipment to cook.
The most rewarding part were the friendships that I formed. Friendships that would last a lifetime are something I could really take away besides the knowledge that I gained. From getting to know and relating to people from all over the world, I felt fortunate to be able meet so many people and stay in touch with them.
Would you recommend studying abroad to other business students? Why or why not?
Most business students want to work outside of the U.S., it would be great for them to go out there and to see how things work in a different country. I encourage business students to wait for the right time and plan diligently and in advance for the trip. Do you have enough money, are your classes going to be lined up, what exactly is the place going to be like when you get there, do I know someone who also goes to the University? These are the questions I would encourage students to ask themselves before they study abroad. It’s important to do a lot of research and establish a support system before you embark on this once-in-a-lifetime journey.
If you could sum up in one or two sentences what this experience meant to you, what would you say?
The study-abroad experience continues to make me who I am as a black woman. It made me stronger and helped me realize a lot of things that I didn’t know before. It has also given me more passion to continue doing the things that I wanted to do. I am blessed to have this opportunity.