Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Final Posting: Pictures Tell A Thousand Words

This will be my final post. It took me way, way more time and effort to put together the photo presentation than I had anticipated...chalk that up partly to my inexperience in picture/video making and partly to me not having a software program that facilitates doing such a thing with ease.

Most, if not all of you will be relieved to learn this posting will be extremely brief. For those of you who have lumbered through this blog’s postings, many of which indeed were long in length and oftentimes heavy in subject matter, I thank you and hope that you found something of value for the investment of your time and effort. Sharing stories from my Travels to South Africa has been a privilege, and in many ways, it’s been cathartic.

I’m including the link below that I believe will offer a more meaningful and complete summary and closing than words I might choose to write: one told through pictures. I’ve tried to include photos that capture the essence of my South African experience. Yet for all of the moments I caught with the camera, I no doubt missed many others. Enjoy.

Watch the picture presentation:
With thanks,


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Technical Difficulties and Something for Us to Ponder

Ok, so compiling a photo presentation hasn’t gone as easily as I anticipated. I tried using Windows Moviemaker, and every time I open it, I get a message that it has encountered a problem and has to close. I’m trying to figure out what the issue is, as well as looking into other possible software programs to organize and share my photos. Sorry for the delay, but hopefully I’ll figure it out in time to post them tomorrow.

For today, however, I am going to provide you with a link to an Op-Ed piece that appeared on The New York Times web site. The subject of the piece is “slum tourism,” and it’s written by a junior at Wesleyan University in CT whose home is in Kibera, a Nairobi slum. I found the commentary to be thought provoking and worth the time to reflect on what he shares. I don’t want to give away the story, so I’ll provide the link below. Please feel free to share your thoughts and reaction via comments.

Here’s the link:

Hopefully I’ll be back with the photo-finale tomorrow!

Monday, August 9, 2010

An Argument for South Africa to Learn from the United States' Higher Education Challenges

Yesterday, I focused on the overall experience of the trip to South Africa and specifically on the country’s people. Today, I turn to higher education. After all, the reason for my trip to South Africa was the privileged opportunity I have to be studying for my doctorate in higher education management.

In my July 21 posting, I shared some summary observations regarding the state of higher education in South Africa. In short, I noted that while its desires seem appropriately focused and from a policy standpoint there has been abundant action, the South African government has not made progress in accomplishing its higher education goals at a rate it desired. After 16 years of democracy, the gap in college participation and completion rates between the affluent and the poor and between the white and non-white populations has not been significantly closed. Even with all of the official government policies that have been adopted and with the minimal participation and completion rate improvements that have occurred, South Africa currently has a higher education participation rate for 18-24 year olds of only 16-17%, and even more strikingly, a completion rate that also is only about 16%. The country continues to have a huge disparity between its wealthy and poor populations, and increasing access to and success in higher education has not done much to help close the gap. A related concern for the people of South Africa is that its educational system is not producing enough “technically” skilled workers, so that huge workforce is importing talent rather than drawing from the huge population of unemployed South Africans.

It seems to me that those in positions of influence for South Africa’s higher education system could do well by learning from what hasn’t worked in the U.S. While the U.S. system of higher education fares well when compared to most other countries, we continue to have serious challenges in the areas of participation and completion rates in general, and in particular, among lower socioeconomic statuses and historically underrepresented populations. I believe the U.S. continues to struggle in closing its achievement gap because too much emphasis has been placed on programming and policy-making at the post-secondary and secondary school levels. While it makes sense to try to make improvements among current college students for completion and among current and former high school students for college participation, my opinion is that those populations are too far along for change of the magnitude we seek to occur. My point is that a major emphasis should be placed on the K-8 population of students and on family dynamics in general.

My premise is that students in the K-8 years are still in the formative stages of developing a mindset about college, its benefits and its feasibility. For systemic change to occur, going on to college and completing a degree have to become the norm and the expectation, rather than the exception or the option for only the elite. Yes, there are exceptions to these claims. But if we drill down even further and focus on those families and children from the lower socioeconomic statuses and from backgrounds such as African American, Hispanic/Latino, rural, or first generation college-going, these and other areas are where the real opportunity for dramatic change lies. In South Africa, I believe the same strategizing is needed. Admittedly, the populations that fall into these categories are larger and represent a larger portion of the overall population than they do in the U.S., but thus the rationale becomes even stronger. Scope and scale of initiatives, including funding sources, will absolutely be problematic. And even if these emphases were to gain traction, they cannot be at the complete elimination expense of secondary and post-secondary focused initiatives.

I’ll finish by saying that I think the above observations and recommendations call for significantly increased capacity. Capacity of resources, financial, human and other, will be necessary to make any of this even remotely feasible. In addition, I believe capacity increases in postsecondary spaces and seats need to occur. An infusion of more students that have not been present in the past can’t be done at the expense of other college-seeking and going populations. It seems that the political dynamics of this scenario would prevent progress. On the other hand, if capacity can be increased to the point where those who are academically capable have equal opportunities regardless of whether they are from traditional college-going populations or traditionally underserved populations, then progress may be possible.

