Ten days in southern Africa
Archived article from Apr 19, 2002
They didn't sleep very well during the 16-hour flight from Philadelphia to South Africa, and many -- especially those who had never endured a trans-Atlantic crossing -- noted aches for the first few days on the ground.
But it was all worthwhile when, in the words of one Rutgers-Camden student standing at the Cape of Good Hope, they felt as if they were "on top of the world." Baboons, lions and zebras populated the breathtaking landscape of the African veldt and brought imaginations to life. More importantly, the indomitable spirit of a people living in dire poverty and near-primitive conditions strengthened the students' resolve to develop trade programs to help local artisans.
The group of 41 undergraduate and graduate students, faculty and staff from the Camden campus experienced South Africa and Namibia for 10 days this spring under the leadership of Cal Maradonna, associate provost for student life. "We've gotten better with experience," says Maradonna, who initiated the annual southern African trips in 1996 after helping the University of Namibia to launch its first bookstore.
Most of this year's students were enrolled in an "International Business" course offered through the School of Business-Camden and taught by Julie Ruth, an assistant professor of marketing. In addition to providing future business leaders with an invaluable firsthand look at the intricacies of global commerce, the 2002 trip continues the business school's long-term efforts to open a Global Café on the Camden campus that will sell southern African crafts and launch a Camden-based retail distribution center for such products.
"Our students see an opportunity to help the underemployed in southern Africa export their crafts to the United States," says Ruth, citing the example of a small company that produces hand-stamped metal artwork for greeting cards. "Mothers can do this work from their homes, earning money while watching their children. Access to the U.S. market may help many people in these nations."
The living conditions of many southern Africans deeply affected the Rutgers students. "We had a series of meetings in advance to prepare everyone for the trip," notes Maradonna. "We tell them in advance to prepare for the emotional aspects of the trip. It can be a hard -- but very positive -- experience."
During the trip, students kept journals to record their impressions. The excerpt below was written by Jeff Turin, who will get his M.B.A. in May. Turin, who received his bachelor's degree from Rutgers-Camden in 1993, was an information-technology consultant before returning to school full time.
Focus also asked faculty member Julie Ruth to provide her perspective on the trip.
One student's impressions
By Jeff Turin, M.B.A. student, School of Business-Camden
When we got off the plane in Cape Town, I immediately started looking at people's faces and into their eyes and body language. I was hunting for some residual sign of apartheid in the way people acted. I guess, on some level, I thought I might detect some resentment, superiority, fear, condescension or just some plain old bitchiness. The porters had subservient demeanors. None of them were white. But I think their behavior was more a measure of their job position than their race or relationship to other races. No one seemed angry, uncomfortable or insecure with me.
I found it encouraging that so far people were just people. I am not naive enough to think that the scars of apartheid are not still there, but in the normal course of things it seems people expect to be treated and are able to treat each other reasonably well.
However, once we left the confines of the airport on our tour bus, one of the first things we passed was a tremendous array of shacks and hovels behind a fence along the road. It was kind of surreal, almost like they were a facade set there for effect. Very unfortunately, at right about the same time, our tour guide was giving us his prepared shtick about how Cape Town was the "second most beautiful city in the world. Second only to the city where you came from." Yes, quite unfortunately. His complete lack of comment on the township was palpable to many of us.
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