JOURNEYS: A SUMMER OF LEARNING
JOURNEYS: AN EMZINGO-U ALUMNI SERIES
This article is part of a series written by Emzingo-U alumni to offer a first hand testimony of their experiences during our university programs.
When I first heard about the opportunity to participate in the 8-week Emzingo program in Johannesburg, South Africa I was excited and curious. The one time Africa was mentioned in class, we critiqued Tintin in the Congo. In French, Tintin in the Congo is the overall best-selling book of the series. It was shocking how the blatant racism in the comic was so widely accepted. So, before beginning my journey I did my best to tear down any preconceived notions and enter South Africa with an open mind. I was ready to embrace the country and its culture. I was heartbroken when I arrived. Everywhere I turned there were warnings; “Do not walk outside at night, you will get hurt.” “Do not walk here, you will be raped.” And “Do not take a taxi, you will be kidnapped.” After learning more about South Africa, I found these warnings more understandable. Fifty percent of the population is below the poverty line and youth unemployment is at a staggering 50% as well. Trouble arises when there is privilege amongst an ocean of poverty.
In Pretoria, as I was getting into an Uber, two taxis pulled up, one in front of and the other beside the Uber. The two taxi drivers got out of the car and started threatening the Uber driver. I was forced to take a taxi. When I took the train from Cape Town to Simon’s Town to visit the famous penguins, all but the one train car was empty. 20 passengers were squeezed together. Everyone sat, face forward and vigilant, as it is not uncommon for taxi drivers to set the trains on fire in order to ‘encourage’ people to take taxis. Every night while traveling I made sure to get back to the hostel before sunset. When discussing this feeling of restriction and how I struggled to balance safety with freedom with the Uber driver on the way to the airport he said “It’s simple. There are areas where you can walk, there are areas where you can walk only during the day and there are areas where you cannot walk.” Because it is home, South Africans have no choice but to live with this constant ‘danger’. They know which areas are safe to walk in and they know how identify possible threats and how to avoid them. And it made me think whether similar invisible chains exist in Canada, and how we too have grown around them and accepted them.
It was in South Africa that I learned the power of acknowledgment and how adversity forms community. South Africa is one of the most connected countries I have visited. Each community is like a family; music, food and dance can be found everywhere, and people say “hello” to strangers on the streets. Every time I walked down a street I was greeted. I found these small gestures of kindness touching and paradoxical given the constant danger present. Because of the danger and the divisive nature of Apartheid, communities formed and united for survival. And coming from an individualistic country, these pockets of kindness and connection seemed like an oasis in the desert. Small moments of connection should not be underestimated – they strengthen a community.
My Emzingo Experience
My time working with Emzingo helped me grow. Sometimes, all it takes is someone else to believe in you for you to believe in yourself. Emzingo U helps those who have a desire to learn and grow and teaches them how to help others. The biggest lesson I learned is the importance of confidence. What I found to be unique about this experience is that it is entirely team lead. You are provided with the autonomy and the authority to carry your ideas all the way to completion. I learned, despite how obvious it sounds, that in order for people to believe in your ideas, you first need to believe in them yourself. Confidence is a crucial part of leadership. And because of the hands-on nature of the experience, I had the opportunity to prove myself to myself.
I worked with TEF (The Experience Factory) a social enterprise that specialises in the hybrid combination of talent recruitment and skill development with a continuous emphasis on soft skills, and their goal is economic freedom for all. This company resonated with me because it supports underprivileged but determined students and gives them a fighting chance in the workplace. My team and I created a marketing and communication plan. We distilled the company’s essence and created the necessary channels and marketing collateral to communicate it to potential clients, clients, candidates and investors. In order to do so we conducted interviews, attended panels, explored career fairs and participated in social support workshops. It was this connection with people from different backgrounds that added complexity and depth to our work and helped us gain a greater understanding of South Africa.
If you want to travel, learn, work, meet new people, get inspired and make an impact: I recommend the Global Impact Fellowship. I got to experience a new continent, country, culture and workplace. And through it, I gained new perspectives and learned more about myself.
About the Author
Laura is originally from Winnipeg but moved to Montreal two years ago to experience what it is like to live in a bigger city. She is currently entering her third year at McGill university, where she is majoring in accounting. She completed the Global Impact Fellowship in the summer of 2018 in South Africa.
About the Global Impact Fellowship
Emzingo-U’s Global Impact Fellowship (GIF) is an international leadership program designed to offer purpose-driven undergraduate students a 6 to 8 week impact consulting internship with an NGO or Social Enterprise in an international location.
About Emzingo-U alumni series
Written by Emzingo-U alumni, this series offers a first hand testimony of our alumni’s experiences during their university programs. The opinions expressed in these articles are the author’s own and do not reflect the official view of Emzingo.