“They couldn’t compare to ‘Iowa nice,’ I guess you could say,” Emily Montgomery, a Newton native, said of her recent trip to Port Elizabeth, South Africa, which is nicknamed “The Friendly City”
She didn’t mean this in a disrespectful way, but rather to showcase how nice she feels people are in Iowa and the rest of the Midwest.
“It was funny. One of the locals I met in the grocery store went, ‘Oh, I bet you are loving it here. I’m sure the people are way nicer than wherever you are from in the U.S.,’” Emily said with a grin. “I was like, ‘Well, I’m from the Midwest, and people are really nice there.”
Emily was in South Africa as a part of the University of Northern Iowa’s study abroad program and chose to go there because she “had always wanted to go to Africa.” She studied at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, where she earned 12 credits toward her Bachelor of Science in Nursing, and had a lot of first time experiences.
“I had never been on a plane before, so I was really scared and I didn’t know anyone going,” Emily said. “But, I was more excited than scared about anything. The new culture was definitely shocking and we were like, ‘What is going on? when we first got there.’ That was said very often.”
Emily said sometimes miscommunication happened because of the different languages spoken and unique English language slang words locals used.
“When we first got there, they told us our accommodations was two minutes from school, but it was actually two miles from school,” she continued. “So, it was OK and we were like, ‘This is just something we will have to get used to.’ So, we walked two miles to school every day and it was just another way to socialize and get to know each other better.”
Emily may not have known anyone in her program when she arrived, but those long walks helped her form bonds with her classmates who became like a surrogate family for her, she said. While she could have easily limited her social circle in the four-plus months she was there, she wanted to fully immerse herself in her new surroundings and had one special classmate to thank for helping her connect with locals.
“It was Nelson Mandela’s great-grandson and it was in my political history class,” Emily said. “My professor was speaking one day and he goes, ‘Oh, yeah. If you have any questions over Apartheid just ask (Siyabuela) Mandela back there.’ We were like, ‘Oh, you’re funny.,’ and then after class he introduced himself to the international students.”
Emily said Siyabuela, who goes by Siya for short, was the perfect ambassador for the people of South Africa and really made her and the other international student feel comfortable there.
“When he introduced himself to us, he was like, ‘I want to welcome you guys to South Africa and if you guys ever want to hangout... he was just the nicest person,” Emily said. “He helped us with a lot of things. We had to write a few papers in that class and our final essays were over Apartheid, so we hung out with him a lot.”
Bonding with Siya made Emily want to change the way she interacts with international students she encounters here in America.
“We don’t really think about just going up and introducing ourselves to the international students here,” Emily said.”But now, I definitely want to do that a lot more. Especially after meeting him, he was so welcoming and that’s how we learned more about their culture. Just by getting to know him.”
Siya’s impact on her allowed Emily and her classmates to want to fully immerse themselves into the local culture and inspired them “not to be the typical study aboard students.” While they did the typical things like studying, exploring and have a good time, they went an extra mile to get a true feel for their surroundings.
Emily said they visited a different church every Sunday, they raised funds and volunteered to take 60 underprivileged preschool children on a field trip to a farm and in her spare time, she worked at a “baby haven.”
“I just think that was an amazing experience for us and for them,” Emily said of the farm trip. “Most of them had never been in a car or outside of their township. It was so much fun. They were just singing and so excited on the bus and we had a ton of volunteers, which was just awesome.”
She admits that she and her classmates took some risks while over there, but said thanks to the prayers of their families back home and using “Street Smarts” they never had anything go seriously wrong for them.
Although she was gone for more than four months, Emily said she wasn’t quite ready to leave, even as she celebrated her 21st birthday in Port Elizabeth. Now that she’s back in the states, she plans on finishing up her major at Allen College in Waterloo.
It’s hard to sum up a journey that included everything from feeding elephants to finding reasonably priced transportation, but Emily feels she learned a lot both inside and outside the classroom.
“I’m a lot more grateful for everything I get to do,” she said. “I think the biggest thing I’ll take away is just being thankful for having a job and for being able to go to a good school. The things we usually take for granted and complain about.”
Staff writer Ty Rushing may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 426, or at, email@example.com