Upacking Soweto

This was probably one of the most intense days of our trip. We had a lot to unpack by the end of the day, but we’re all grateful for the experience.

Today we went on a walking tour of Soweto with a tour guide from the area who gave us some historical context for what we were seeing. 

Though I felt safe and welcomed the whole time, my discomfort with the class differences between us and the people we were visiting peaked here. I couldn’t help but feel intrusive as we walked through the streets, attracting attention everywhere we went. After reflecting throughout the day, I realize my discomfort stemmed from my desire to treat everyone I interacted with on this trip with the dignity Western stereotypes about Africa seek to strip from them. I was struggling to find a way to acknowledge the humanity of the people around us in a way that felt genuine while navigating a power dynamic that clearly favored us, the well-off American tourists. In the end, sitting with my feelings and considering appropriate ways to help the communities we saw helped me focus less on helping and more on engaging. I‘ve concluded that I can best help out by showing the aspects of South Africa we overlook when we hold simplistic, outdated views of what a place can be. I can also help by uplifting the voices of people with more expertise who are creating the change I’d like to see, with far more positive results than if I tried to shout over more relevant voices. Although I’m still processing the experience and refining how I navigate the world, I feel like a more culturally-competent, responsible traveler. 

Each of us seemed to deal with our feelings about the trip in a different way, whether we expressed it throughout the day or afterward during our debrief. However, I think we can all agree something within us has changed. When properly recognized and engaged with, discomfort creates growth. We’re lucky to experience this type of discomfort in a safe, supportive environment and have the opportunity to make ourselves better for it.

We visited the Zulu area, Middle Land, and Orlando west in Soweto today on a 3-hour walking tour, during which we also stopped by a Memorial Square for Soweto Uprising and Nelson Mandela’s house.

Memorial Plaza for the Soweto Uprising

Quite unexpectedly, throughout the tour, the view of Soweto as well as the lifestyle of its residents constantly reminded me of the villages that my grandparents come from.  This remote correspondence gave me a weird sense of human oneness: in the end, all humans originated from the African continent, and we are so similar by nature. It seems that throughout history, it is the story that we chose to tell that set ourselves apart. While people might have used storytelling to hurt and exploit, the power story-telling grants us the ability and responsibility to shape the future. 

After T-shirt printing with ASAP (a community partner that we visited two days ago) at lunch, we visited ALA’s community partner, the Villa of Hope. Some background information about the organization:

“The Villa of Hope is an NPO registered with the Department of Social Development as a Child and Youth Care Center. The organization focuses on the provision of superior care to those children who have been orphaned or require alternative care due to abuse, neglect, abandonment and children that are affected or infected by HIV and AIDS or other ill circumstances.” (Source: https://www.villaofhope.co.za/about/)

We were instantly greeted with curious and friendly looks of the kids, and they crowded us with the purest kindness and excitement. Once they knew that Angela and I were Chinese, they implored us to teach them Chinese phrases and expressions, and questioned us about our Kung-Fu abilities with so much passion that we were invited to fight each other in a live Kung-Fu demo. We did not actually fight (thankfully), but the kids’ desire to learn and their abilities to do so efficiently was moving. While other five or six-year-olds I have known loved sharing their stories and hobbies, our friends from the Villa of Hope desperately absorbs any piece of knowledge about the wider world, the world that we are from and have brought to them today. Abby told us that the mere thirty minutes that we spend with the kids would plant a seed in them; they would remember us, and ask about us over again when she goes back to visit. Our visit today is no doubt a powerful rebuttal for nihilism; no matter how futile our efforts might seem like in a cosmological scale, the influence we can make for those around us is very tangible. 

— Amy and Leela

Halfway through the adventure

We are officially halfway through our South African experience! We had another rich learning experience attending ALA classes and working on our BUILD projects. We are all doing well and feel fully apart of the ALA community.

Here are a couple of questions that were asked of group today:

  • What differences do you notice between ALA and Miss Porter’s School?
  • What has been your favorite part about the trip so far?
Ali and her chommie, Chebe

Differences: “One huge difference is that the students here are so open. They are always saying hello even when we don’t know each other and they spend all of their free time together on the quad.”

Favorite Part: “My favorite part has been seeing local art projects and artists in Maboneng and ASAP.”

— Ali
Maria and her chommie, Jonathan

Differences: “The differences are that here they have different traditions! The traditions are so much fun and a lot of music, dances and the energy is amazing! 

