Cultural Exchange

Syracuse city school students travel to South Africa over winter break

Four students from the Institute of Technology at Syracuse Central’s media communications program visited South Africa from Dec. 26 through Jan. 6 as part of a special cultural and journalism exchange.

To make the most of their experience, each was paired with a South African teenager involved with Inkululeko, a nonprofit that works with high school youth in Grahamstown, South Africa, to enhance skills for a college career.

Inkululeko, which means freedom, provides a space for youth from previously disadvantaged backgrounds to individually, and collectively, improve on areas of academic deficiency.


BY | Abe Clute with Sinoxolo (Sino)

My thoughts leading into the trip were all over the place. Initially, I was really excited just to travel, but eventually it hit me that I was going to a completely different part of the world, and I could not believe it. After a few weeks of talking to everyone and starting to prepare for the actual trip, it hit me that it was really happening, and I started to become nervous and scared. I was both nervous and scared mainly because I didn’t believe that the people of South Africa would accept me because of the color of my skin. I was also scared because of the extremely long flight — more than 14 hours. Leaving home and being that far was something even now I am not completely comfortable with, and I don’t see myself ever being comfortable with it, so that was one of the biggest problems I had.

In South Africa, I had two simple and basic jobs. The first job was to simply take photos and capture the “behind the scenes” of everything. My second job was to interact with the four Inkululeko students to see how their everyday lives are both in and out of school.

My first job took me to a few places around Grahamstown. I usually went with a few group members to meet people in the town, or we went to capture photos of certain landmarks. My second job, which was really my main job, took me quite a few places. Interacting with the students brought us to the township where they lived. The kids brought us to their extensions, or neighborhoods, and we did a lot there. We also stayed in the town a lot and went to Rhodes University to eat and hang out with the students in order to get to know them more.

My typical day consisted of meeting with the other students, chatting and discussing how the day would go and usually playing a few games of UNO before heading out. All of us went to where our task required us to go, and we worked together with the students to complete it. As the time went on, it was easier to work together because friendships began to form.

Teacher Kathleen Argus says it took some time for students to open up, but true bonding occurred the day the UNO cards came out and when the South African teens were allowed to spend lunch money at Checkers (a local grocery) for junk food. Argus explains: “Although the students’ connections were awkward the first couple of days, the introduction of UNO cards and junk food was the secret recipe for sparking friendships I think will continue for a long time.” | Steve Davis, Staff photo

In South Africa, I was partnered up with a girl name Sino; she attends Mary Waters High School and is headed to grade nine. Sino is a very laidback person who tends to relax at home and eat snacks while watching movies and television. Sino and I discussed a lot of what we liked to do in our free time, and she really seemed to stick to herself. She said she doesn’t have many friends. Sino asked me a lot about myself since, according to her, she wasn’t all that interesting. She asked me about music, television, sports and friends. After asking Sino many questions, I found out that she likes to sing, especially Meghan Trainor songs, but she also really enjoys Migos. Since Migos are my favorite rap group as well, she and I seemed to be more comfortable after having something in common.

While we were in South Africa, we went to the Pumba Private Game Reserve and Safari Lodge. Words simply can’t describe how incredible the safari was, from the birds to the gigantic elephants. This was the most fun activity that I did on the trip. From the beginning, the experience was amazing. We were greeted by such a nice woman who told us many funny stories, while we were given homemade lemonade and muffins. On the safari, we saw gorgeous animals, like white lions, giraffes, zebras, impalas, elephants, hippos and many others.

Unfortunately, we did not see a rhino, which was the animal I was looking the most forward to, but the elephants sure made up for that.

Eventually we finished the safari, and we were greeted by a beautiful lunch in a great outdoor village. On our way back to leave the safari, we found ourselves surrounded by huge African elephants; there were even babies. After a fight between two males broke out for about 10 minutes, they separated and one of them walked so close to the safari truck that he was literally in reaching distance; you could feel the truck vibrating.

My favorite part of the trip was the friendships I formed with three Inkululeko students. Khusta, Nicholas and Asisipho became some of my really good friends over just a few days. Having guys my age around helped me a lot after dealing with only girls for days. My favorite memory will be teaching them all how to play UNO and having them actually win the first round, even though we were trying to win. They will always be some of my good friends even though I’ve known them for such a short time. We all will continue to keep in touch, and I hope one day I can come back and see how well they are doing.

