Ohio University Southern student journeys to South Africa

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 10, 2003

While many of his peers were taking their summer vacations in Myrtle Beach, S.C., or sunny Florida, South Point native B.J. Wurts became immersed into "a whole other world" in South Africa.

Wurts, a senior history major at Ohio University Southern,

spent six weeks in Cape Town, South Africa this summer as part of OU's study abroad program.

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Though South Africa, and particularly the Zulu tribe, has been an interest that Wurts has studied for years, he learned quite a bit. He also learned that the general public has a lot of misconceptions about Africa.

"The two main things that I try to get across to people is that Africa is not a country, it is a continent," he said. "Also, they think that all the people live in huts, wear loin clothes and hunt tigers. That percentage is very small and would be comparable to the amount of people in our country that live on reservations."

Overall, much of the country of South Africa is fully developed with free elections and modern technology, Wurts said.

"I told one of my friends that the Zulu's do not have shields and spears now, they have DVDs," Wurts said.

During the trip, Wurts worked in schools studying, observing and teaching. Spending time with the first-grade students was an enjoyable part, he said.

"The best thing about working with them is when I would come in they would all come in and hug me and gather around me," Wurts said. "That usually made up for all the yelling I had to do the day before."

Wurts enjoyed the variety of traditional and regional foods. But much of American culture has infiltrated the society, including the shining golden arches of McDonalds. Wurts took advantage of this by eating at the fast-food chain 59 times for an affordable taste of home.

Though he was there in July and August, it was the middle of winter and the temperatures were in the 50s.

"It snowed there and people just freaked out," he said. "It snowed on the top of a mountain where it hadn't snowed in seven years."

Now it is the middle of summer, but the country is getting ready to celebrate Christmas, Wurts said.

He visited a variety of places in the country, including the island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned during apartheid.

One of the most interesting things Wurts said he noticed was the shift in perspective that is necessary when you are in another part of the world.

"Even though the U.S. is the most powerful country in the world, it is not as powerful as they try to portray themselves," he said. "Going to South Africa, most of the people could care less what is going on in the U.S."

On the nightly news, American affairs may only get a couple of minutes of air time, Wurts said.

"It was like, 'Hey, there are 6 billion people in the world and hey, it doesn't revolve around you," Wurts said of expanding his world view.

Looking back, Wurts said he plans to return as soon as possible. He may even have a teaching job waiting on him if he wants it.

"It was phenomenal. I think the fact that I am trying to go back in the spring gives you an idea how much I enjoyed it," he said.