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Intern Diaries: Research Doesn’t Always Involve Books

The word “Research” usually brings to mind an image of an old man in a white coat surrounded by towers of pages.  This summer, however, I am going to take a new spin on this academic term by spending my summer in South Africa doing everything from playing with kids in different townships, interviewing teachers at schools, and frolicking in game reserves- all while in the pursuit of research. 
How exactly could all this fit in the same research topic, you ask?

Well, collegiettes, because as a History major, I am devoted to learning about people of various countries and cultures and I decided to combine my major with my love for meeting new people into a research project.  My project this summer is titled: How 1994 Lives On- The Teaching of Apartheid in Classrooms.  I will aim to study how educators inside and outside the classroom are teaching the time period of apartheid to this new generation of future leaders.    

Ever since I was little, I have been interested in African history and why many people mistakenly referred to Africa as the “Dark Continent”.  One year ago, I had the opportunity to visit South Africa with my university to volunteer at a local primary school.  When I played with the children and saw their sheer joy and innocence, I truly understood the meaning of the term “Mother Africa”.  Since that revelation, I’ve been in love with the African continent and returned there three more times. 
During this summer, I plan to analyze a bleaker spot in South Africa’s history: the years of 1948-1994 during the period known as apartheid.  This term apartheid means “separateness” and was enacted by the National Party to achieve Afrikaner racial dominance and racial segregation amongst the whites, coloureds, and blacks of South Africa. 

Some of us may remember the CNN images of Nelson Mandela being released from prison after 27 years and being elected President of this new democracy in 1994.  This new generation of South African students in school, however, was not alive during this time.  Their knowledge of the human rights abuses of apartheid will come mainly from what their schools decide to teach them.  Furthermore, South Africa is a country with eleven official languages which has earned it the unofficial nickname of “Rainbow Nation”.  The various ethnicities and cultures of the students in the country will certainly play a role in their education. 

Many people find the subject of history as boring or irrelevant to today’s matters.  History is sometimes seen as something that should be left in the past.  What people forget however is that the purpose of learning history is to make sure we don’t repeat our same mistakes.  Unfortunately, mankind has made a lot of mistakes and it’s up to us to look at our past and educate the future generations in an attempt to prevent the reoccurrence of these bleak times. 

The country of South Africa has made many great strides in reconciling its diverse peoples while achieving a democratic state.  But, what I want to hear from the South African youth and educators is whether they think this new generation is ready to carry Mandela’s torch of freedom?

My dream summer was made possible thanks to the Richter Grant offered at my school, Wake Forest University.  The Richter Grant supports international independent study projects that are meant to enrich the student’s world view.  Students must design a proposal complete with a summary of what they wish to study, an intinerary, budget, and list of contacts in that area who will help them.  Collegiettes, don’t dream about your perfect summer internship- design it yourself!  Talk to your career or study abroad counselor at your university about research grants and scholarships offered at your school.  An independent project looks great on your resume and can show off your responsibility, organization, and unique talents.  Looks like white coats may be summer’s new trend.

Ashley is a senior at Wake Forest University majoring in History and minoring in Psychology and Sociology. She loves traveling and meeting new people. She especially loves African history and loves the country of South Africa. She hopes to work as a fundraiser for a nonprofit one day, but will go wherever life takes her!
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