Sociology Study Abroad Feature: Durban, South Africa

Two students sit down with Sociology student staff, SaMiya Carroll, to share their experiences with the School for International Training (SIT) study abroad program in Durban, South Africa.

What was the application process like?

Sally Fales: The application process was not difficult, not longer than any other study abroad program. Many of the study abroad program all over Africa are inviting students to come and learn!

Peter Cohen: The application process was very straightforward. You just have to show interest in the themes, place, and the overall program. I mostly focused on how it goes into my educational interests.

What makes this program unique?

Peter: SIT is unique in its experiential learning model, particularly regarding the timing of the study abroad program. The people in this community have recently gone through apartheid. Therefore, we gained clarity and advice on social problems. Every day is different in our program. It’s also hands-on due to the fact that we were only a cohort of five. Throughout our program, there was an emphasis on reflection, the 24/7 experience, lots of community, and every side of South Africa.

Sally: SIT is a program that takes learning literally and tailors it to your interests. We were not only in classrooms but we were in the community therefore we were always learning language and culture. We also learned so much about South Africa including the education system there including history and marginalization in the schools. Over the last four weeks, you can choose to do a holistic research or internship. We conducted qualitative research with high school students on gender-based violence and drug and alcohol abuse.

How was your housing experience?

Peter: During our abroad experience we stayed in a homestay, which is when you stay in the homes of the people who live in the community. I feel like I had three different experiences because I stayed in multiple homes. For five weeks, I stayed with a widowed woman and her elderly mother. Moreover, the experience was extremely immersive as I was able to meet their friends and family members who provided unique perspectives about living within the community. For some time, we stayed in rural communities in small villages with no access to the internet. I appreciated this a lot because it’s hard to access these sorts of immersive experiences. Another component of being in a homestay is that you feel like you’re part of the family. Therefore, you can’t go out and party and come in at late hours of the night.

Sally: The homestay experience taught me a lot of soft skills. I lived with three different families during the program one of which was a rural Zulu family, so I learned Zulu every day. The homestay process provides complete immersion as it’s run by local members and many of the families have taken in multiple students throughout the years.

Did you have any worries or fears going into this program?

Sally: There were only five of us in the program. So I was really just hoping we’d get along. Luckily that was true and we felt like siblings by the end and maintained a really strong bond. So, if you’re applying to a program and there are only a few students going, don’t let that deter you from having a meaningful experience!

Did all of your credits transfer back to WashU?

Sally: Every class transferred credits. I got AFAS [African and African American Studies] credits for learning Zulu as well as other credits for my hands-on experiences; volunteer work counted as well.

How do you think this experience will shape your senior year?

Peter: I think that what I’m bringing to my classes would be different than any other year. I gained a strong sense of community in Africa, understanding community psychology, and empowering grassroots organizations. I also walked away with a stronger sense of self and more emotional contentment with my entire college experience.

What was it like to learn a new language? Did you face any major barriers in communication?

Peter: When I arrived I did not consider language much and I did not know any Zulu. Most people spoke English. However, The language barrier was most stressful in the rural areas as English was less commonly spoken there. 

Sally: When I left, I was able to engage in basic conversation and I could get around in the rural area. I noticed how important language is as an act of bonding.

How did this experience affect your goals for post-graduation?

Peter: I’m really interested in think-tanks and education research. I really enjoyed conducting research within my last four weeks in Africa through interviews, classroom observations, and practicing and studying the impact of journalism. I might do more work with journalism and potentially work for a newspaper.

Sally: I intend on continuing my education to get a Master’s in Education. I learned a lot about teacher pedagogies and having a holistic view of a child, what it means to be an outsider in a community, and understanding different environments and households. Overall, I gained a closer look at what it means to practice these pedagogies hands-on.

What were your biggest takeaways?

Peter: Emotionally, I learned a lot about myself, community, and caring for others. Intellectually, I feel more inspired by the people I met who were rooted in selflessness, fighting social inequality, and knowing what’s possible. I feel very hopeful for the future of inequality in the US.

Sally: I took away skills such as observation and listening, understanding my epistemology, and being curious!


For more information on the study abroad opportunity in which Peter and Sally participated and those similar to it, explore the SIT website or begin your WashU study abroad journey with the Overseas Programs Office


Sally Fales recently graduated with a double major in Sociology and Educational Studies, and a minor in African and African American studies. She welcomes further inquiries about her study abroad experience at
Peter Cohen recently graduated as an Educational Studies major with a minor in Creative Writing and Psychology. 

SaMiya Carroll is a Sociology major and an Urban Studies minor. She was recently accepted as a junior to the WashU Brown School's 3-2 program, which will allow her to earn a Master's in Public Health through her senior years.