After traveling to the other side of the world, to a completely unknown place, I will always tell people that we are not very different from others at all. Looking around town, I see so much that is similar to home: the buildings, the stores, the churches, the cars and people. I want my peers to know that Grahamstown and its people are just like Syracuse and its people. There are very few differences that I see comparing Grahamstown and Syracuse; the people’s homes are full of color and made of stone rather than dull colors and wood or brick. Most of the homes do not have second stories, either. After coming to Grahamstown, my view of the world, especially Africa, has changed a lot. When someone thinks of Africa, someone probably thinks of the sad commercials of kids starving — even I did — and yes, there are some bad parts of Grahamstown, but there is everywhere, including Syracuse. I did not see any children starving over the past 10 days, even after going to the poor parts of town. After this trip, I realize that even though America is very modern, it does not mean everyone else is still in the Stone Age.


By | Ana McGough with Asemahle (Nicholas)

Leading up to this trip, I was very excited but nervous about losing my luggage. Before I went to Grahamstown, I thought it would be just like Syracuse, and it really is because everyone is super nice. I was excited to get to meet the Inkululeko high school kids and go on a safari.

Our job while we were in South Africa was to make a story about the similarities and differences between Syracuse and Grahamstown while also getting to know the Inkululeko kids. This job took me on a very cool journey to see the township, which is the area in Grahamstown where the Inkululeko students live. A typical day was to wake up early and eat breakfast, go on a photography shoot, and hang out with the Inkululeko students. We would come back in the evening and update the Inkululeko organization’s social media pages.

The student I was partnered up with was Nicholas. Some things that we talked about were sports, school, Grahamstown and Syracuse. He is a really cool guy and fun to hang out with, and he is very funny. Something that was surprising was that he could do backflips in the air. I thought that was very cool because not many people can do that.

We also got to make some traditional jewelry. We went to a soccer game, which was a lot of fun. We also had a chance to see some wild animals on a safari that you wouldn’t usually see in Syracuse. They were just wandering around. We got to see zebras, impalas, elephants, a white lion and warthogs. It was so cool to see these animals and photograph them. I also had a chance to try some new foods that were really good.

My most favorite part of the trip was going on a safari because the last time I went on one, I was a very little kid. It was my favorite part about the trip because an elephant walked right past the truck, and it was so close that I could have reached my hand out and touched it.

Something that I learned on this trip was that when a couple wants to get married, they have to get money through deals involving cows, and they must talk to the uncles — not the parents — of the bride. Grahamstown is such a fun and welcoming community, and it is such a cool place. One thing I want people to know is to appreciate what you have because some people in the world don’t have modern conveniences such as electricity.


By | Katy Fermin with Asisipho

As we were preparing for the trip to Grahamstown, South Africa, I was thinking of all of the bad things that could go wrong, like getting sick or getting a sunburn, so that I would be a hundred percent ready for any situation. You could say that I was paranoid, in a way, because I was going to another country that I had never been to and didn’t know much about. I was also expecting things to be really outdated in a way, and for the music to be really different. From all of the commercials that I’ve seen on television, I was expecting to see sick and hungry children everywhere.

Because we’re still in high school, our teachers and Jason Torreano, who works with the students from Grahamstown, wanted us to spend time with the high school students from South Africa so that we could learn about our differences and the similarities that we share. At first when we all started to hang out together, it felt really awkward, and we all stood with our groups that we came with. We would talk to our partners but we wouldn’t all mix together as a group to hang out and talk to each other.

On our third day in Grahamstown, we made beaded bracelets on the campus of Rhodes University, and after we all gave up on the beading, we decided to pull out the UNO cards. We asked the South African students if they knew how to play, or if they wanted to learn. All of the Syracuse City School District students lost the game to the South African students, but this game really helped us connect with each other and feel more comfortable talking. Every day, we would go as a group and try to stay with our partners. We would go to different places and experience the culture in Grahamstown.

