Living Entrepreneurship Blog / Global & Multicultural

Higher Learning–A Reflection of South Africa

micheleneBy Michelene Wilkerson, Class of 2016

In Mandela’s autobiography A Long Walk to Freedom he says, “Without [seeking to understand another’s] language, one cannot talk to people and understand them; one cannot share their hopes and aspirations, grasp their history, appreciate their poetry, or savor their songs.” When Nelson says “language” I do not simply perceive that as just words, but I see this as learning and accepting the entire culture. I learned you can speak to someone without fluency of the words—you speak by understanding or attempting to understand where another is coming from.

I remember when we went to the Kayamundi township and some of the children were laughing and saying this one word over and over again. Since they were playing in the street I had thought they were reciting a rhyme to a game, but they weren’t. Vuyo (our tour guide)  translated and told us they really calling us “foreigners!” At this point, you have a choice between three things—you can take offense (because you could assume they are making fun), think of it as nothing, or try to move astray from being just a “foreigner”. I thought of it as nothing. Now that I think of it, I must have come across as an obnoxious foreigner to an extent. I could have tried to understand South Africa better by doing what South Africans do—dressing like an average South African and not just reading about it. I suppose now I must have come across as a foreigner not just by how I look (which is the obvious), but how I behaved. I unconsciously was looking for people to understand where I came from, that I was an American. If I could go back to my bridge period, I would have done things so differently. Instead of solely preparing my research project, I would have also been preparing to depart from my American ways a bit.

Nonetheless, aside from some of my behaviors, I believe I did a lot right. If nothing else, I know I listened, observed, and thought.  Life became lifted to a more meaningful level when I watched. Even though I did not eat with my hands, I had wondered how Luthando (one of the South African peer teachers) must have experienced eating when I saw him eat with his hands at our closing dinner. When I saw people smiling and vivacious in Kayamundi, I cannot help but think how poverty is really nothing but a perception of ourselves in comparison to others. When my friend Sam would casually pull me to the side just ask questions about my life I realized that sincerity is simplicity handled with care. After Tarryn expressed she could not ride a bike nor drive (like myself), I know now that it is impossible that the state of being alone can ever occur—distance tricks us into feeling alone.  When I think of our tour guides on the safari, I come to my senses that my fear is a result of my imbalance of positive energy, yet I also see you need both positive and negative energies to create a neutral and harmonious point of reason (being reasonable is key, not scared). That list does not stop here. I came to a point of understanding without language simply because our humanness is our common denominator.