South African Connection

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Study abroad course exposes students to racial, historical, and economic issues as they travel to the Cradle of Humankind, the Cape of Good Hope, a fashion district, a World Cup stadium, AIDS clinics, and empowerment programs.

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A Student Snapshot: Students from UM capture a moment with students from South Africa during their participation in GEG 511.

August 25, 1993 was to be American Fulbright Fellow Amy Biehl’s penultimate day in South Africa, after almost a year spent working against apartheid. Instead, that day, she was beaten, stoned, and stabbed to death during a race riot in the Guguletu township. On their penultimate day in South Africa, students in GEG 511, Spaces of Hope, visited the place where Biehl’s promising life ended and bore witness to her powerful legacy: the world-renowned Amy Biehl Foundation Trust her parents created to provide opportunities for children growing up in poverty.

“You can’t help but be moved,” says Richard Grant, a professor in the College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Geography and Regional Studies. He exposed students to racial, historical, and economic issues as they traveled to the Cradle of Humankind, the Cape of Good Hope, a fashion district, a World Cup stadium, AIDS clinics, and empowerment programs. His immersive curriculum helped them absorb intense moments—like meeting one of Biehl’s convicted killers. (All were released from prison in 1998 with the support of Biehl’s parents during South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission; two now work for her foundation.)

On Course
Title: GEG 511 “Spaces of Hope: Engaging South Africa’s Urban Reconstruction and Reconciliation”
Department: Geography and Regional Studies, College of Arts and Sciences

“I got to experience South Africa as an insider,” says political science and public relations major MacKenzie Sedelbauer. Despite little free time, she and five classmates, who included geography, nursing, premed, and photography majors, managed to go on safari; a brave few even tried shark-cage diving. For the course’s service-learning component, they helped high schoolers outside of Cape Town develop environmental initiatives. Sedelbauer says getting to know those teens made her “forever grateful. They have no water, no electricity. They live in four-by-four tin shacks. But they don’t feel underprivileged. They have the highest aspirations. They want to be doctors and lawyers. They want to help other people.”

Just like Amy Biehl did. Spaces of Hope will return to South Africa next summer..


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