Woods Around the World- A South African Adventure

Mason Kramer visits an African market.
Mason Kramer visits an African market.

Thirty-three travelers from William Woods University experienced authentic African cuisine, music, dancing and culture during a spring break visit to South Africa March 18-28, as part of the Woods Around the World program.

“At William Woods University, we view education as a journey of discovery … we believe the very best journeys are fed by curiosity in the world around us,” said Travis Tamerius, director of WWU’s Center for Ethics and Global Studies, university chaplain and adjunct instructor of cultural diversity.

“Woods Around the World (WATW) is a unique approach to education that takes the student beyond the classroom and the textbook and into the real world of another culture—out of a classroom of walls and into the classroom of the world,” he said.

Street performers entertain the visitors on their first day in Johannesburg.
Street performers entertain the visitors on their first day in Johannesburg.

The travelers included 23 students, five faculty members and five family members (a father, a mother, a brother and two faculty spouses).

Street performers of various talents entertained the group on their first day in Johannesburg. Their itinerary included the Apartheid museum, NelsonMandela’shome and Desmond Tutu’s previous residence. The localSutu guide, Queen, showed the group where the student protests occurred and gave them the history of how Johannesburg was formed by a large meteorite strike millions of years ago.

Elephants at Kruger National Park
Elephants at Kruger National Park

After a day in Johannesburg, the group boarded a coach bus to the Timbavati Safari Lodge. A bush walk provided the group’s first exposure to South African wildlife: bush bucks, zebras, a giraffe and warthogs.

Zebras at Kruger National Park
Zebras at Kruger National Park

The next morning, they jumped on safari trucks and headed to Kruger National Park, where they saw elephants, impalas, giraffes, mongooses, kudus, lions, hippos, rhinos, water buffalos, baboons, vervet monkeys, hornbills and ostriches. One group even caught a glimpse of some speedy cheetahs.

At the Sihlekisi village, they met with the local witch doctor, toured the area and spent some time walking hand-in-hand with school children. Tamerius presented a check from the proceeds of Project 123’s annual “Kids Hoo Care Camp” to help with school improvements in the Sihlekisi village.

“We had an excellent team of student travelers who reveled in the stunning landscapes and dazzling array of animals and who learned a lot from the inspirational stories of those who challenged the racism of Apartheid,” said Tamerius.

“As wonderful as it was to watch a herd of elephants parade right in front of us, it was just as special to visit the tribal village and donate the money to them that was collected right here in central Missouri.”

Taylor Finkel gives a piggy-back ride to a child in the Sihlekisi village.
Taylor Finkel gives a piggy-back ride to a child in the Sihlekisi village.

Project 123 is a service-based scholarship program. Students who are selected and complete 123 hours of community service are given a stipend to participate in Woods Around the World. Project 123 was created with the generous help of the Lambert Foundation. The goal is to make the opportunity of traveling overseas available to anybody, and the donors strongly believe in the idea of “serving the world to see the world.”

“My favorite part of the trip was being able to visit the village,” said Caroline Boyer Ferhat, assistant professor of psychology and chair of the Arts & Behavioral Sciences Division at WWU.

Baylie Borman makes new friends in the Sihlekisi village.
Baylie Borman makes new friends in the Sihlekisi village.

“Our tour guide talked to us about the different economic levels in the village, but explained to us how everyone is happy, even those who are living in extreme poverty. Their mindset is, ‘If you have it, you use it; if you don’t have it, you don’t use it.’

“In other words, you don’t dwell on what you don’t have, you just make do with what you do have. I appreciated the opportunity to travel with the students and to see the experience through their eyes. Some were well travelled, but others had never been on a plane before. What an awesome experience for them!”

Each traveler took something special from the South African adventure. On the way back to Johannesburg, the group stopped at God’s View, the Potholes, Blyde River Canyon, and did a bit of bartering with the local shopkeepers.

“Traveling with WATW to South Africa was a dream come true,” said Taylor Finkel, a junior from Grand Rapids, Michigan. “The best part about this trip was being able to see and experience the beautiful country and all it has to offer first hand. I have never seen anything as breathtaking as the views of the mountains, the Blyde River canyon and the Potholes.”

Penquins in coastal Africa
Penguins in coastal Africa

After spending a few days in Johannesburg, the Woods Around the World travelers flew to Cape Town. The group took a cable car to the top of Table Mountain, where they dined at a mountain top cafe and stood amongst the clouds.

The next morning, the group loaded onto a ferry to Robben Island, the place of Nelson Mandela’s political imprisonment. They toured the prison and saw a few seals and penguins along the way. The rest of the day was filled with a visit to a castle and the animal museum/planetarium.

Next, the group traveled across the Cape Peninsula to Camps Bay, Hout Bay, False Bay, Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point. The group hiked, or rode the tram, to the top of Cape Point to see a lighthouse and look out over the Atlantic and Indian oceans. They visited African Penguins, the Kirstenboch Botanical gardens and enjoying a farewell dinner.

“There is something about wide open spaces engulfed by nature and beauty that have always made me feel free, almost like I can fly. This is what I loved about my trip to South Africa with Woods Around the World,” said Aria Eubanks, a junior from Naperville, Illinois.

Woods Around the World travelers
Woods Around the World travelers

“There are so many incredible things to see that no matter where you turn, you come face to face with the beauty of the natural world. The part of the trip that I will probably treasure the most is the visit to the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point. This is where the Atlantic and Indian oceans merge. Standing on the cliffs overlooking the ocean, I could forget all of the worries of life and just live in the moment. In the midst of such magnificent surroundings, life begins to seem a little bit lighter.”

Woods Around the World is in its ninth year. Previous trips have included Peru, the American Civil Rights trail, a Holocaust tour, Italy, France, Scotland, England, Ireland, Greece, Turkey and an Indian reservation in South Dakota.

“Whether you are traveling across the globe or across the street, traveling is important for so many reasons,” Tamerius said. “Traveling is wonderful for feeding curiosity, broadening the mind, developing confidence and cultivating empathy for others. It helps us to become interested in a story other than our own.”

For more information on Woods Around the World or Project 123, contact Tamerius at travis.tamerius@williamwoods.edu.