By Kristen Miller
DARWIN, MN Sarah Levinski, daughter of Jim and Kate Levinski of Darwin, recently returned after spending nearly five months in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.
Levinski’s travels and studies were through an exchange program between St. Cloud State University and Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth.
The college junior, who is majoring in travel and tourism, left July 9 and returned Nov. 23.
The program not only included studying in a foreign country, but Levinski also participated in community service and volunteer opportunities with the native youth.
Twice a week, Levinski would work with 13 third graders inside a township recreation building.
Similar to a mentorship program, Levinski helped the kids with homework after school. She also helped teach them life lessons such as drug education, water pollution, sharing, and teamwork.
At times, it was like working with “little troublemakers,” she said. But after they got to know one another better, it became a lot easier, Levinski said.
“I liked playing with the kids and learning from them,” she said.
What was sad for Levinski was how much these young third graders knew about such things as drugs.
Levinski, being white and in a third world country, was advised not to go outside the township hall.
It was a country in which its citizens couldn’t even trust their own police because of corruption.
Levinski explained how bar owners could pay police to do illegal activity.
Even post-apartheid, Levinski could see the country was still segregated from whites and blacks.
“There was a stigma toward black people,” Levinski said. Also, it was found to be offensive to stand up against racism, she explained.
Many areas of the country seemed very developed and “first world” to Levinski, while just across the street could be “third world.”
The college she attended was very beautiful, Levinski said, and although the campus was similar in size to St. Cloud’s, the educational structure was quite different.
While attending, Levinski took general courses such as South African history, but the semesters were cut in half.
For the first half, Levinski would take one set of classes, and the other half, a second set.
Then, at the end of the semester, students would take tests for all of the courses both the first and second half.
“That was really intense and different,” Levinski said.
Tests would be taken in a large gymnasium, according to Levinski. Students would be given two hours for one test. On the test, they could pick two of four questions and answer each question in three to five pages.
While in South Africa, Levinski took some time to travel the country and see just how different it was from coast to coast.
Levinski traveled to Coffee Bay, which is in the Eastern Cape, and then to Cape Town, which is on the Western Cape.
Cape Town was more westernized and more of a tourist destination, whereas Coffee Bay was more traditional African culture, according to Levinski.
Although Levinski never visited a wild game park, she did see some African wildlife, including an elephant, a giraffe, and a lot of ostriches, she said.
The South African culture is very laid-back, Levinski said.
“Time wasn’t an issue,” she said.
There was a phrase people used if someone was late for a meeting, “TIA,” or “this is Africa.”
Of all the things Levinski experienced in Africa, working with the kids will always be the most memorable for her, she said.