Favorite part: “My favorite part it’s everything honestly, but as I have to pick , I would say spending time with new people and my chommie!”

— Maria

Julia C and her chommie, Hiba

Difference: “I’ve noticed that ALA students are a lot more open than at Porter’s. Since our arrival everyone I’ve passed says hi, and in every class the students openly share about their histories, both of themselves and tier countries. I think this is because so many of the students come from all over Africa, instead of Porter’s where most of us are from the US.”

Favorite Part: “I really enjoyed the first day of classes, on Tuesday. it was a lot of fun to get to meet all of the different students in a classroom setting, and be able to compare and contrast the way that Porters and AL A classes are taught. I think that that was the day I was able to connect with the most new people.”

— Julia C.
Susan and her chommie, Kalina

Difference: “The main difference is that when I arrived here, ALA community is generally more welcoming. Whenever we see some ALA students on the hallway, they will always greet us. They are always willing to talk with us whenever we are alone.”

Favorite part: “My favorite part is the trip to Maboneng and Apartheid Museum. Even though I had been to South Africa before, I didn’t know enough about the culture and history. These trips helped me better understand the past and the still existing problems in South Africa. Besides all the amazing impressions of the nation, I was able to explore the not-so-great past of South Africa.”

— Susan
Scout and her chommie, Adams

Differences: “I noticed that ALA’s overall energy is very uplifting. I love the chanting they do and natural kindness that they always show. Just like Porter’s I feel like I have made some lifelong friends in such a short amount of time.”

Favorite Part: “I loved everything about the trip so far the excursions, the weather, the people we have met everything has been great.”

— Scout
Amy and her chommie, Jemimah

Differences: “Surprisingly, I found much more similarities between ALA and MPS than expected. Classroom styles are discussion-based and students are engaged and thoughtful. The biggest difference that I noticed is ALA’s passion and action to develop the potentials of the African continent. The curriculum focus heavily on African studies, and the Entrepreneurial Leadership courses especially encourage students to identify and solve local problems in their home countries. While Porter’s also does a great job at preparing the students to shape a changing world, our focus seem to be broader and more leaning towards understanding world-wide problems than taking actions to solve them (which is hard for high school students for sure). Additionally, while Porter’s has more racial diversity, ALA’s diversity comes from different nationalities, languages, and backgrounds, which constantly reminds me that diversity really lies beyond external identifiers. I appreciate both school’s effort to expose students to multi-faceted communities.”

Favorite Part: “My favorite part was meeting founder and facilitators of the After School Art Program (ASAP) and learning about their stories. Originally a toilet artist, the founder of ASAP invested herself into solving the challenge of youth idleness, drug abuse and teenage pregnancy by making the most of her expertise, arts. The program now provides arts opportunity for many teenagers in Soweto. I find her story deeply empowering: social entrepreneurs really see challenges as opportunities, and take initiatives to solve the problems. I plan to stay in touch with the founder, and I aspire to be a change maker like her in the future.”


Mel and her chommie, Imani

Difference: “A big difference between ALA and Porters is that ALA has students from all across Africa and its coed.

Favorite part: “So far my favorite part of the trip has been attending classes because they are so different to anything I have experienced. I got to sit in on an African studies class which was so much fun and a writing rhetorics class where we discussed how to write about Africa and views on languages in different countries.

— Mel
Angela and her chommie, Ona

Difference:  “Porters and ALA are really different when it comes to the community. I really like the bond between the student in ALA and the ‘families’ that has every role required for a functioning family: a mother, a father, sisters and brothers. I really like how ALA has snack hours that helps me to be full meanwhile not snacking too much like I do back at Porter’s dinning hall. “

Favorite part: “My favorite part about the trip is the people. I love the late night quad walks and I’m surprised at how much I’ve gotten to know my roommates and my chommie. I love to see how much effort people put into both academics and sports! It’s just been really inspiring so far.”

— Angela
Leela and her chommie, Eugenia

Differences: “The campus is very modern and open! There’s a huge quad in the middle with lots of grass and tables to eat outside. It’s stunning! The students have rivalries between different dorms that can get quite spirited. Everyone has a lot of school pride! The student body is very diverse with students from 43 different countries. This means students speak different languages and dress differently, but they are all committed to being community leaders.

Favorite Part: “I loved chatting with French-speaking students! We had lots of things to share with each other about being non-European Francophones, and I think I made some friends! My dorm, Valkyrie, is very lively and welcoming. Everyone living there helped make my transition to the ALA environment easier by being so kind to me! The food! I could eat it for weeks. I really loved evening snack time in particular because I got to meet new students and chat about food!”

