The American Experience 7
Ntendeni Luvhengo went on exchange to Furman University in South Carolina, USA in the second semester of 2010.
An exchange of dreams
I have no words to describe how amazing my exchange experience was. It was a lifelong dream comes true. Rhodes gave me an opportunity that I had always been dreaming of since I was a child and that is why I made the most of it. After struggling with Visas and all, I finally got into that flight and flew out of the country, knowing that the next time I was going to land in South Africa would be five months from then. It was 16 hours across the Atlantic Ocean to Atlanta Hatfield airport. I remember immediately after taking off, I told a man who was sitting next to me how I longed for this experience and he said, “Well, now that the flight has taken off, there is no coming back.”
I was studying in a small private University in South Carolina called Furman University. It had about 3000 students. All the classes that I attended had between 16-25 students per course and this was what made it unique. I came from the big lectures here at Rhodes where the lecturers hardly knew any of us in class to small classes where there was no way I was going to hide from the lecturer. We were all known by name. I came from being identified by just a student number to being identified by my full name.
Ntendeni in Washington DC
I was studying Broadcast Communication (where I read the news for the school’s Television station, Digital Communication (Where I started a blog), US Public Address (analyzing the speeches of early American founders and presidents) and Gender in South East Asia. I cannot say which school was harder (Furman or Rhodes) because my judgment would not be legitimate. Since I was doing different courses in both schools, it would not be realistic to compare.
However, what I realized about the Furman was how their education (at least to me) was more reading-based than assignment-based. There was a lot of emphasis on doing long readings and less on writing assignments. I feel that that is the difference with Rhodes because here, they are more assignment-based. Most courses require us to produce written work to tutorials. At Rhodes, there are lectures, then there are tutorials, and at Furman, it was only those small less-than-20 student classes with no tutorials.
At Furman, every course comes at the same time at any day it is. For example, Public address was at 9:30 am on all the days I attended it (Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays). Therefore, it was not necessary for me to go around carrying a timetable because if I remembered the time of one lecture at any day, it will be the same for any other day. That was another difference with being here at Rhodes because it takes me the whole semester to know the exact times of the lectures and then there are tuts.
Ntendeni in class
What I am trying to say is that things are different, not that any of the two schools is better.
The first time I went to their dining hall, I was shocked by the amount of food that they had. Their dining hall looked like a buffet and even though they had people serving at some sections, it was not all sections of food. There also was no specific time for seconds, one could go back to get more food anytime they wanted. The rest of the sections are self-serving section. At their dining hall, they had a salad section, an ice cream and dessert section, a sandwich section, a pizza section, cereal section and a drink section with every famous American fizzy drink, juices and all kinds of milk. All these other sections were self-serve. Since I was used to the strict food delivery here at Rhodes, I took advantage of this massive dining hall and gained weight in the first three days I was there. When I came back to South Africa, the regular comment from everyone was how much I had gained weight. This is why I now appreciate the Rhodes dining hall because they give small meals that are necessary for someone like me trying to lose weight now and yes, I am still trying to lose more weight.
Ntendeni at Madame Tussauds
Another culture shock that struck me when I was there was the number of student cars that were there. Every student I knew had a car and the whole school was filled with student cars. A student car there is more like the way a laptop is to us. Not everyone has a laptop at Rhodes but it is a common commodity. The same way at this school in South Carolina, not everyone had a car (but all I knew had cars) but it was common to own one. I thought that this school was maybe the representation of every student in America and I was told that it was not. It was just that most of these kids came from well-off families and this was a private school.
By the way, their library was not any different to ours, but in this case, let me say the Rhodes library is much better than theirs is. Their library had a limited number of books and our library has lots of them. Our library also has at least a copy of every single textbook of every department whereas their library has no copy of any single textbooks. That takes me to the next point; their textbooks are super-expensive! Their average Social Science textbooks cost the way an Accounting textbook or a Science textbook costs in South Africa. That is when I realized that education in America is too expensive. This opened my eyes because I thought that education would be cheaper there.
Here at Rhodes, especially for people studying BA subjects, we have no specific textbooks. We are usually allocated different textbooks on Short Loan and what I realized about America was that they were very textbook-based, and there is no equivalent of Fables (second-hand bookshop) nearby, almost all the books were from the school bookshop, which was super-expensive.
Ntendeni in the snow
The rest as they say is history but I really enjoyed my time in the states and studying there was great. There are many more differences between the two schools but none has to be better.
I also went to visit New York City and saw all the landmarks I saw on TV from central park to Grand central and Chrysler building. I also got time after the exchange to spend Christmas with relatives in Washington DC (and saw the white house close-hand) and spent my New Year’s Eve in Times Square New York City where I welcomed the New Year with other New York admirers for around the world. This is the biggest New Year party in the world.
I was there from fall to winter so I got to see, touch and play in the snow for the first time in my life. It was learning and cultural experience but I am happy I am back at Rhodes. I missed home.
Ntendeni in New York
My advice to future exchange students is that you must never give up. There will be obstacles sometimes when you are in the process of preparing for the exchange but never give up. Go for what you want in life. Also, do not forget to study. Work hard and know that you are as good as the students overseas, or even better. When faced with a new challenge, refuse to panic. Always be willing to learn. At the end, you are the one who benefits. Oh, and do not eat too much because you will end up like me trying to lose weight when you come back home. Be healthy. With the rest, use your instincts. You know what is right and what is wrong. Take pictures. A moment lost is never regained.
Everything to me was a highlight. I learnt to meet people from a different place and stood my ground while at the same time, respecting their way of life. Understanding instead of judging will definitely save one while in a foreign country. Everything from schoolwork to the travelling afterwards was a highlight for me. I made the best of the experience and learnt from my mistakes.
Ntendeni on the Brooklyn Bridge