These are my thoughts, and they are incomplete as a prescription. There are so many other factors to consider, not the least of which are academic preparedness issues, for students in South Africa but also for the country’s teachers. But to put it succinctly, I think South Africa, and our own nation, could be better served by refocusing attention towards families and to younger aged children.

Tomorrow I’ll finish this off with my attempt at a photo-finale! Thanks for reading.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Post-trip Thoughts and Reflections: the South African Experience

We’ve been back from South Africa for almost two weeks now, and I still haven’t posted my final thoughts on the trip. It’s amazing to me how quickly upon returning from a trip we get re-immersed in our daily lives, the hustle and bustle, and how easy it is that experiences can get pushed to the back of one’s mind, to the back burner of our focus and attention.

I’ve decided the best way for me to attempt summarizing what the trip meant and all that I’ve taken away with me is to do so in two thematic categories: the experience of visiting South Africa and South African higher education. And if I can pull it off, I’ll finish off this blogging experience with a photo collage to help bring to life the stories I’ve shared.

Today’s posting will focus on the experience of visiting South Africa. In previous postings I’ve shared in some detail the incredible natural beauty of the country, so I won’t go on about it again. What I will say is that I am fully aware I didn’t come close to seeing all that South Africa offers in geographic variety and sights. But in seeing the Cape Town and Johannesburg areas, as well as the Pilanesburg Game Reserve, I was in awe of the beauty and I would go back for another visit tomorrow if given the chance.

The food and drink in which we partook were equally pleasing. The rich diversity of cultures found in the people of South Africa provides for myriad tastes and styles when it comes to food. Whether you are looking to sample the many different meats found in traditional African barbecues or seeking vegetarian options, it’s all there… and it’s all delicious.

Lastly, and most importantly, it was the people of South Africa that were the true highlight of the trip. In learning about the different cultures and backgrounds that are found in South Africa’s population, I was enlightened. Words cannot describe the atrocities that occurred during the Apartheid era, and while democracy is now the country’s form of government, the visible and ever-present injustices and inequalities are a constant, undeniable reminder of how even the most seemingly ideal systems of government cannot rectify decades of narrow-mindedness.

And yet, throughout our ten day journey and common among all of the people we met, there seems to exist among South African’s of all backgrounds a sense of hope. In the traditional sense of the word, we observed a sense of hope for a more just future. Even among those who remain marginalized, such as the residents of Kliptown, the sense of hope seemed to extend backwards, to the present. Living in conditions that we, as Americans, can’t even imagine nor comprehend, South Africans who live in the squatter shanty-town slums seem to hold on to hope as a guiding force to transform their daily lives and conditions into a focus on the good and the gifts versus the bad and the injustice. I can’t help but recall the words expressed by my son, wise beyond his 11 years, when he said through tears that “they have so little, but they seem so happy.” His assessment, I believe, is transferable to any country, any population that is among the less fortunate. The measure of a person’s happiness is not seen through material things. The people of South Africa also showed that happiness cannot be represented through one’s living conditions. Happiness is found in the heart and in the mind. This is a lesson for which I am grateful and which I pray I never forget.

Tomorrow, I’ll offer my thoughts on South African higher education.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A Long Night's Journey Back to Home

They say time flies by when you’re having fun; well as I sit to write this, my journey to South Africa is over. After two 8+ hour overnight flights, we made it home to the U.S. Our first flight out of Johannesburg made a refueling stop in Dakar, Senegal, during which the Dakar airport security team boarded the plane and literally checked every overhead compartment, seatback pocket, under seat storage space, and restroom on the South African Airways jet, supposedly conducting routine searches for “stowaways.” Perhaps understandable but falling upon deaf ears for sleepy passengers, the Dakar airport security team insisted that we remain standing throughout the inspection. Which leads me to ask you… what human being could possibly “fit” in a seat back pocket?!?! After 8 hours of flying, it being 2am, and knowing you have another 8 hours to go, that stop was not the highlight of the trip.

My posting is going to be very brief tonight. I’ve tried to fight off the jet lag, but it isn’t working. It’s 8:10pm here, meaning in South Africa it would be 2:10am, and I am fading quickly. So I’m going to leave my final posting until the next day or so, in order that my thinking is alert so I can do justice to the meaning of the trip.

For tonight, I’ll leave you with something fun. You will recall I mentioned we had the chance to go on a second safari the morning before we left for the airport. That second safari was even better than the first. We saw 3 members of the Big 5, (lions, rhinos, and elephants). Speaking of elephants, I’m providing a video clip from our encounter with an African Bull Elephant. I won’t spoil things for you by providing too much detail before you watch the clip…but suffice it to say, all of us have a new appreciation for just how large and imposing these beautiful creatures are. Enjoy the video, and I’ll be in touch soon.