— Leela
Julia T. and her chommie, Priscilla

Differences: “One big difference between ALA and Porters is how many things students run. One example is today at advisory lunch, my chommie’s advisor didn’t show up. Instead of leaving to do other things, the students in the advisory “family” organized a game of heads up.”

Favorite part: “One small thing I really liked is evening snack time. All of the ALA students are coming from prep and it is a nice social time. It’s great to get something to eat and meet some people.”

— Julia T.

Amy in advisory
Julia C. with her advisory

Advisory lunch 🙂

— Sarah & Cate

Community, Culture, and Caring Individuals

Today’s Agenda:

  • Teaching Africa class with Germantown Friends School (PA)
  • Meeting Community Partner, ASAP (After School Art Program)
  • BUILD Sessions

In the morning, we had an intensive “Teaching Africa” session with the Germantown Friends School (GFS). We focused mainly on the theory of The Other and how it manifests in both South Africa and the US, through analyzing photographs.

In groups of 4-5, we broke down excerpts from an essay “Theorizing the ‘Other’” to better understand how humans historically construct binary us-them paradigms, and how “othering” inform the conception of “self.” We moved on to big group discussions in which we analyzed “othering” captured in photos, and drew connections between segregation in South Africa and the US (for instance, Apartheid and red-lining). We then dived into the ethics of “othering,” contemplating the ten qualities that “makes humans human” and their absence in “othering.”

This discussion furthered our knowledge about the history of South Africa from the Apartheid Museum a few days ago and informed us of the power dynamics and underlying causes beneath historical events. Learning about the advocacy and initiative of South African youth was deeply empowering as well. With more awe and respect for the change makers in South Africa, we set out for the afternoon’s visit to one of Soweto’s local change leader, After School Art Program (ASAP).

One of the photos we discussed in our Teaching Africa class.

After talking with the initiator, Nthabiseng, we learned that ASAP is a platform for youth idleness and creative art ideas, from photography to DJ’ing. 

Nthabiseng’s life experience is inspirational. She started as a toilet artist. Who knew! One day during her work, she met a girl drinking with the realization that the girl was still in school. After their talk about the girl’s passion and future career plans, the girl invited her to come to her school and help with the after school programs. In this way, she created After School Art Program (ASAP) aiming to reduce drug use, teenager pregnancy and many other existing problems in Soweto. 

Nthaibiseng also shared ASAP’s income source. A non-profit organization, ASAP acquires its funding mostly from donations, commissions (like wall paint), as well as sales of home-made art products like notebooks, T-shirts and jewelry. 

When asked about the greatest challenges she faced, Nthabiseng pointed out the difficulty to find good spaces for ASAP: the organization had to move frequently, from schools to people’s houses and many other locations. Despite the hardships, Nthabiseng is determined to make ASAP better. Even though they still have to share the current house with another group, ASAP had started to collaborate with a nearby NGO and expand ASAP to children headed families in the NGO. 

Group photo with ASAP

Besides the many teenagers in the neighborhood, the facilitators at ASAP also felt like the organization had helped much in their personal growths. They felt lucky that to find a space to explore their identity and self-worth and to showcase their skills to broader audience. They also cherish the opportunity to collaborate with other like-minded people and gain confidence. 

Before leaving, Nthabiseng advised us to believe in the purpose and what people can achieve throughout the BUILD process, a piece of wisdom we carried with us into our BUILD session tonight.

After dinner, we continued to BUILD! After reviewing the big-picture world problems as well as the relevant community problems we identified yesterday, we picked three that we were most passionate about to share with the group. We then formed groups of two or three based on our interest. The grouping/problem are as followings:

Scout, Ali & Julia | Toxic judgement from social media

Mel & Maria | Mental health issues

Angela & Leela | Respect (respect for ground staff; respect for names of people from different backgrounds)

Amy, Julia & Susan | Disposable Utensils and Cups on campus

We as a class would focus on solving these problems within the Porter’s community first.

To further clear up our problem identification, we worked on constructing a temporary “need statement,” in the format of:

(WHO) needs (WHAT) because (SO THAT) in order to (WHY). An example from my (Amy’s) group would be:

Miss Porter’s needs an effective alternative to disposable utensils and cups because of our big consumption of these products, in order to reduce waste, relieve financial burden, and raise environmental awareness.

