First successful Virtual study abroad under the belt

I absolutely loved talking to our guest speakers. The best part to me was being able to interact with the game guides, tour guide and conservationists! It was honestly very refreshing to be able to get real time answers from individuals who walk the talk and live in South Africa.

2021 is going to be a year of firsts and it is fitting that Zoom featured in our first Virtual Study Abroad to South Africa.

This was an intensive 2 week course for the University of Tampa, USA and not only did the students find great value, the professors did, too.

I highly recommend African Quiver for in-person and virtual study abroad programs in Southern Africa.  I have co-led four student travel courses with them to South Africa and eSwatini (Swaziland) in 2014 to 2018.  In January 2021, we co-developed a two-week virtual study abroad to South Africa taught entirely on zoom.  The students had an amazing experience learning through specially developed videos, live discussions with leading authors, experts, and business leaders, and chatting one-on-one with South African college students.  The feedback from students was extremely positive and pre- and post-learning surveys showed the program was very effective.  I am extremely pleased with African Quiver and look forward to our next study abroad with them.  

Dr. Julie Pennington

University of Tampa

Prefacing anything with “Virtual” makes one think about far flung technologies and in this case that really was not the case. In the simplest terms our university partner simply needed to add depth and some cultural exposure to their international business course. The best way to do that was to film some rich media experiences in key cultural areas. We therefore went to our favourite Soweto hotspots and explored, as we do in the real world, Soweto on a bike tour, accompanied by our African Quiver representative in Soweto, Bongani.

Some of the filming was hit and miss, but the audio was great and the students experienced real immersion into the sites, sounds and historical value of Soweto.

This Soweto Bike Tour gives a glimpse

For a much more detailed trip through Soweto with Bongani and Vikki, grab some refreshments and watch this video.

Cruising Soweto on bikes

I liked being on “foot” in the midst of the local community of Soweto and learning about the everyday life of the local people.

Soweto Virtual Tour

This cultural immersion comes as a shock to many who are unfamiliar with the socio-economic disparities in South Africa, and given that it is tough to contextualize, We included Dr Frans Cronje, CEO of the Institute of Race Relations (https://irr.org.za/) This think tank lives on data and it processes the raw data to come up with scenarios for South Africa. Many companies are able to base their investment strategy by having such detailed information at hand. For this course, the students were tasked with reading The Rise or Fall of South Africa. This and his other books are found here.

This set-work was intensive reading, but having the author at hand to answer the questions and clarify the concepts was very worthwhile. And made very possible courtesy of the interactivity provided by Zoom.

The founders of African Quiver have a deep connection with the conservation industry as well as the related eco-tourism business. The conservation component was a major eye-opener for the students, for most, they were unaware of the richness of the South African biodiversity and the ease with which one can experience the Big 5 in South Africa’s best game reserves. A virtual tour through the Pilanesberg Game reserve yielded some interesting animal sightings and guided by the jovial AJ.

video to come shortly…

However, arguably the biggest eye-opener was the destruction of the rhino population in South Africa. This dynamic incorporates the fundamentals of conservation and emphasized the depths of human greed, coupled with the courageousness of the rangers who put their lives on the line to protect these majestic and ancient creatures. It talks about the economics of the illicit trade of wildlife, which is a global concern. It touches on human / wildlife conflict and the unresolved relationship between protected land and tending for community wellbeing. To provide clarity and context again on this subject, Julian Rademeyer, was at hand to deliver a presentation outlining this poaching dynamic. His excellent book, “Killing for Profit” was the setwork for this lecture and having him on hand to also clarify concepts and answer questions was invaluable. It could be argued that in such a captive audience, this method of learning via Zoom, is very efficient.

Julian emphasized the reaction strategy that the South African government pursued, through the National Parks management (SANParks). And to this end Major General Johan Jooste, who was brought out of retirement to head up this war, presented the strategies he employed to fight illegal poaching. The General’s presentation had the 24 students and 3 professors spellbound, illustrating the very real dangers of this war as well as the “never say die” attitude required to fight against seemingly insurmountable odds. His very popular takeaway from the students was “Think Big, start small, act now.” A slogan that will be a an inspiration for anybody in any field.

The fourth and final contributor is a dedicated veteran in the field of eco-tourism. JC Strauss is also a decorated military veteran who’s passion for South African wildlife has seen him create an educational institution focused on training students in the field of conservation. This includes ecology, veld management, conservation practices and field guiding (cross-over of conservation and tourism). JC also made several of his students available to create chat groups via WhatsApp with their American counterparts. This level of immersion was rewarding and rated highly in the post course survey.

Conclusion:

The 24 students derived excellent value out of this virtual study abroad course and felt it was a worthy replacement in lieu of being able to actually travel.

The professors derived great value out of the course and have scheduled this tour for May.

We had 4 contributors, 2 South African Hosts, 24 Students and 3 professors. The immersion medium was Zoom and its capabilities of managing conversations via video and audio was excellent. This was further enhanced by breakaway rooms to discuss concepts in smaller groups.

Our conclusion is that this is a potent form of learning and could easily be incorporated into traditional class syllabus.

For references:

Dr. Julie Pennington
University of Tampa

To help you with your virtual study abroad:

Vikki Richardson,
Director, African Quiver
vikki@africanquiver.co.za

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