Monday, July 26, 2010

Safari Adventures

This posting is a day late due to the internet service being down when we returned from dinner on Sunday night. 
Greetings from Pilanesberg National Park and Game Reserve ( in Rustenburg, South Africa. I left you last night with a promise to be brief in today’s posting, so I’ll do what I can to be true to my word.

Marybeth Gasman, the faculty member from Penn who leads this trip, has commented numerous times that she schedules the cities we visit and the places we experience with a very intentional sequencing, and I now understand why. The early natural beauty of the Cape Town area was a great way to ease into the South African experience. The Johannesburg area visit, including the time we spent at University of Pretoria and in particular in Kliptown, was intense and extremely draining on the emotions. Finishing the trip with a stay at the Kwa Maritime Lodge ( and going on safari in Pilanesberg were perfect to finish off a week and a half’s experiences that have changed all of us for life.

As has been the case many times throughout this journey, I’m pressed for words to describe the safari experience, but incredible, awe inspiring, and invigorating all come to mind. If you’ve ever been on safari, you will understand. In South Africa, when one goes on safari the goal is to see the Big 5 for animals: the lion, elephant, rhinoceros, leopard, and cape buffalo comprise the group due to how difficult it is to hunt and bring down each of them. The only hunting that was occurring during our game drive this afternoon was for pictures and the experience versus for hides or meat. We saw 2 of the Big 5 (elephants and rhinos), as well as wildebeests, warthogs, zebras, giraffes, monkeys, springboks, and numerous other members of the antelope/deer family. It was stunning. I've included a couple of photos I took.

Our safari ended with a group dinner, in the middle of the Park, at Kwa Mazout. Kwa Mazout is encircled by a fence, to protect you from any of the prowling animals. The dinner features traditional African fare, served buffet style. The food and drink was terrific, and after eating everyone gathered around the fire and reflected on the trip’s experiences. It was a wonderful way to spend our last night together before flying back tomorrow night. An optional safari, tomorrow morning, was made available to us. So we will again get to go searching for the Big 5. If time permits, I’ll send a note from the Johannesburg airport tomorrow before we take off.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Healing through Happiness and Hope

Perhaps you noticed I have not posted since Wednesday. We left Cape Town as planned Thursday morning, heading for Johannesburg, and our travel went smoothly. I closed Wednesday’s thoughts with the prediction that my understanding of South African’s history and experiences was going to get more intense with our Johannesburg visit. It happened. In fact, to be completely frank, it happened to the extent that for the past two consecutive nights, I’ve been unable to satisfactorily process my thoughts into a coherent enough written (typed) form to be comfortable posting. So it’s not that I haven’t thought about you and about wanting to continue sharing my experiences. But tonight, I have come far enough on this journey to attempt painting a picture for you of what I have seen. I know that my prior posts have been lengthy, no doubt too long according to “best blogging” practices. I have every intention of trying to be concise, but I fear it may not be possible and apologize now if I take too much of your time as I share.

Today, my emotional journey through discovering the lived experience of the South African people became complete. Not in the literal sense, in that we still have two more days in this wondrous country and that it would be impossible to comprehend in a mere 10 days the past, present, and future experiences of a people and country as rich with diversity as South Africa. Rather, I am now able to reconcile the emotions and reflections I’ve been having in my heart and in my head.

On Thursday, we visited the Apartheid museum ( The 2 ½ hours I spent walking through the exhibits with my family and classmates were the two most emotionally painful hours I’ve ever experienced. Through reading and watching, listening and learning, I became more educated as to the horrors that occurred during the Apartheid era. The oppression forced upon non-Whites, the ruthless evictions and relocations of so many non-White families, the atrocious acts of violence and terror aimed at non-Whites…all of these and more, as I read about them, listened about them, watched them in videos, and observed them in photos evoked incredibly powerful feelings of anger, sympathy, disgust, sorrow, and confusion. I was particularly moved (to tears) by South African photo journalist Ernest Cole’s exhibit, which for me brought to life the terror and tragedy of the times. (I found this web site with some of Cole’s photos; click on the categories and numerous photos come up for viewing. My advice is do so when you have time to spend in reflection:

How is it possible that human beings are capable of treating other human beings in such inhuman ways? I realize the terribleness of Apartheid is not unique. One only need consider the experiences of Native Americans and African Americans in our own country, the Jewish people in World War II, or the Rwandan genocides of the 1980’s that also occurred in Africa…these and numerous others unfortunately provide too many examples that demonstrate humankind’s imperfections. Nonetheless, I found myself looking to the sky asking why? And I found myself feeling aches in my heart that were growing stronger.

