When college students search for study abroad sites, sub-Saharan Africa is not usually among the top contenders for possible host regions. According to a report by the Institute of International Education, about 12,859 students studied in sub-Saharan Africa during the 2011-2012 academic year, while about 151,143 studied in Europe that same year.
However, while students are not necessarily flocking to African study abroad sites, many students who have studied on the African continent have found their experiences to be very beneficial.
Zach Sturiale, a sophomore at Arcadia University, says that he was exposed firsthand to numerous issues during his time abroad. He studied in Cape Town, South Africa during his fall 2014 semester.
“South Africa is by far one of the most interesting countries in the world due to its past and current political, economic and social climate,” says Sturiale.
Most of all, he says he was exposed to the inequality that remains after the history of apartheid in South Africa.
“Studying in Cape Town made inequality strikingly apparent to me. I saw some of the largest examples of wealth I have ever seen in my life, but also saw the most tremendous examples of poverty I have ever seen in my life.”
Anna Wagman, a junior at Dickinson College, agrees that students can learn a lot from studying abroad in African countries. After studying in Madagascar, Tanzania and South Africa, she found that her study abroad sites offered numerous learning opportunities.
“Studying in a culturally disparate country is a huge opportunity for personal and academic growth, and great stories,” she says.
That being said, studying in developing countries often comes with challenges that students do not usually experience in more traditional study abroad sites.
Wagman says, “It’s always nerve-wracking to go somewhere so different from what you’re used to, but it was always really satisfying to push myself like that. Sometimes we had some really difficult living conditions . . . but I know the shared discomfort of these experiences made me really close with everyone in my group.”
Jessica Hawk, a senior at New York University, agrees that the challenges she experienced while studying abroad in Ghana were worth it in the end.
“There [were] days where I had to block my friends — who were studying in Florence — on Facebook so I couldn’t see the lavish lives they lived with great food,” she says. “But I gained local friends — who I now consider my family — that others sites may not offer. Sometimes water wouldn’t turn on or the lights would go out, but it was all really worth it.”
For Hawk, the challenges continued after she returned to the United States, as people from home did not fully comprehend her experiences in Ghana.
“I hated it when someone [from home] would introduce me as the person that studied in ‘Africa’ and everyone treated me like I was brave. It was a weird concept to think about. I wasn’t brave for living there. I ate, worked out, I went out at night. Life was pretty normal,” she says.
Despite some challenges, students generally hold fond memories from their study abroad experiences around Africa.