Group photo

Tomorrow, we would continue to understand our problem more through investigations in both the MPS and ALA community. We all look forward to seeing wonderful solutions that we would have by next Tuesday! 🙂 For now, sweet dreams!

— Amy & Susan

Classes with chommies :)

Today we got to go to classes with our chommies!!  It was so much fun and we learned a lot of new things. I, Maria, got to go to economics, math, EL, and history. I went with my chommie, Jonathan. It was really nice seeing how students interact a lot with each other and how they all have a strong connection with the teachers. My favorite class was EL which stands for entrepreneurial leadership. My group was working on a smoothie business and it was awesome.

As mentioned above,  we got to classes with our chommies. The classes I, Scout, got to go to were EL, biology, math, and African Studies. My favorite class that I participated in was African Studies. We recreated the map of Africa with a long piece of string. Then each student was assigned a different colonizing country and had to pick a part of Africa to colonize. Another class that I really enjoyed was EL. We started off the class by playing mafia! My chomie, Adams, was working on a project and his topic was water pollution. He taught me how the process of the project worked and showed me his progress on his own. 

Susan and Angela
Julia T, Amy, Scout, Julia C, and Maria
Leela and Mel

After we had lunch, which was SO GOOD! We had chicken fingers and fries!! We got to sit with our chommies and we had house lunch. It was super fun, they sang and danced.

Julia T. working on her PICS (passion, interest, cause, and skill)
Julia and Scout working on their PICS

After classes we had BUILD! We started with the first letter of the acronym which was: Believe. As shown above we created posters. The task was to find four pictures and connect them to the words passion, interest, cause, and skills.

  1. Passion – desire for something
  2. Interest – something you would like to learn more about 
  3. Cause – something you like to advocate for 
  4. Skills – something you are talented at 

We got to learn from each other and see how we observe and interpret things differently. 

Overall, today was a really eventful day and we had a lot of fun having a real day in the life experience. We got to see the structure in class and compare and contrast it to our classes. We found that the learning was a lot more intrinsically motivated than our classes. We also found similarities in the dynamics in the classroom and the relationships with the teachers.

— Maria and Scout

Learning from the past while shaping the future

This morning we went to the Apartheid Museum. It was so interesting to learn about the history of South Africa. When we got there, we were given tickets that sorted us as either white (blankes) or non-whites (non-blankes). We went through two different entrances to see the different identifications. They also had life-sized images of descendants of Johannesburg to show how diverse it is and was. One really interesting thing was a virtual reality video about Walter Sisulu, also known as accused number two. He was an activist with Nelson Mandela, and they served over 25 years together in prison. He dropped out of school at 14 and was known for his heart and compassion. Some worlds we used to describe our experience were “important,” “intense,” “meaningful,” “heavy,” “powerful,” and “depressing.”

Group photo at the Apartheid museum

After we returned, we went to assembly, which is like our morning meeting. It had dances, announcements, and even a joke!! It was so exciting to see the whole school clapping and cheering for their classmates. They played two truths and a lie on stage and two students did a dance. They also had a message from the dean about not letting setbacks feel like you don’t belong and believing in yourself in order to engage fully at ALA.

After that, we had sports practice. They have basketball, soccer, volleyball, and netball teams. We both really admired the other students’ passion and determination during their practices, even under the hot sun. It was a great way to get to know ALA students in another setting. 

Scout at Volleyball

This evening we had hall meetings. Malaika played “never have I ever” and talked about the culture in the dorm. Valkyrie debated hall decorations for the term, discussed how to welcome exchange students arriving this Saturday, and joked around with each other. They really made the three Porter’s students staying there feel welcome! 

Julia C, Leela, and Julia T at Basketball

After hall meetings we went to BUILD, which stands for Believe, Understand, Invent, Listen, and Deliver. We talked about what it means to have a human-centered experience. We also played a problem-solving game on the soccer field. Though it seemed impossible at first, we were able to conquer the challenge together as a team. The skills we practiced during this activity will surely help us engage with BUILD for the rest of our time here.

Debriefing on the turf after BUILD

We’re really looking forward to attending class with our chommies tomorrow! Stay tuned for the next blog post tomorrow!
Sincerely, Julia and Leela

Adventure in Maboneng

After a much needed night of rest, we boarded the bus for our excursion to the Maboneng Precinct.

First, we stopped at Carlton Center, a 50-story skyscraper which once stood as the tallest building in all of Africa. From the top story, we were able to see all of Johannesburg, including Maboneng. 