Yesterday, we visited the University of Pretoria (UPT, UPT was one of the Afrikaans universities, and based on what we heard from numerous speakers during our visit, the institution appears to be facing ongoing, serious internal obstacles in overcoming its racially based discriminatory ways of the past. To cite a particularly alarming example, UPT’s official policy towards its residence halls and room assignments is that any residence hall is potentially available to any student. A quick browse through the residences (as they are referred in SA) section of UPT’s web site confirmed this policy. What happens in practice, based on the comments shared with us by a couple students and administrators is that students are only assigned to live with other students of the same race, and certain residences are unofficially designated as for whites only. The hurt in my heart grew stronger yesterday.

Coming into today’s scheduled visit to Kliptown, the shanty town slum in the Johannesburg suburb Soweto, I was struggling. I need to provide a little context about Kliptown. Kliptown is only one example of the shanty settlements throughout the country, in which it is estimated 1 in 10 South Africans live. Kliptown has an estimated population of 45,000 and is located in Soweto, which has an estimated population of between 2 and 3 million. Through relationships established by our professor for the course, Marybeth Gasman, PhD, we had been invited to visit within the Kliptown community, as guests of her good friend and Kliptown resident Bob Nameng (more on Bob later).

As our bus approached the Kliptown area, we started to drive by shantytown settlements, which seemed to sprawl on across the landscape forever. It appeared as though there was a sea of makeshift homes, made from varying materials with occasional brightly colored panels or roofs catching the eye. (The photo at right is one I took as we approached) The bus wove through the streets of Soweto and into what seemed like a bustling urban neighborhood, where small shops and make-shift vendor displays with people selling fruit, clothing, and a host of other goods. After snaking through some tight turns, the bus drove down a street that dead ended into a small parking lot that abutted Kliptown. I could feel my anxiety and hurt growing. I simply could not believe my eyes as I got my first up-close views of a shanty town.

We disembarked and were greeted by Bob. Bob is a 40-year old man who grew up in Kliptown as one of the community’s many neglected children. Twenty plus years ago, Bob founded Soweto Kliptown Youth (SKY;, and our visit was going to revolve around a visit to SKY deep in the heart of Kliptown.

With my classmates, their guests, my wife and two children, we began our walk down a path, across railroad tracks, and into the community. (See the photo at left) My heart rate quickened as we disappeared into the maze of paths and small dirt roads. The first images of the shacks and shanties, and of the inhabitants young and old, nearly sucked the air out of my lungs. All of a sudden, the horrors brought on by Apartheid and the abject poverty conditions being experienced by so many South Africans were real, I could touch them, smell them, feel them.

We had been given a heads up that the community would be teaming with what appeared to be unaccompanied little children and that they were likely to want to touch us or to hold our hands—on this day, we were privileged to see the African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child,” in action. Within minutes of our group’s appearance, the children began approaching.

The moment the first children approached, I began being transformed. It started with one of my male classmates having his legs hugged by two little boys. Then, children, Katie and Ryan, had a little boy come to and grab a hand from each. And then a little boy started nestling up to me, and the hurt and hatred in my heart started easing. (A picture of Katie and Ryan with their friend, at right) 

We proceeded through the community, Bob stopping us occasionally to explain something, and made our way to SKY’s buildings, all the while with our little friends guiding us through the touch of their hands.

The children of SKY put on a traditional African dance and singing performance for us that I cannot do justice to with words. Never mind that the talents they demonstrated were incredible, but the happiness and passion with which they danced and sang were unsurpassed by any performance I’ve seen before. My son captured much of the performance on video, but out of fear of posting it incorrectly, I’m including a picture (below) of the performance. I spent the entire time watching them, vacillating between smiling and fighting off tears. SKY, through the unwavering dedication of Bob and his growing team of Kliptown resident volunteers, offers to the Kliptown community numerous programs for its youth, including performance arts, sports, girls’ empowerment and life skills classes, as well as services for the elderly and sick, such as finding transportation for medical visits and craft making.

It’s late, very late, and I’m embarrassed how long I’ve gone on. I have so many pictures to share, so many stories and feelings to offer. For now, I’ll close tonight by sharing that the hatred and hurt that was holding me captive has been healed by the purity of the happiness unconditionally shared with me, with all of us, by the children of Kliptown. And most importantly, the residents of Kliptown, young and old, through their warmth and bright spirits, taught us that hope is stronger than hatred and hurt. The injustices that have occurred in the past and continue today are a terrible, terrible thing. But those at the margins, seemingly with no reason to be so, find hope and happiness that should be a lesson to so many of us who live lives of privilege.

I’ll be back tomorrow. And I promise, I’ll be brief. Be well.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

South Africa's Higher Education System: Reaching a Crossroads?

