Alumni Spotlight: Chantel Palmer

In the fall of 2019, Chantel Palmer studied abroad in South Africa under SIT South Africa: Social and Political Transformation program. Chantel is currently a senior at Franklin and Marshall College and double majors in Africana Studies and Sociology.

Why did you choose this program?

I choose SIT South Africa: Social and Political Transformation because I wanted to learn more about racial identities in South Africa, more specifically how the aftermaths of discriminatory systems affect how racial groups interact with one another and the level of advantages and power some racial groups uphold more than others.

After learning about Jim Crow Laws, segregation, and Civil Rights Movement here in America and in comparison to the amount of equality and rights the Black community has gained, I wanted to further educate myself on how the post-apartheid system has provided some level of justice toward the Black African community in South Africa. Therefore, I desired to learn more about the Black community in South Africa and of their struggles and compare and contrast it to the struggles the Black community still faces in America.

On the other hand, I felt as if I did not have a more specific or more developed concern I wanted to learn about besides this issue that is salient to me.

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

My academic director, Imraan, always reminded us students that we should not use our Northernistic/ Western views to try to correct, understand, or ridicule the South Africans' lives. With the many questions, confusion, and worry that we shared, Imraan and the rest of the academic staff reassured us throughout our time studying abroad.

Imraan also reminded us that, during our journey, we each are going to experience a downfall of homesickness, confusion, and/ or a moment of realizations, yet we will pick ourselves up.

No matter the circumstances, each of our academic staff were there to talk with us.

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

As mentioned before, while studying abroad, my academic director reminded us to avoid using our Northernistic/ Western views to understand the cultural/ ethical life in South Africa. Additionally, I have learned while in South Africa that I must stop comparing and contrasting the apartheid system to segregation in America.

During my first month visiting museums and learning more about influential activists that fought against the apartheid system, I was caught in a whirlwind trying to compare which struggle was the most horrendous. However, I have learned that the struggles that Black people face in South Africa and America should not be compared or contrast nor seen as more oppressing than another. This led me to see, after having conversations with other students in my program, that we should realize that this struggle affects all Black people around the world and that this struggle is still continuous.

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

For about the first month and a half of the program, we would leave our host family then head to class. We would be in class from 8:30 am to about 4:30-5:00 pm. We learned isiZulu, the history of South Africa, the current issues affecting South Africa, and meet influential activists who helped to dismantle the apartheid system and political leaders of South Africa. Afterward, we would head back home and spend time with our host families.

The program gave us assignments that circled around our experience living and our conversations/ interviews we had with our host families and also what we learned about the development of South Africa. Once we came to the halfway mark of our program, we had to find our own living accommodation because we were going to start our internship/ independent research project. During this time, we were very independent in paying for our housing, buying groceries, and completing our research.

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

My biggest fear was how will I interact with my host family.

I become really nervous about meeting new people, so I was anxious about meeting my host family. However, I bonded very well with my host siblings because my host brother was very supportive of me and provided me with advice when I became doubtful at times.

My host families welcomed me into their family and my host mom viewed me as her daughter, which made me more comfortable and less nervous around my host family.

What did you learn during this trip?

Where we received most of our learning was through experiential learning.

Spending time with our host families, going out over the weekends, reading the news, and further surrounding ourselves in South Africa's culture helped us to understand the current issues that are going on and understand our place as an American.

Our relationships and conversations with local South Africans helped us to see how our identities are perceived and to further understand ourselves from our race, family income, gender, sexuality, nationality, ethnicity, and other aspects of our identity.

I was worried if I will lose out of what was going on in America, which was why I was always on my phone, yet I pushed myself away from South Africa and wish I spent more time to learn more about South Africa. Therefore, try not to worry as much about what is going on in America, yet focus more on life in South Africa and the problems that are still affecting the country.