Eight students from Bloemfontein, South Africa, will return home Friday, taking what they have learned back to their university.
The students were selected through the University of the Free State of South Africa’s Leadership for Change program, which sends its students to different universities across the United States, including Appalachian State University.
During their stay at Appalachian and visit to UNC Greensboro, the students studied leadership and diversity skills said that they hope to apply the things they have learned home.
Songeziwe Pango and the other students in the program explained that it was started in 2010 by UFS’s vice chancellor after a racial hate crime was videotaped on the campus and went viral, drawing attention to long-standing problems on the campus and in South Africa.
The program hopes to give students a broader mindset and make them more aware of social issues in their country and the surrounding world.
Pango and Gomolemo Mangwegape, other students in the program, were inspired by organizations at both Appalachian and UNC Greensboro and plan on implementing various student organizations on campus to promote diversity and awareness, including an LGBT center, a multicultural center and an African student association.
“We need to find a voice,” Pango said.
The students expressed concerns for a lack of infrastructure, resources and funding to provide these opportunities on their own campus.
“I know it’s going to be hard,” Mangwegape said. “We have to deal with difficult mentalities and change mindsets. We need [faculty and staff] support.”
Associate Director of the Center for Student Involvement and Leadership, and one of the organizers of the program, Jim Street spoke to the students at a farewell dinner Monday night, addressing the change he’d seen in each student.
“You came here to discover America, but you ended up discovering a lot about yourself,” Street said.
The students learned about the importance of perspective in Street’s Principles of Leadership class and were then invited to teach these same principles to his first year seminar class.
In addition, they attended classes on social justice, race relations and leadership principles.
The students also toured Appalachian and were given the opportunity to volunteer at the Homecoming Blood Drive. In their time off, they enjoyed recreational activities such as hiking Rough Ridge, sightseeing at Grandfather Mountain, canoeing and tailgating before the football game last Saturday.
The students went on a daytrip to UNC Greensboro on Tuesday where they sat in on an African-American studies lecture, attended a panelist discussion titled “Words as
Weapons for Positive Change” and toured the International Museum of Civil Rights.
“I was inspired and encouraged by the nonviolent protests [of the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S.],” said Purity Khumalo, exchange student, said. “We can be heard. We just have to do something.”
The students will return home to South Africa on Friday after spending one last day in New York.
All the students expressed a desire to return back to the U.S. someday.
Pango said he hopes to live in New York after graduating with a degree in law.
“It hasn’t just been being here, it’s been life changing,” Pango said of the kindness of his host families as well as Appalachian students. “I don’t think there’s anything in the world like the people of Boone.”
Story: LANEY RUCKSTUHL, Intern News Reporter
Photo: LANEY RUCKSTUHL, Intern News Reporter
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