Earlier in the week, after visiting the University of the Western Cape (UWC), I observed that the themes from the presentations about the state of South African higher education we heard at the university were surprisingly similar to those we hear in the U.S. (see 7/19 posting) Today, we visited the University of Cape Town (UCT), which according to most sources is the top ranked university in South Africa ( (To the right is a photo of UCT I downloaded from the internet, to the right.) Regardless of whether it is indeed the #1 or #2 institution in the country, UCT’s market position in South African higher education is the equivalent of that of the Ivies in the U.S., certainly in terms of prestige and reputation. Perhaps UCT is at the top based on the quality of its educational offerings and the outcomes of its graduates…that’s a debate and argument for someone else to tackle.

We were treated to about a half dozen presentations during the visit, with presenters and their subject matter varying. We heard from academic officers and faculty members who commented on the state of higher education in South Africa and UCT’s service learning organization, to other administrators who discussed UCT’s efforts in fundraising and development and what the institution is doing to combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic that plagues the country’s people.

There were numerous differences between our visit to UWC and to UCT, including the curb appeal of the campus, the interior finishes of the buildings (at least of those we saw), the perceived progress being made by each institution towards realizing the higher education improvements in post-Apartheid South Africa that are so desperately needed, and the experience and expertise of the faculty and administration. In all of these areas, at least in the opinion of most of us who visited, UCT comes out clearly on top. A word of caution… at neither institution were we presented with enough data or exposed to enough of the people (including students, of which we heard from/spoke to none) and the place to make a truly informed decision about each institution. But if I were forced to choose the more advanced institution, it would easily be UCT at this point.

The aforementioned differences aside, there also were some similarities in the visits. First, I observed a sense of restlessness and recognition at both campuses that all is not well in the country’s higher education environment, even though they have been working on improvements at least since 1994 when Nelson Mandela was elected president. Also at both campuses, we were provided with noticeably scant information about each institution’s individual statistics and issues; they clearly focused more on national data and issues. Based on what we heard, some common themes regarding higher education in South Africa emerged for me at both institutions:
  • With the new South African Constitution that was developed under Mandela’s leadership, improving education and higher education for all South Africans is a priority goal
  • Since 1994, numerous, in fact many, many policies have been developed whose desired outcomes would make noticeable and significant improvements towards the nation’s education goals 
  • While increases in overall enrollment and in participation rates among non-Whites have improved, the magnitude of those improvements is minimal (e.g., Black enrollments as a percentage of the total have improved from something like 5% to 7% since 2000); the same can be said for completion rates 
  • Because the level of improvements has been so minimal, versus the desired outcomes that are rooted in all of the education policies that have been adopted, the country is at a point of not quite being sure what to do next to make more rapid and considerable progress.
These common themes are absolutely limited in scale and scope and are literally based on what I’ve heard during the two campus visits. However, with these caveats, I fear that the South African government, its policy makers and influencers, and its higher education community may need to shift its collective focus if the country is to have any chance of achieving its vision for a more equitably and competently educated populace.

This blog, and particularly this posting because of its already cumbersome length and the lateness of the hour, is not the place for me to offer solutions. But I do have some thoughts percolating in my mind, and I am thinking a post-trip posting may be a more appropriate spot. Perhaps you have some thoughts?

As for me, I’ll have experienced Johannesburg by then, and hopefully I’ll be caught back up in sleep so as to be thinking with a clear, rested mind. For now, it’s time to call it a night. We’ve got a 4:50am wake up call to catch our flight to Johannesburg. In addition to the travel and getting settled at our hotel, the agenda for tomorrow includes a visit to the Apartheid museum. I am suspecting the opening of my mind to the South African peoples’ history and experiences is about to widen and intensify. I’ll let you know.


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Oceans, Penguins, and African Dancing Equal a Full Day

It turns out that the waters of the Indian and Atlantic Oceans actually meet off the point of Cape Agulhas, which is about 90 miles south and east of the Cape of Good Hope. I’m relieved to have learned that today while visiting the Cape of Good Hope, because I was stressed that I had not dipped my toe into the chilly waters in anticipation of touching two oceans. Alas, that is the only lowlight from another day of jaw-dropping beauty and experiences.

The visit to the Cape was spectacular, as the scenery driving to and from and while there was amazing. Among the creatures we saw were wild ostriches, baboons, elands and grysboks (two types of antelopes), and dassies (think of a rabbit, minus the long ears). In addition, we were very fortunate to see a bryde’s whale frolicking maybe 500 yards off the coast. According to our tour guide, the 8 previous Penn cohorts that came to South Africa did not see any whales. The climb from the base parking area to the peak where the now retired light house stands was exhilarating—regarding the light house, it turns out that having it located high above the ocean (about 750 feet above sea level) often hid it in clouds and fog, rendering it useless in aiding ships. So one was built on a promontory, less than 300 feet above sea level, and continues to provide assistance in the stormy area. Speaking of storms, it was yet another stormless day for us, with sunshine all day and temperatures again reaching the upper 60s. I’m including two pictures from the Cape visit. The first, to the right, is of our entire group posing at the Cape of Good Hope sign. The second, to the left, is one that was taken of my family, looking out into the ocean waters at the base of the original Cape Point lighthouse. To learn more about the Cape of Good Hope, visit
Our next stop was a brief visit with the African Penguins at Boulder’s Beach ( The penguin colony at Boulder’s only dates back to 1983, when two penguins were spotted. Since then, as a result of mating and migration from some of Africa’s other penguin colonies, the penguin population at Boulder's has grown to nearly 2,500! The kids on the trip (as well as the adults, including this one) really enjoyed this stop. Watching penguins waddle brings a smile to the face!

