Alumni Spotlight: Ameer Dunston

Ameer Dunston is currently a senior at Howard University where he studies both finance and film, and he is originally from Buffalo, NY. He studied abroad this past Spring 2019 semester in Cape Town, South Africa. Following the completion of his undergraduate studies, Ameer plans to spend a gap year abroad teaching and performing research prior to his enrollment in graduate school.

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Why did you choose this program?

I chose IES Cape Town because I received pretty good reviews from other students who studied abroad through this program. IES is very organized and supportive. There was never a dull moment during my study abroad program, and all of the staff had an open-door policy throughout the duration of my program.

I loved that my program organized preplanned trips and excursions for the entire semester as well. Lastly, I chose my program because I dreamed of traveling to Africa since I was younger. It was such a transformational experience, and I highly recommend this program to all students. Study abroad should be a requirement at all colleges and universities!

What did your program provider (or university) assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

My university assisted me well! Ms. Montgomery and other staff at Howard University's Ralph Bunche Center organized a wide variety of workshops throughout the semester prior to our study abroad programs related to topics that addressed being abroad from every social and educational perspective you can think of.

For example, Howard University is a Historically Black College located in the heart of Washington, D.C., and one of the workshops I attended addressed the transition from an HBCU in America to a PWI abroad. The acronym "HBCU" means Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and the acronym "PWI" means Predominantly White Institutions. Additionally, Howard organized a workshop centered around cultural immersion and the difference between living abroad and being a tourist abroad.

My university did a superb job preparing me for my study abroad adventures in Cape Town. Lastly, IES Abroad was extremely helpful in providing detailed information on how to obtain a Visa and other required documents prior to departure. IES sent updates and packages regularly about program logistics or any other changes. Ultimately, while abroad, IES did a phenomenal job providing students with access to resources to enhance our experience mentally, socially, academically, and physically.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

One piece of advice I'd give to someone going on my program is to take a language course! Please take some course that teaches you one of the many languages used in South Africa. Personally, I think language is a huge component and identity marker of any culture, and such an experience will enhance future students' cultural immersion processes, and aid in their adaptation to their new environment in Cape Town, South Africa.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

You will have a reasonable amount of time to explore and build meaningful relationships. I took classes at The University of Cape Town, and most classes are only 40 minutes, which is less than most classes at American colleges that may last approximately 90 minutes.

Outside of class time, you have a reasonable amount of time to dedicate to service-learning, campus clubs and organizations, and other social excursions. However, it is important to note that classes at The University of Cape Town are extremely rigorous and require a sufficient amount of studying.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

To be quite transparent, I did not have any "big fear" prior to my experience abroad. I was ready to study abroad and had been planning to since my freshman year at Howard. This was a leap of faith I was willing to make. After arriving at my program, however, I would say one of my biggest cautions was preparing myself to deal with negative stereotypes. I overcame this by educating people about my background and black culture in the United States when faced with inappropriate comments. Ultimately, I used this as an opportunity to dive further into a cultural exchange, and it was a great educational experience.

What was your biggest take-away from studying abroad and what was your favorite experience abroad?

My biggest take-away from studying abroad was prioritizing living in the moment and being present. I felt so free while studying abroad, and my soul was pure. It was at peace, and I was at peace. I was free to explore, learn, take risks, engage, and many more things. It is so important to live and soak up the beauty of life and what the world has to offer. This alone aids in overall happiness, and appreciation for the smallest things in life, which are actually a petty big deal.

Secondly, my favorite experience while abroad was my service-learning experience. It was an addition to a class I took, Community Development in Context (South Africa). This was one of my favorite experiences because it addressed so many problems related to community development, social justice, poverty, educational inequities, colonization, white supremacy, and so much more! I volunteered with three organizations; SHAWCO Education, Sozo Foundation, and WordWorks.

I truly had an amazing experience, and I pray more students choose to study abroad. It is such a life-changing experience and there is no other perfect time to study abroad than in your undergraduate years in college. Take a leap of faith and challenge yourself. The journey is one that is both empowering and uplifting!