Reflections on the Rhodes University International School (RUIS) 2009
August 24, 2009
By: Ashwin Pienaar
It would be misleading to say that the 26th of June 2009 was warm, or even pleasant. It wasn’t. Perhaps the coldest day of the winter brought with it lashing rain and a misty haze over a familiarly choppy Port Elizabeth seaboard as 13 new students arrived for the annual Rhodes University International School (RUIS).
So, with the biting reception of an Eastern Cape winter, perhaps several of the new arrivals questioned why they left the northern hemisphere in June. Yet to their credit the students from Kansas, Ohio, New York and Amsterdam embraced the new experience and were graciously welcomed by the staff of Amakhala Game Reserve. Plenty of blankets, roaring log fires and fine food were customary at the Reserve’s outstanding lodges. Together with friendly and knowledgeable rangers, the students were thrilled to see several of the greater and lesser known African wildlife species. Highlights included sightings of cheetah, buffalo, rhino, elephant and a couple of lions– the latter eager to play in the dew fresh savannah grass.
After a gentle few days in the lap of luxury, the students proceeded to Grahamstown and were immediately hurled into the bustle of the National Arts Festival. Southern African theatre productions, art exhibitions, live music and a thriving nightlife provided an absorbing social and cultural experience.
With the academic demands of the programme, the students were rarely idle but managed to take off 4 days to go to Cape Town. The allure of Table Mountain and the rugged Cape Peninsula National Park provided a stunning geographical overview of the Cape. From which point the students also took in the Waterfront, District Six Museum and a tour of the Winelands, set beneath the Simonsberg and Stellenbosch Mountains.
The beauty and viticulture of the Western Cape was then traded for the stark villages of Cata and Hamburg, in the final academic component of the programme. The opportunity allowed the students to grapple with both socio-economic and sustainable development challenges facing rural Eastern Cape communities.
The days spent in these villages were golden, as the sun soothed the frigid landscape. But as the final day of RUIS 2009 arrived, so too did a reminder of winter. A cold sky blanketed the horizon at Port Elizabeth airport, as it had a month earlier. Whilst all were sad to go their separate ways, the experience was glossed with true friendships and visceral experiences of a month shared in South Africa.