For lunch, we visited the Lourensford Winery (, which we were told is the only black-owned and managed winery in South Africa. We enjoyed a wine tasting, and overview of the winery and wine making process, and a wonderful lunch outdoors in the warm sunshine.

The afternoon was spent touring more of the Cape area, with a stop in the Stellenbosch, South Africa’s oldest town and home of Stellenbosch University (, one of the Apartheid era’s Afrikaner institutions. The town is heavily Dutch-influenced, noticeably in its architecture. The town was attractive and there were numerous quaint shops and boutiques in which to browse.

For dinner, we visited the Moyo restaurant on the grounds of the Spier winery ( What a treat! The setting is one of Spier’s gardens, and tents are set up throughout, with seating areas and warming fires interspersed with gardens and water features. I am simply not doing the setting justice, but I notice on the Moyo web site it mentions the experience comes across as though you are in a nomadic African village. The food and meal experience is what I’d call a combination of family style and buffet, but with the quality, variety, and authenticity of the food being more 5-star than what we typically think of with buffets. In addition, there was live entertainment with African dancing and singing, which I captured in the picture to the right.

Another jam-packed, memory-filled day has come to a close. Amazing sights and sounds, food and experiences, which seem to be the daily occurrence. The professor from Penn who teaches our History of South African Higher Education course and leads the trip shared with us that she intentionally mixes the days with some being focused specifically on higher education issues and experiences, some with the natural beauty of the country, and some with firsthand exposure to the past history and current issues facing South Africa. Each, in its own way, elicits incredibly strong emotions, so her strategy makes sense to me in mixing things up. Tomorrow, we’re off to the University of Cape Town as we spend or final day in the area before flying north to Johannesburg early Thursday morning.

It’s nearly 1am. I’m exhausted, but with an equal dose of anticipation in looking forward to sharing more tomorrow.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Learning More About South African Higher Education, Past and Present

Yesterday, we had our first dose of South Africa’s amazing natural beauty, and we got a taste of the injustices that occurred during the Apartheid era in the country. Today, our focus turned to higher education with a visit to the University of the Western Cape ( UWC was established in 1959 for “Coloured” people. The term Coloured in South Africa has different meaning than how it has been used in the U.S., and to understand it requires some knowledge of the legalized racial sorting that occurred via Apartheid in South Africa. Admittedly, I am no expert in this subject area, but as an attempt at describing it most simply, the National Party that ruled South Africa from 1948 until the Nelson Mandela era began in 1994 used race as a means of empowering and disempowering certain groups of people according to their skin color and racial descent. Whites were at the top of the privilege scale, Indians next, Coloureds third, and Blacks were treated as most inferior. The racial categories were legally defined and interpreted during Apartheid. To learn more, visit

UWC was designated for the Coloured's, and as a result, the resources allocated to the institution and the quality and limits of the education offered to its students lagged far behind those for the Whites and Indians and only surpassed those for Blacks. Today, 16 years after Apartheid legally ended, the institution continues to serve a student body that almost entirely comes from Coloured or Black backgrounds. During our visit, we had several faculty members and administrators present to us about the institution as well as about higher education in the country.

As I listened to the presentations and their formal as well as informal remarks, I was struck by the similarities between the challenges facing South African higher education and those faced by our own postsecondary system. Without a doubt, the severity of the challenges and shortcomings are on a much larger scale than in the U.S., but nonetheless, had I closed my eyes and forgotten about my whereabouts, I could have been listening to a discussion back home. For example, South Africa is faced with appalling participation and completion rates that were proliferated during Apartheid. Today, only 17% of South Africa’s 48 million population is enrolled in higher education, and in my opinion even more concerning is that only 16% of those who enroll in higher education graduate. By contrast, in the U.S., the college participation rate is currently at more than 50% with some type of degree or enrolled in college and the national completion rates for 2008, according to, were 56% for bachelor’s degrees and 28% for associate’s degrees. Indeed, we have legitimate and serious needs to increase our nation’s participation and completion rates, but in South Africa, they are frighteningly low. Of course, we need to remember that South Africa is only 16 years into a democracy, so we have a bit of a head start in making educational opportunities available to all of our citizens.

