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Celebrating cultural diversity at Rhodes

Date Released: Wed, 16 March 2011 14:08 +0200

The rich diversity of the Rhodes student body means that intercultural knowledge is gained not only through reading and studying, but through friendships and social interaction and with fellow students as well.

The Rhodes international office, in collaboration with the Student Representative Council (SRC), recently tapped on this diversity and organised a gathering for exchange students to meet and bond.

Ms Orla Quinlan, who recently began her tenure as Director of the International Office, says that “For me, student exchanges offer not only a path to good academic results but also the opportunity to gain insight and to have a diverse and truly holistic educational experience.“

Rhodes’ International Office is dedicated to facilitating exchange opportunities for South African students who wish to study abroad. South African students’ careers at Rhodes are greatly enhanced by the opportunity to learn from students hailing from all over the world - intercultural learning at Rhodes is, therefore, a reciprocal process.

Rhodes hosts students of around 50 different nationalities annually. Most of the students hail from all over the continent including the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in particular. There are two broad categories of international students at Rhodes: Degree students who do full degrees at Rhodes, and Exchange students, who come for one or two semesters before returning to their homelands.

Credits from Rhodes courses are internationally recognised, and count towards the international students’ degrees at their home universities. This year Rhodes plays proud host to students from such diverse locales such as Kenya, Uganda, Pakistan, China, Russia, Holland and Australia.

International students explore further afield than Rhodes Campus and the Grahamstown CBD. Many become actively involved with community engagement and outreach projects, thus allowing them to experience first-hand how South Africans live, and enhance their holistic intercultural knowledge.

The international office and SRC gathering was successful and students bonded very well. When asked about their perspectives on South Africa the response was overwhelmingly positive. Many remarked at how friendly, open and easy-going South Africans are, and went on to describe the readiness with which they had made friends.

Priscille Grassin of Angers, central France, described South Africa as “really, really beautiful” and said that she’d actually love to live here permanently. She described French life as a high-pressure experience, and that, by comparison, South Africa was “like being on holiday everyday”.

May Wang, who hails from the Shenyang region of China, said that she relished the opportunity to learn about South Africa via first-hand experience. She comes from a massive, bustling metropolis, and has been enchanted by the Eastern Cape’s scenic flora and exotic wildlife.

Proving their status as socially fluid cosmopolitans, the international students bonded freely, and were fast friends, despite the vast geographical distances which separate their homelands. The French contingent, including several French Canadians, burst forth with an elegant rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ in French to celebrate American exchange student Kate Harlin’s 21st.

SRC president Allan Magubane said that internationalism within the student body is a great thing and that “The SRC strives to be creative about what mechanisms to put in place to ensure the ultimate South African Experience for international students”.