John Anderson '16 - South Africa
John Anderson, has always firmly portrayed his own identity among colleagues as an academic, an entrepreneur, artist and explorer. He makes his daily trip from Cheraw, South Carolina to attend O’Neal. To say that education is important would be an understatement in his family. Like many families at O’Neal, education is important enough to commute, but their journey is probably the longest. His pottery and drawings have frequented the O’Neal auction floor on many occasions. He, with help from his brother, has a vibrant business of selling eggs produced from his chickens. In fact, he supplies many O’Neal faculty members with his product. Such revenue has afforded him the opportunity to explore many vast places around the globe and when the opportunity arose to spend a year abroad, John took the challenge.
The Kennedy Lugar Youth Exchange and Study(KL YES) Abroad Scholarship is a program that is fully funded by the U.S. Department of State, and is administered by the YES Consortium, led by American Councils for International Education in partnership with AFS Intercultural Programs (AFS), the American-Mideast Educational and Training Service (AMIDEAST), and the International Education and Resource Network (iEARN). The purpose of the program is to send American youth to predominantly Muslim countries to engage in activities to learn about the host country’s society and values while helping to educate others about American society and values in order to break down the American stereotype. While at a young age, a learning exchange of cultures helps to grow understanding and tolerance of different beliefs and ways of living.
John was one of 65 finalists from a pool of 120 semifinalists across the nation. The final selection was extremely competitive involving personal interviews and evaluations in Washington, D.C. The finalists were sent to 10 different countries. John was one of 5 assigned to South Africa.
After an orientation in New York and brief stay in Johannesburg and then to George, South Africa, John arrived in Mossel Bay on September 24, 2013. Shark capital of the world, Mossel Bay is accessible to the ocean, the flatlands, rain forest as well as the mountains. Geographically speaking, it was the best of all worlds. Though John never saw a shark, he did see whales.
His host family consisted of a 64-year-old woman who lived by herself. She worked from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. every day. The house was not located in the best of neighborhoods. “We ate the same food for supper, every night,” exclaimed John.
In South Africa there are three races – white, colored and black. There are eleven national languages, English, Africaans (similar to Dutch) and nine tribal languages. The blacks spoke the tribal languages and the one spoken most often in Mossel Bay was Xhosa, a clicking language. The whites spoke English or Africaans and the colored spoke Africaans.
John attended the Hillcrest School where out of 1100 students he was one of 5 white students. There were also 5 white teachers. The enrollment was 60% colored and 40% black. “In the classrooms, we were supposed to speak English, but that wasn’t always the case,” says John. “The Xhosa language was used a lot.” School started at 8:00 a.m. and ended at 2:00 p.m.. There were two 30-minute breaks in the day. Each classroom had a light bulb hanging from the ceiling. “The building was not clean, the school had a low level of educational standards, computers were only located in the administrative offices,” says John. “This year, I have a lot of academic catching up to do.” As an opportunist, while he as there, John did make an effort to learn the Xhosa language.
Since there were no extracurricular activities happening with his current host family, John decided to seek out Scouts. An active member of Scouts in the states, it was an activity he was familiar with and it gave an opportunity to get to know others. He developed a close camaraderie with his scout leader, Pat Farnhan, who, after John was mugged twice outside of his host family home, took John in to be hosted by his wife and family for the rest of his stay. Though John could have changed schools as well, he chose to stick it out at the same school for the rest of his time there. English and Africaans were the two main languages of the house. John had two host brothers, who were 19 and 20. They attended college, but they came home frequently during school holidays. In addition to hiking, camping, and gardening, John’s host grandmother took him on numerous excursions covering the southern part of the Western Cape.
As a part of Scouts, he had a chance to earn several merit badges as well as participate in the Patrol Leader Training Unit (PLTU), a training course in Cape Town. Part of the training included being woken up at 4:30am, blindfolded and driven to the top of a mountain, where it took the scouts all day to hike down the mountain – finding their own way. The Scouts of South Africa include both boys and girls. English was spoken involving scout activities, but there was one girl who spoke Xhosa, and little English. Because John had picked up some of the Xhosa language, he helped her with translation during Scout activities. “If you have accomplished the goal of changing the perception of at least one person, you’ve done your job, and I feel that I’ve done that” states John.
John left Mossel Bay on July 10, 2014. He stopped over to Washington, D.C. to make a presentation for the Department of State. He since has been asked to participate on a committee to review the KL YES program to offer up improvements for the future. As a capstone project, John compiled a cookbook of recipes that he collected from those close to him in South Africa.
As for future travels, John plans for a trip over spring break. When John was applying for the KL YES scholarship, his father told him that if he won the scholarship, he would buy him an airline ticket to anywhere he wanted to go. John is holding him to his word.