For the next seven weeks, senior Peter Jorgensen and juniors Ali Foreman and Kate O’Brien will wake up every morning for school just like any other weekday, but they’ll be wearing uniforms and attending single-sex schools in South Africa.
The students are staying with a host family in Cape Town and attending Rondebosch Boys’ High School and Wynberg Girls’ High School from Jan. 11 to March 23, the first term for students in South Africa. The South African exchange students will stay with their respective guest’s family when they come to Whitman for our fourth quarter from April 10 to June 10.
Social studies department head Robert Mathis helped arrange the exchange trip, which is the first one to South Africa.
“It’s going to be a totally different world, being there,” Mathis said. “They will be immersed in a culture that is so rich and so cool, and they are so lucky to do something like this.”
Former student Molly Blank contacted Mathis with the idea of an exchange between Whitman and Rondebosch and Wynberg. Blank received a 2005 Fulbright Scholarship to work on a documentary called “Testing Hope” about post-apartheid South African education, and she knew of the two schools in Cape Town from her work.
AP Comparative Government and Politics students had priority for the trip, but next year, it should open to more students. Mathis, social studies teacher Andrew Sonnabend and assistant principal Brandi Heckert asked applicants questions for their interviews.
Foreman said the exchange trip will help broaden her worldview of what other countries are like.
“Getting to go to Africa now is a great opportunity because the whole continent is gorgeous and so diverse,” Foreman said. “I really hope I have an incredible experience and gain a different perspective on just how the U.S. fits into the rest of the global community.”
Although there will be no language barrier, going to a school in South Africa offers opportunities to learn different languages not available back home. For example, Foreman will take Afrikaans.
The experience of living with a host family for a long period of time will be a dramatic shift from life in the U.S., but the students said they are prepared for the change.
“I hope to learn what it is like to live with another family in a different country,” O’Brien said. “I know it will really show me how the daily lives of different high schoolers around the world are similar in some aspects yet drastically different in others.”
Though the concept of leaving home for over a month may be scary, Foreman said she had no hesitations about the trip.
“It was a tough decision, and I’ll miss my friends and family, but what can you do?” Foreman said. “When you have a chance to do something incredible, you just have to go for it.”
Foreman plans to blog from South Africa about her trip for www.theblackandwhite.net.