The Trip of a Lifetime, Literally
It’s a rare chance for anyone to stand on Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for nearly three decades before his release and rise to power in South Africa. It’s even rarer if you’re a kid from Compton, Little Village, or the Bronx.
For the high school students in The Fellowship Initiative, a program that provides hands-on intensive support for promising young men of color from Chicago, Los Angeles and New York City, that rarity became a reality this summer as they ventured out of their homes and out of their comfort zones for an adventure in South Africa. While there, the Fellows not only visited the notorious Robben Island prison but also spent the night there, engaging in lengthy conversations with former political prisoners about the brutality and impact of apartheid, social justice and rebuilding a nation. The Fellows are all too familiar with the challenges facing young people in their neighborhoods and they were moved by the struggles faced by South Africans. TFI Fellow Matthew shared that: “This trip taught me that mental toughness far outweighs physical toughness because I learned about how political prisoners starved themselves for rights that every living being deserves. Our bodies can withstand a lot, a lot more than we think if we are mentally strong.”
The TFI South Africa experience was designed to broaden the Fellows’ horizons and aspirations. For most of the Fellows, this trip was filled with firsts—first passport, first trip on an airplane and first time being away from their families for so long. After the trip, 89 percent of the Fellows expressed an interest in study abroad programs. Nationally, only 5% of students study abroad are Black, a disadvantage given the stronger academic performance of students who study abroad and the importance of global exposure for careers. TFI Fellow Kalonni reflected on the value of international experience: