By Jennifer Von Ohlen
DASSEL, COKATO, MN Although students spend some of their high school years learning about different cultures in a classroom, many will agree it is nothing compared to experiencing these countries firsthand.
Twelve Dassel-Cokato High School students from the agriculture and athletics departments experienced the latter form of education after spending two weeks in South Africa over the summer.
The trip was designed to expose students to the country’s agricultural and sporting activities, and compare them to those of the US.
While the agriculture students found there to be quite a few similarities in how the South Africans worked their crops, they agreed the methods used were more like those of 1960s and ‘70s America.
“The biggest planter I saw was a four-row, three-point planter,” stated Jack Zeidler, “and the biggest tractor was a 300 series Massey Ferguson, which is super small. Around here, nowadays, that would be a tractor to pull wagons around.”
Because of the expenses needed to maintain this equipment and keep it fueled, the locals only use the machinery for a few of their crops, such as maize, potatoes, sugar beets, and beetroot. Everything else chili pepper, cabbage, lettuce is cared for by hand.
The students athletes also had a few cultural aspects of their own to compare while learning some of the country’s most popular sports: rugby, soccer, netball, and cricket.
“It was fun to see the similarities for excitement that sports bring to families’’ homes,” stated Katelyn Lee. “We even got the chance to play netball a couple of times against some of their high school students. We definitely didn’t understand the rules, but they helped us out a little bit and taught us the positions and roles of each person.”
The two departments even had a bit of a crossover, as almost all of the rugby and soccer fields had animals grazing on them. One goat even started interacting with the players (who had to shoo the animal away to continue the game), and a few big bulls roamed freely on a college campus they visited.
“The field at Pandulwazi [High School] was covered in animal manure, and [the local students] were playing out there barefoot,” stated agriculture student Kaitlyn Niska, who was grossed out by the endeavor even if the piles were dried up.
Athlete Katelyn Lee also stated that many in the DC company “started to get sick of the everyday occurrence of chicken, rice, and vegetables,” which are normal dishes for the locals. Lee also noted that pop and juice are the common beverage choices for all meals.
Athlete Jessica Cron, on the other hand, noted some of the more unusual dishes they ate there, such as cow stomach, chicken feet, and chicken head.
“It was . . . umm . . . interesting,” she commented.
Life on another side of the world
While the trip was designed to expose students to the importance of culture, agriculture, sports, and the history of the country, just about every student admitted it was the locals who made the biggest impact.
“People have it a lot worse than we got,” stated agriculture student Dylan Terning, “and they’re a lot happier with a lot less.”
One part of the trip that really demonstrated this was the students’ visit to a shanty town where the population of 1 million lives in tiny tin huts packed with six to eight people, and not much else.
Even though the shanty town wasn’t much to look at, Zeidler shared that the town is “a blessing” to those who live there.
Before the shanty town was established, families were split, as the men moved to Cape Town (located nearby) to work. In an effort to keep everyone together, the shanty towns were constructed so the men would have a place to bring their families, and they could all live together once again.
While the students’ trip included a safari, hiking, tours, and other tourist attractions, athlete Kayla Grochow said visiting the shanty town was the best part for her.
“There was not a lot of money at all, and seeing how they did not need a lot to survive [that] they only needed each other [and] they were grateful for everything that was so powerful,” she said.
“They live off of close to nothing, but still are so happy with what they have,” Lee added. “Our society makes it hard to believe in your own happiness from not having a lot in your closet or not having a lot of toys to play with. We need to learn that it doesn’t matter how much you have, but that the people around you that love you are all you need to make yourself happy.”
In addition to their homelife, the local children also get by with few resources in their schools, such as coverless textbooks (that get passed between 40 students), no internet, computers from the 1990s, and a library (the size of half a classroom) with mostly books from before 1980.
“We are just swimming in stuff compared to what their schools have,” FFA advisor Larry Marquette stated.
In addition to the absence of supplies, the DC students were also surprised how warmly they were received by the local students.
“We walk[ed] in, and they all start[ed] cheering like we’re the celebrities of the school,” Niska stated.
“It was like we were the celebrities of the entire country!” exclaimed Zeidler.
Marquette explained that tourists typically don’t visit that part of South Africa. So, for many of the students, it was their first time seeing white-toned people or Americans.
“They loved to see white people,” Cron stated. “They would ask if they could touch my hair, because their hair is so different and they had never touched hair other than their ethnic group’s hair.”
The South Africans were also quite interested in learning about America, and asked Grochow and Lee to show them some of their belongings in their backpacks.
“I pulled out my book that I had brought, “Two by Two,” written by Nicholas Sparks, and they were amazed,” said Lee. “They passed it around and were peering to see this simple, everyday object that we take for granted. It was very clear to me at this point, like many other times throughout the trip, how thankful I am for everything that I am given and have the opportunity of taking on.”
‘They’ve learned to forgive us’
Although the people of South Africa may not have much to offer materialistically, they have much to give spiritually.
During their tour of Cape Town, the students’ guide told them about the apartheid years of South Africa (1948-1991) which segregated the nonwhite majority from the white minority population after an all-white government came to power.
The students also learned about Nelson Mandela, who was arrested for his strong involvement in the antiapartheid movement. He remained incarcerated for 27 years. He would later become the president of South Africa in 1994.
“After apartheid, everyone was so against the white people,” Zeidler recalled. “So, after Mandela got out of prison, he went and encouraged the entire country to just forgive.”
“He said he will forever be imprisoned until he learns to forgive them,” agriculture student Eric Meredith added.
Zeidler continued, “He said if you can’t learn to forgive the person that did you wrong, then you are forever their slave.”
Meredith believes it is because of Mandela’s message that the locals were so open and welcoming to them.
“They’ve learned to forgive us,” he said. “Even though we’ve done such horrible things, they don’t care that we’ve done them anymore. Like, sure, it still affects them, but they’ve learned that they just need to forgive us and just try to make it more of a peaceful time so we don’t have something like that happening again.”
With the union of its people in the mid 1990s, South Africa became known as the ‘Rainbow Nation,’ and continues to embrace that title today.
In having experienced South African hospitality firsthand, visiting different areas of the country, and partaking in the local activities, Lee said she could not imagine learning more on a trip than she had on this one.
“This trip was an eye opener that the world still has good in it, and there is still hope,” she said.