One of the presenters also talked about the tensions that exist in South African higher education between accountability and academic freedom. Here too there is a parallel between South Africa’s higher education environment and that of the U.S. I am starting to understand with more clarity why Penn chooses to bring us to South Africa to learn about its higher education system. On Wednesday, we will be visiting University of Cape Town, which was originally chartered to serve the White population during Apartheid, and today is perhaps the most prestigious university in the country. I’m looking forward to how it compares with UWC.

Tomorrow brings another day of exploration in the Cape Town area, including a trip to Cape Point, with a stop on the way to view a colony of African penguins. Cape Point, also referred to as the Cape of Good Hope, is the southwestern most point in Africa, off the coast of which the Atlantic and Indian oceans meet. For any scientists (or oceanographers or those who are just more educated in their ocean knowledge), if I put my foot in the water off of Cape Point, will I be able to say I touched both the Atlantic and Indian oceans simultaneously?

Until tomorrow,


Sunday, July 18, 2010

Nature's Beauty vs. Humankind's Scars

Greetings from South Africa. After catching up on some sleep, we awoke to an absolutely stunning winter morning that led to an incredible day in Cape Town—yes, it is winter here in South Africa. Today was a particularly special day in all of South Africa, as Nelson Mandela celebrated his 92nd birthday. Festivals were scheduled in many of the country’s cities, and we heard many times that when asked what he wanted for his birthday, Mandela stated that rather than any personal gifts, he wanted all of South Africa’s citizens to give 67 minutes of their time to a worthy cause today in recognition of the number of years he has been involved in politics on behalf of the South African people.

As we boarded our bus to head out for the day’s sights, the skies were bright blue and the temperature in the mid 40s with the cold sea air noticeable. The morning chill in the air turned to warm breezes as the day grew older, and by mid-afternoon, the bright sunshine and the upper 60s temperatures were perfect. This contrast between the chilled morning air and the warming afternoon breezes was a harbinger of the day’s experiences.

We began by visiting Table Mountain, a flat-topped peak that rises 3,500 feet above Cape Town and serves as part of a spectacular backdrop for the city. (Left: The leg-weakening views from the summit of Table Mountain looking down at Cape Town.) South Africa legend has it that a pirate in the early 18th century retired from his life at sea to live on one of the neighboring peaks to Table Mountain, and all day long he would sit on the mountain and smoke his pipe. One day, a man approached the pirate and challenged him to a smoking contest, and their battle lasted for several days until the pirate won. The man who was defeated revealed himself to be the Devil, and the two allegedly disappeared in a puff of smoke. In the centuries since and continuing today, it is common for Table Mountain to be covered on summer mornings by a shroud of clouds (the “table cloth”), that slowly work their way down the mountain as the daylight sun heats them. On this winter morning, the table cloth never made an appearance and the views of Cape Town, Table Bay, Robben Island, and the other mountains were incredible. To learn more about Table Mountain, visit

As we departed Table Mountain, little did any of us know what we were in for in the two remaining primary stops in the day’s itinerary. We proceeded down into Cape Town, headed for the District 6 Museum. The Museum is a powerful exhibit that memorializes the District 6 municipal area of Cape Town. During the Apartheid years, more than 60,000 residents of the District were forced out of their homes, which were bulldozed, to go and live in makeshift communities that were based on skin color and race. Our guide at the museum is a District 6 survivor, and his stories of his and so many others’ lived experiences left us speechless and just plain saddened. Yet for all of his and others’ suffering, his outlook towards that terrible time in South Africa’s history was amazingly positive, and on many occasions he talked of the power of reconciliation. (Right: My children, Katie and Ryan, were fortunate enough to meet and pose with Noor, our tourguide who lived in District 6.) We left the museum with new awareness of this example of humankind’s flaws. To learn more about District 6 and the museum, visit

After having lunch on the waterfront in Cape Town, we boarded a ferry for the 20 minute ride across Table Bay to Robben Island. Almost 8 miles out from Cape Town, Robben Island offers stunning views looking back towards Cape Town and its surrounding mountains, including Table Mountain. (Left: The beautiful but sad views experienced by Robben Island's prisoners, looking back across the bay at Cape Town.) That view, unfortunately, is one that thousands of prisoners and societal outcasts were forced to see during their incarcerations in the island’s prisons. Nelson Mandela spent nearly half of his imprisonment at Robben Island, and our guide, himself a former prisoner at Robben Island, brought us to view Mandela’s 8’ x 8’ cell. To learn more about Robben Island, visit

We saw some of Cape Town’s real beauty today, and we saw and learned about some of its unfortunate past. I have a feeling today’s experiences, with the range of emotions they brought on, are going to be a consistent element of the days ahead. We’re here to learn, and when we consider history, we must learn from the bad as well as the good. I’m already looking forward to learning more tomorrow, as we visit our first South African university. I’ll look forward to sharing more, tomorrow night.


