Women and Gender Studies plans trip to Cape Town
Every two years, the Women and Gender Studies program at Grand Valley State University goes on a service learning, study abroad trip to Cape Town, South Africa. The six-week summer trip focuses on women and gender issues in the region.
On Friday, students gathered in the Kirkhof Center to start planning this year’s trip. The faculty-led program allows GVSU students to earn six credits for the classes WGS 358: Women and Gender Studies in South Africa and WGS 493: Community Collaborative in South Africa.
“It changes everything,” said Danielle DeMuth, associate professor for Women and Gender Studies. “You begin to understand the role you can play in gender justice in a different way. It changes the rest of your time in GVSU.”
During the week, students help teach English to sixth-grade students in Manenberg, which is about a 10-minute drive from Cape Town, DeMuth said.
“The kids there look forward to it,” she said. “They are there waiting for our bus to pull up every day.”
Brittany Dernberger, assistant director of the program, said GVSU students are able to teach in Manenberg because of the long-standing relationship they have with SHAWCO, which is one of South Africa’s largest student volunteer organizations. SHAWCO was founded in 1943 as a one-man initiative but is now a part of the University of Cape Town and focuses on health and education in the area.
Dernberger also said that students will have an opportunity to explore and learn about stereotypes in South Africa. People often stereotype the African continent as a place of inequality with people living in poor conditions, she said. Students will examine those ideas as well as learn how another country perceives the U.S.
“South Africa has one of the most progressive constitutions,” Dernberger said. “People’s perception of the U.S. is that there is equality. They are surprised to hear that there is still inequality here.”
While in South Africa students will also go on excursions to different areas within the country including the Cape of Good Hope, Nelson Mandela’s prison at Robben Island, the Apartheid Museum in Soweto and the Nelson Mandela House in Johannesburg. They also go on a safari and stay overnight at a private game reserve.
“It gives you the opportunity to see beyond Cape Town and beyond the other cities,” Dernberger said.
Safety can be a concern of some students and parents, but Dernberger reassured them that the group flies to South Africa together and lives as a group.
“We put you together with roommates before you leave,” Dernberger said. “If someone’s not home at night, we’re going to notice.”
Students will also have the opportunity to keep in touch with loved ones at home. Dernberger suggested they buy a phone while in South Africa and ask family members at home to buy an international phone plan.
Since the trip is only offered every two years, DeMuth encouraged students who are interested to go early on in their time at GVSU. More information can be found at the Women’s Center’s website.