Wheels are up and the South Africa group is on their way to JFK!

After many teary goodbyes and lots of hugs as the group departed from the African Leadership Academy, they arrived at the airport with plenty of time to shop and buy snacks for the flight. Cate and Sarah reported that all were in good spirits and looking forward to returning home.

Julia, Leela and Amy are ready for takeoff!
Maria, Scout and Julia with Ali, Angela and Mel are boarded and ready to take off!

The group boarded their South Africa Airway flight #203 to JFK which was delayed by 1.5 hours and they are currently in air. SAA flight 203 is due to arrive at 7:25am EST tomorrow (Thursday, 1/24) at JFK. Once they have landed, collected their luggage and passed through immigration, I will give you an updated estimated time of arrival at Porter’s.

Chasing Waterfalls

Today was our last full day in South Africa. We woke up and had breakfast on campus and then we headed out to the Walter Sisulu botanical gardens. We explored the gardens finding new creatures and beautiful waterfalls. We went on a fairly adventurous and strenuous hike much too many of our surprises. 

Group shot at the Walter Sisulu botanical gardens

The garden was a great way to reflect on our experiences. It was beautiful and sunny. We got some good exercise in before our night flight. Upon returning to campus we relaxed had a bit of free time hang out with our Chommies. Some of us even went to the last class of the day – just for fun! Everyone feels like they’ve made lasting connections. 

Group shot at the Walter Sisulu botanical gardens

Just before dinner we packed up and headed off to the airport. There were many tears and it took us a while to leave campus as it was hard to say goodbye to everyone. 

Group shot with our Chommies before leaving campus

Upon our arrival to the airport we were able to quickly get through security and to our gate. We had a family style dinner at Piece of Pizza. Most of us enjoyed American style food such as pizza and burgers. We are all sad to be going home, but glad to have had the experience.

Family dinner at the airport before our flight

BUILDing a better future

“A short episode in Porter’s long history of shaping a changing world.” – Amy

Today we had BUILD all day. BUILD stands for Believe, Understand, Invent, Listen, Deliver. This is a class we have been taking since we got here. In groups, we identified a problem in the Porter’s community and come up with a solution. 

In the morning, we added the finishing touched to our presentations. We presented our solutions to the rest of the class and received feedback. Leela and Angela talked about respect on campus, especially regarding people of different backgrounds and cultures. They proposed professional development so our faculty can set an example for students. Maria and Mel proposed a mental health club to improve mental health at Porter’s. They proposed cooperation with health center and provide stress relief for the community. Julia C, Scout, and Ali proposed an affirmation program where students write down affirmations for themselves and others to help students stop judging themselves. At the end of presentation, they gave out post-it notes so that we have positive affirmation during the day. Julia T, Amy, and Susan worked on helping our community reduce its use of disposable cups on campus to “save money, save the planet, and save ourselves.” We hope to implement our solutions when we get back to campus.

Here is the link to view our BUILD presentations.

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

Every Tuesday we have house lunch. Each house is composed of five advisory “families.” Usually we eat on chairs and blankets outside with our chommies and their houses. Since Founders Day is on Saturday, we decided who would be participating in which activities. We enjoyed sitting outside in the quad in the sunshine. Before we leave, house lunches end in a chant from each house. Everyone is very excited and enthusiastic!!

We finished our day with our last dinner at ALA. We had a special dinner with our chommies, similar to the one we had when we first arrived. It was nice to spend time together with our Chommies and bonding one last time. 

In the evening, we held a Gratitude session and reflected on our time at ALA and our time with our Chommie. We distressed by playing music, dancing, and doing face-masks. We ended our evening enjoying cake and ice cream with our chommies. Such a great, fun last night!

Tomorrow, we have a fun full day at the Walter Sisulu Gardens before heading to the airport in the evening.

— Julia T & Susan

The Rainbow Nation

Today we went to the Lesedi Cultural Village. In the village, we saw colorful walls, paintings, historical cultural artifacts from South Africa, and learned about various traditions. The cultural village highlights the cultures of five different South African tribes: Zulu, Xhosa, Pedi, Basotho, and the Ndebele. Various traditions were expressed through art by using colors. For example, it was shared with us that bright colors were used to express happiness whereas dark or neutral colors were used to express sadness.  Just like their artwork, the South african flag is also very colorful because it represents so many different people from so many different cultures. The colors on the flag represent the following: blue is for the ocean, green is for the land, yellow is for mineral wealth under the land, red is for blood and sacrifice, black is for the native people, and white is for the Europeans. 

Lesedi Cultural Village

At the Lesedi Cultural Village there was a market area. We were able to explore and see traditional hand-made south african objects such as clothing, jewelry, and masks. There, we were able to buy souvenirs for our friends and family as well as dive deeper into the historical backgrounds of the various artifacts.  Many of us bought traditional print bucket hats, bracelets, and wooden animals. 