Saturday, July 17, 2010

Arrived in Cape Town

Wow, that was a long day's (and night's) journey getting to Cape Town. We left JFK about a half hour late, at 11:45am Friday, and arrived in Cape Town at about 1:30pm local time (7:30am EST). Fourteen and a half hours on the flight from JFK to Johannesburg, a three hour layover there, and then 2 1/2 hours down to Cape Town. I realize there are many who travel at least this far and with more frequency than me, but that amount of time in the air is a bit rough. It seemed as though the vast majority of us on the trip were only able to grab short periods of sleep. Whether it was the excitement about the trip, or the discomfort that comes with squeezing into the coach class seats, it robbed us of meaningful sleep. So by the time we arrived at our hotel in Cape Town around 3pm, everyone scattered and disappeared to their rooms. Tomorrow we start with a day of sightseeing around Cape Town, including a ferry ride to Robben Island, the infamous island where Nelson Mandela spent the better part of 30 years imprisoned in a 10x10 cell during the last years of the Apartheid regime.

I'm exhausted and fighting to keep my eyes open, so I'm keeping this short for today's post. I will say, however, that the approach into Cape Town was simply striking in its juxtaposition of the stunning natural beauty, with the rocky mountains that frame the city and its sparkling ocean waters, and the first glimpses of the area's shanty towns as we neared the landing. I have a feeling we are in for an incredible learning experience, professionally and personally.

Good night.

Friday, July 16, 2010

It's Finally Here!

This is my initial posting, and anticipating I need to provide some context, I have a feeling it may be a bit long. So I apologize up front and promise to be less verbose in subsequent posts.

The big day is finally here. All of the cohort members, plus many family members, are gathered in the terminal at JFK, waiting to board our flight for South Africa. We’ve talked about this trip since the program began last August, and today the journey begins.

Nearly a year ago, 24 of us started in Penn’s executive doctorate program in higher education management. Penn uses a “cohort” model for the program, which in the simplest of terms means you do everything together… from the 10+ hour days in class in Philadelphia… to the group meals where we share good food, drink, and stories… to group therapy sessions in which you have 23 sympathetic friends willing to listen to your struggles with balancing the seemingly endless reading and writing assignments with your professional work responsibilities and in many cases, with family responsibilities. The point of the cohort is that you become close and serve as a support system for each other during the 22 months of the program and somehow pull each other through. Half way through the program, I’d say it seems to be working.

So why are we headed to South Africa? The program includes an international module—module is the term for the program’s “courses”—and for a number of years, they’ve gone to South Africa. The country’s higher education system has a history similar to that of the United States in that it once was very segregated and continues to face challenges with access and equity. Based on what we’ve heard from alumni of the program, the experience in South Africa is life-changing.

During the trip we’ll be visiting with a number of South African universities. In addition, we also will get to experience the culture, rich history, and the natural beauty of the country, which so many people around the world saw during the just completed World Cup.

What will add to the experience is that many family members are traveling with class members. As for me, I’m fortunate to have traveling with me my wife, Teri, and our two children, Katie (13) and Ryan (11). Teri and I were concerned about how costly it would be for the four of us to go, but in the end, we decided it truly was a once in a lifetime opportunity to experience a trip like this as a family. And Katie and Ryan are at least as excited about the trip as are Teri and I.

So as I’m sitting here at JFK, wondering about the experiences I’ll share over the next 10 days, I can’t help but think of the work week I just completed. Back in Baltimore, the ABC show Extreme Makeover: Home Edition is in town. To make a long story short, the new home is being built for the organization Boys Hope Girls Hope, a national non-profit organization that provides children who are at risk with a stable home, positive parenting, high-quality education, and other supports needed to reach their full potential, including guidance and mentoring to prepare for college. The program has a house for the eight boys who are part of the Baltimore program, but it did not have one for the seven girls in the program. Loyola got involved when we made a gift to the program, offering full ride scholarships to the eight boys—our neighboring institution, College of Notre Dame, offered the same awards to the girls. Yesterday I was fortunate enough to go down and tour the construction site. I had the chance to meet a couple of the Boys Hope boys, who found out about their scholarship offers earlier in the week, and the gratitude they extended in appreciation of Loyola’s gesture was moving. For these boys, their counterpart girls, and all of the Boys Hope Girls Hope students around the country, their chances of going to college are dramatically increased by participating in the program. Loyola’s decision to reach out to these students was easy, as it hits at the heart of our Jesuit mission and identity.

In the United States, we still have many children and adults who face extreme obstacles to get a college degree. But there are examples, such as Boy Hope Girl Hope, where progress is being made towards a more educated citizenry. As I get ready to board the flight to South Africa, I can’t help but wonder about the people I am going to meet, both young and old, and what obstacles they are facing in their lives. I guess I’ll find out soon enough.

It’s time to board. I’ll be in touch soon.