There’s an African proverb that says, “Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors.” For the Lamar University students who spent the summer producing news packages in South Africa, the proverb rang true.
“A lot of the stories I produced brought me out of my comfort zone,” Edward Long, Beaumont junior, said. “It worked out in the end and you know how it goes — you never know it until you try it.”
On June 10, LU communication professor Shenid Bhayroo and seven students left for Johannesburg, the largest city in South Africa and the seat of the Constitutional Court. Students were tasked with creating news stories for KVLU radio and LUTV while being immersed in another culture.
“Being there and seeing their culture, how vastly different it is from American culture, there are some similarities,” Long said. “But there are also many differences, and those differences not only make you appreciate the culture that you have, but they allow you to embrace the culture that is over there, and to be more understanding of other cultures.”
The students got a taste of what it would be like in the professional field.
“The work was very hard, but I can say that I have never learned so much in such a short amount of time,” Erik Rodriguez, Beaumont senior, said. “It was nice to get a hint of what the field is like with working with a group of people in order to get a story.”
Students lived in close proximity to each other for nearly a month, working and living in an unfamiliar place.
“I only knew a few of the people on the team so there was a lot of bonding,” Long said. “It was definitely a new experience, and I think the teamwork aspect is what made it happen. If we didn’t have the people we had with us, that each had their own strengths and talents, we wouldn’t produce as good content as we did.”
Bhayroo said that South Africa was chosen specifically for his familiarity with the city, as well as his understanding of the local media and its availability.
“South Africa was a natural choice, I was born and grew up in South Africa,” he said. “I also have extensive contacts in media and civil society organizations, allowing the study abroad students to gain unique access to people and places. “I selected Johannesburg because it is a large cosmopolitan city in South Africa, and offered many opportunities to experience culture, politics and social life.”
Bhayroo said that the timing of the trip was of special importance.
“I chose the first summer session because it is still winter in South Africa, and it would give us Southeast Texans some respite from the heat,” he said.
The students said they were pushed to their limits to get stories they normally wouldn’t. One example is the event commemorating the June 16,1976 uprising, where students rebelled against the apartheid state.
“I was in elementary school when the June 1976 uprising began, initially in Soweto, and then around the country,” Bhayroo said. “This uprising marked the beginning of a series of student and worker-led actions against the violent apartheid state.
“I took students to places in Soweto that I was at during my high school years when I was part of marches and protests against the apartheid government. We spent an entire day in Soweto, moving between different venues, and interviewing South Africans who participated in the 1976 uprisings. We wanted to hear their stories and share them with KVLU listeners and LUTV News viewers.”
Long said the coverage of the event was the first story he worked on in South Africa.
“That’s a big historical moment in South Africa,” Long said, “I was going in expecting to just do a story about the uprisings, but last second our professor said, ‘Hey, Ed, there are some Black Panthers here. You and Kara go and produce a story about why they are here.’ That brought me way out of my comfort zone.”
Long’s story revealed that the Black Panthers appeared at the event in solidarity for the cause.
Rodriguez said that seeing the sights, as well as getting to know the people, was a necessity.
“We stayed in Melville, Johannesburg, which is basically the neighborhood in Johannesburg that is closest to the city’s university,” he said. “I visited places near Johannesburg, like Soweto and Orange Farm, as well as other cities including Cape Town and Durban. It is really hard to describe how different these places were in comparison to the States, but I guess one could say is that no matter how much those places differed from one another, they were all full of some of the best, happy and positive people I have ever met in my life.”
Bhayroo said it was important that the students got to see the real South Africa.
“I encouraged students to engage and interact with South Africans every opportunity they had,” he said. “I ensured, even in the little time off I scheduled in the program, that they could meet with my friends, family, colleagues and extended social circles.”
Bhayroo said the trip met all his expectations.
“My biggest victory with this program is have been able to take seven of my best Lamar University students halfway around the world, and to allow them to live, work and learn about South Africa,” he said. “Each student had a transformative experience and has shared their experiences with friends, family and the Lamar community.
“My students’ news stories and personal stories have contributed to destroying stereotypes and myths about South Africa, and Africa in general. The trip also allowed my students to see that different cultures and peoples have much in common, and that our destinies as this race of humans, are inextricably linked.”
The students said they encourage others to take advantage of travel and educational experiences.
“I would recommend going to study abroad at least once in your lifetime,” Rodriguez said. “It is a very unique opportunity that you will never forget for the rest of your life.”