As we learned, Maboneng is an area full of artwork, restaurants, and shops. Our tour guide, a Johannesburg native, told us that Maboneng means a place of light. We made stops on our walking tour to view murals and learn about Maboneng’s history. Our tour guide made a point to tell us about how people should live, work, and have fun in the same place. Maboneng seems like the perfect place to find all of those things.

One of our favorite murals depicted Nelson Mandela boxing, which the tour guide told us was one of Mandela’s  hobbies. “That’s how he survived in prison so long and still was able to run the country!” he joked. 

After the tour, we had lunch at a marketplace. Many different cuisines were offered including Lebanese, Chinese, South African vegan, and South African American fusion. We enjoyed a vegan coconut fried rice meal served in a lettuce bowl and a chicken burger with vegetables and South African sauces. 

There were also boutique shops in the marketplace, which sold traditional South African clothing and home goods.

Overall it was a very enjoyable and interesting day. We had a lot of fun getting closer with both our individual chommies and other peoples’ chommies.

We all look forward to visiting the Apartheid museum tomorrow.  That’s all for now – Ali & Julia C.

Day 1: Embracing the warmth and new friends

Today, we were warmly welcomed by our chommies!!! They are all super friendly and so excited to have us. They helped us carry our luggage to our rooms for the next two weeks and then we were able to rest because having a group lunch.

I, Angela, spent a while with my chommie before lunch, and she’s really passionate about African history and geography. It was really interesting to learn about a subject that I previously lacked knowledge in. For lunch there was yellow rice, couscous, sausage, and chicken. After lunch we had a few bonding activities and a tour of campus. There is even a really cool water system last year graduates made which includes an aquaponics and live bacteria that filters water.

Arriving on campus

Then we were able to relax in the sun and play volleyball and badminton in the quad. We had a special dinner with our chommies and reflected the day with PENX afterward. It was a very busy day but very rewarding. Can’t wait till tomorrow’s adventures! – Mel & Angela

Making new friends on the bus shuttle
Excited to stretch their legs
Angela, Ali, Julia C, Mel, Scout, and Maria

The group arrived in Johannesburg and are at ALA!

After traveling for 20 hours or so, the group has finally arrived in-country! Everyone is tired but happy to finally be there. The moved through customs without incident, picked up some last minute items, and boarded the bus to the African Leadership Academy (ALA). Upon arrival they were welcomed by their Chommies (host students) and ALA staff for a short reception before moving their luggage into their dorm rooms which will be home for the next two weeks.

Susan, Cate, Amy and Sarah at baggage claim in Johannesburg
About to board the ALA bus at the Johannesburg airport.

Cate and Sarah report that our students jumped right into the activities and fun despite feeling a bit of jet lag! All are doing well.

Our group arriving on the ALA campus and being welcomed by their Chommies
Our students participating in ice breakers with their new friends.

Stay tuned for more pictures and updates!

Wheels are up and the group is en route to Johannesburg!

The South Africa group is en route! After a 5:00am departure from Farmington, they arrived at JFK with time for some food (apparently lots of Shake Shack!) and rest before boarding their South African Airways Flight #204 for Johannesburg. Sarah and Cate reported that everyone is feeling good and very excited to start their journey. 

Boarding their flight!
On board and ready to fly to Johannesburg!

The group is due to arrive in Johannesburg tomorrow, Saturday, January 11th at 8:59am local time which is 1:59am Eastern Standard Time. I will update this blog once the group has arrived in South Africa.

Stay tuned!

Welcome to the 19-20 Porter’s in South Africa Blog!

We are excited for this 11th grade InterMission class to begin their incredible journey to The African Leadership Academy (ALA) in Johannesburg, South Africa!

You can expect to receive updates once daily on this blog. Please keep in mind that the time in South Africa will be 7 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time so the postings may not happen on a schedule that makes sense in your time zone. This blog is the place to find pictures, videos and reflections from students and faculty on the trip, as well as to receive daily updates about the group’s activities and experiences. We are asking our faculty trip leaders to post all materials so that students can be present for every moment and so that they will not worry about posting to the blog in a timely manner.

We also strongly encourage you to keep contact with your children to a minimum during the immersion, which will allow them to fully experience the life and community of the school. Emailing periodically is a great way to touch base with without disrupting their experiences in school and other activities. We strongly discourage texting and phone calls for the duration of this cultural immersion.

It is going to be a FANTASTIC experience for all and we look forward to sharing it with you on this blog.