Program suspended after protests disrupt fall 2016 study abroad experience
The Santa Clara
May 4, 2017
Students packing their bags to go overseas in the fall won’t be jetting off to one formerly-available study abroad program.
Prior to releasing the university-approved list of study abroad destinations last fall, Santa Clara’s Global Engagement Office indefinitely suspended CIEE South Africa after protests and social tension in the country heavily disrupted academic life for students enrolled in the program in fall 2016.
Two years ago, disorganized and sporadic student protests occurred, but class cancellations and increasingly adversarial sentiments between local students and the South African government hinted that future unrest could be on the horizon.
“There were protests on campus the previous year (that) sought to tear down a controversial statue on campus,” said Peter Bradshaw, a junior who participated in the program during fall quarter. “The protests were only successful because they were so violent that (the University of Cape Town) shut down.”
The school feared that students trying to fulfill units at the University of Cape Town (UCT) would be unable to transfer them into Santa Clara course credits if similar strikes and course cancellations took place again this year.
“Starting a program in August and knowing that the possible striking can happen in September, that’s four weeks less of classes than they even had last year and academically that’s not a viable term,” said Andrea Muilenburg, director of study abroad programs.
Strikes affected schools all over the country, but especially UCT. The protests stemmed from disapproval of the university’s student fee structure. South African students want the government to fund the university so they can avoid having to take out student loans.
Students enrolled through CIEE did not have their program cancelled, but were advised to stay off campus because UCT shut down just under two months into their abroad experience.
For students still wanting to study abroad in South Africa, there are a few other options. One 20-person program run through Marquette University, the largest South African program available, offers classes at the University of Western Cape. It is a smaller institution where the protests were more controlled and impacted the academic environment much less.
According to Muilenburg, a third program not connected with Santa Clara is based in South Africa’s Kruger National Park and has very little cancellation risk. The program is specifically for students with interests in issues of sustainability, the environment and biology.
“Elephants and giraffes don’t go on strike, so we don’t have to worry about that one,” Muilenburg said.
Despite the protests, CIEE South Africa students who participated in the program during fall quarter found alternative ways of learning outside of the classroom.
“Studying abroad in South Africa was incredibly exciting,” Bradshaw said. “I didn’t learn much in a traditional classroom setting, (but) the protests helped us learn about the problems that South Africa faces.”
Despite the circumstances, Muilenburg said she considers last year to be a positive sign for the popularity of South Africa, as a record 19 students studied in the country, 14 of whom were enrolled through CIEE. Muilenburg said they are optimistic for CIEE South Africa’s return based on positive student sentiment from program returners.
Study Abroad Advisor Hallie Bodey also said that the university favors the direct-enrollment feature at UCT. Students take classes with local students, providing a fully immersive academic experience.
However, the study abroad catalogue is known to vary year-to-year and with potential social improvements in South Africa, students could find themselves studying through CIEE as early as fall 2018.
“Nothing is set in stone and there’s always changes,” Muilenburg said. “We’re always looking at several different facets of a program to see if it’s viable.”
Contact John Lambert at jvlambert@scu. edu or call (408) 554-4852.