My partner was Asisipho, and we talked a lot about ourselves; it made me realize that we have a lot of similarities. When we were first sent off to talk to our partners, I told him about a movie that I watched called “Okja” and how it impacted me emotionally. I told him that I’m an emotional and sentimental person, and he told me that he is, too, at times. I let him use my camera for a little bit because he seemed to be interested in the way that it worked. While he was using it, he told me that he wants to get a camera one day so he can take pictures for fun. After that, we talked about the things that we wanted to study after high school, and I was really surprised that he wanted to study science when he goes to university. He also told me that he would like to travel to different places in the world.

On New Year’s Eve, we got to go to a local soccer game and, surprisingly, I liked it. I say surprisingly because I’m not a sports fan and don’t really enjoy watching sports. There was something about that game that made me like it. I even got to take some cool pictures of the game.

Some of our teachers donated money to us for this trip, and we were able to use that money to go to Pumba Private Game Reserve and Safari Lodge. They had a lot of different animals like giraffes and elephants, and the food was good, too. I was also really excited to try and get some shots while the vehicle was moving.

My favorite moment from the trip was when we were on the safari and our driver was showing us some elephants; we were able to get really close to them. We were so close to them that one of the elephants stopped and was walking toward our car. It was kind of scary but exciting because it almost looked as if he was going to walk right into us. Luckily, he moved and was walking right next to our car instead of through it.

While spending my time in South Africa, I learned that things aren’t as bad as they seem on television; still, nothing is truly perfect. The homes in the township reminded me of when I went to the Dominican Republic because they were very bright in color and were made of mostly stone.

I want my friends and family back home to know that South Africa is not like a whole other world; it is very similar to the United States. This trip made me want to see other places so that I can learn more about other cultures.



By | Saviere Williams with Khusta

Before the trip, I was excited yet terrified. I was thinking, “I’m going to another country!” It was exciting because I had never left the country, and this would be my first chance. Part of me was also scared because I’ve never left the country nor been on a plane. I thought I would see South Africans living in huts, that they wouldn’t have a lot of technology — things that are stereotypical when one thinks about Africa.

My job going to South Africa was to tell a story. I came here with my team to create a story about the people of Grahamstown, South Africa, and the place itself.

While in South Africa, we worked with the high schoolers from Inkululeko, a local program that helps students go to college. Most of the time I was partnered with Khusta. We didn’t talk much for the first few days. We went to Checkers, the local grocery store, and then we clicked. We both are food lovers, so we went around and picked foods we liked, and he even gave me great suggestions. After that, we talked about our daily lives. I learned a few things about him. He loves to play rugby — it’s one of his favorite sports — and occasionally he works out at the gym for two or three hours. After school, he goes home. He watches his shows, eats, washes up, plays video games and, of course, sleeps. The similarities to an American teenager’s life are what surprised me most. Africa is seen as a place of poverty, but Khusta has a normal life just like I do.

There is so much to do in Africa. We strolled around town looking at local shops and stores, we made beautiful traditional jewelry, and we ate food and tried local restaurants like Steeler, Spur and Mugg & Bean. I even had traditional foods like braai (South African barbecue), and a home-cooked South African meal made by the amazing Zukisani, one of the workers from Inkululeko. We got a little wild one day and went to the Pumba Private Game Reserve and Safari Lodge. We saw beautiful animals like impalas, lions, antelope, monkeys and, my favorite, elephants. It was an amazing experience even though the elephants got too close for comfort.

I had many great moments, but my favorite was when the Inkululeko students and my group, the Syracuse City School District students, hung out for the day. We hung out every day since the first day, but this time, we were alone, only teenagers. It was my favorite day because I saw that teens from two different worlds weren’t as different as I thought. I saw that no matter what their problems were in South Africa, they still live normal lives.

This trip taught me a few things. The world isn’t so different, and everyone wants the same things as everyone else. I see America as a place where we have everything. I went to a small town in South Africa, and they have things we have: phones, video games and restaurants. South African teenagers are just like us. This trip taught me to never judge a book by its cover.

Check Also

SeQuoia Kemp at a postpartum home visit. Photo by Martha Swann Photography

Doulas Empower Black Mothers, Fight Maternal Mortality

By Sarah Merke By the second grade, SeQuoia Kemp knew she wanted to be a …