Traditional Zulu Mask
handmade bracelets
handmade ties

After we bought our souvenirs, we went on a tour of the cultural village where we saw replicas of the homesteads of the five different tribes and how they live. We got to sample the tribes traditional food such as caterpillars. Although not all of us were as adventurous, many of us tried a traditional corn and bean recipe. 

In the village, we saw tribal homes and learned how people would greet each other in the tribal language. One takeaway was the different roles between men and women and how it was the man’s job to protect the village. One village even planted an agave plant that had spiky leaves that help act as a natural barrier around the village to help protect from intruders. We also learned that many of the doorways were small and low so that people would have to bend down as they enter a hut therefore making the attacker less powerful.  

After exploring the village, we watched a tradition dance and drum ceremony. The dances shows their emotions and represent their history. It’s incredible how dancing can be so powerful, we could feel their emotions pain, happiness, sadness, anger outlined through the dance. 

Group shot at Lesedi Cultural Village

To round out our experience we had an authentic African lunch with our group. We were able to think deeper about what culture, community, traditions, and ones way of life really means. To us, culture is the  combination of ideas, customs, relationships, food, tradition  and social behaviour of a particular people or society. Today we saw South African culture expressed through dance, art, and food. We had the opportunity to try new foods such as ostrich and crocodile. 

After our lunch we returned to campus where we participated in sports for the afternoon with our chommies followed by dinner. After dinner we worked on our various BUILD projects and started the film The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. We were treated to pizza and snacks this evening during our movie which was a great treat from our chaperones Tierney and Cate 🙂 We are looking forward to wrapping up the rest of the movie and presenting our BUILD projects. 

— Maria & Mel 

South African Safari

This morning, we set out for Lion & Safari Park for our safari excursion. On the agenda was a guided tour of the park’s animals and an interaction with a few lion cubs. Our chommies and the students from Germantown Friends School joined us. When we got to the park, the groups boarded two bus-like vehicles with metal fencing as walls. We met our guide/driver Jason. We first went to a lion family with five family members, a male, female and three cubs. We subsequently saw three more prides.

During the very bumpy ride, we (Ms. Tierney’s specifically) were able to ask Jason lots of questions. We learned that the female lions have very eye-catching black dots because 1) it enables quiet communication during a hunt, the lead female would lower her ears to order the group to stay put 2) the dots look like eyes, so it can trick other animals into thinking the back of their head is actually the front. After seeing the lion prides, we drove past a wild dog pack and a cheetah coalition and even spotted a giraffe on the way out.

The whole group on the safari with their chommies.
Group shot partaking in the lion encounter

After observing the animals, we prepared ourselves for the lion cub interaction. The group of us got to spend time with three lion cubs, each 5 months old. Although we were not able to touch the cubs, we were able to get up close and personal to them.

We later researched on the topic of animal parks and realized that tourism brought by similar industries has created more jobs than other industries such as electric. Even though petting zoos can be very controversial, they pose an undeniable benefit to the economy. Additionally, the Lion & Safari Park goes very far to give the animals the best lives possible, and Jason even told us that lions in their park tend to live 10-15 years longer than animals in the wild. 

Up close and personal with an ostrich (no zoom necessary!)

For the rest of the day, we relaxed and decompressed after a long and busy past few days. We appreciated the calming weekend atmosphere at ALA. In the evening we continued with our BUILD projects and participated in an interactive communication challenge with the students from Germantown Friends. It was another day fun of fun and learning!

— Ali and Angela

BUILD session tonight with Germantown Friends

Farmington, Connecticut to Kyalami, South Africa

Today we took a trip to the mall and a visit to the Cuba’s home (Nande Cuba is a 10th grader at Porter’s)! We had our first sleep-in this morning before departing for the mall. At the mall we had time to look around, shop, and get food. Many of us bought clothes, food, and presents for families.

Mall experience

After we left the mall we made our way to the Cuba’s house. Once there, we were welcomed by a large crowd of both family and friends. We were treated with a Jembe drum lesson.

          We learned that drumming is used during births, funerals, and celebrations. After our drum lesson we socialized with Nande’s family and some of us even went swimming. Many of us toured their house and enjoyed getting to spend time with the sheep, chicken, and ducks. 

Nande’s family had a number of livestock animals on their property

Nande’s family also sang for us before saying a prayer. At the house we were offered amazing authentic African food for us to try and we learned about the rondavel house (a traditional round-shaped hut).

It was a very relaxing day, and a good way to decompress from our visit in Soweto yesterday. We appreciated Nande’s family’s hospitality and willingness to share music, African traditions, and stories with us.

— Scout and Julia C.

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.”

-Amy

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 and Leela 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