Reflecting on South Africa as a Frederick Douglass Global Fellow

By: Sam Li

Stepping off the plane in Cape Town felt like stepping into a whirlwind of vibrant energy, complex history, and breathtaking landscapes. This wasn’t just any summer adventure; it was the beginning of my journey as a Frederick Douglass Global Fellow in South Africa, a land etched with the struggles and triumphs of social justice movements. Today, as a CIEE ambassador, I want to share the profound lessons I gleaned from this transformative experience.

From the natural beauty of Cape of Good Hope to the youth in Langa, South Africa became a living classroom. We weren’t just reading about apartheid; we were meeting and learning from those who fought against it. Their resilience, their pain, and their unwavering hope painted a nuanced picture of this nation’s past, reminding me that the fight for justice is an ongoing journey.

Guided by Mpho Tutu van Forth, the youngest daughter of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, we encountered inspiring individuals leading change in their communities. We witnessed the strength of communities built by sharing resources, celebrating differences, and lifting each other up. It was a powerful reminder that true progress happens when we move together, hand in hand, supporting each other’s journeys. Each story challenged my preconceived notions of leadership. It wasn’t just about charisma and power; it was about empathy, collaboration, and unwavering commitment to a cause. This broadened my perspective, urging me to see leadership potential in unexpected places and reminding me that anyone can be a changemaker.

South Africa’s beauty is undeniable, but it’s not without its challenges. We grappled with issues like poverty, inequality, and the lingering effects of apartheid. It was uncomfortable, but necessary, to confront these realities and understand the complexities beneath the surface. This experience instilled in me a critical lens, urging me to question narratives and actively seek solutions that address the needs of marginalized communities.

Returning home, I carry South Africa’s lessons like precious gems. The fight for justice in my own community now feels more connected, more urgent. As a CIEE ambassador, I hope to spark conversations, share my experiences, and empower others to engage with the world around them. After all, as Frederick Douglass himself said, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”


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