This past summer was an exciting and educational one for CIEE Global Navigator High School alum Diego Mendoza. Diego embarked on a long journey from Green Bay, Wisconsin to Cape Town, South Africa for a summer program that’s packed with excursions, volunteer work, and cultural activities. He chose this program so he could visit Africa for the first time while also having a meaningful experience. Two activities that Diego really enjoyed were climbing Lion’s Head, a popular mountain that’s a favorite hiking spot for locals and tourists seeking incredible views of Cape Town, and the FoodJam, where participants worked in teams to cook traditional foods that resulted in a fun dinner party.
Cape Town, a vibrant, multicultural city that’s full of history, gives students the opportunity to trace the impact of colonialism and apartheid through excursions and service projects in partnership with local communities. For many, the environment is politically inspiring. Diego says, “I’ve known for a while that I’ve wanted to study international relations and politics, but coming to Cape Town and gaining a new global perspective on one of the issues our world faces (socioeconomic inequality) simply re-emphasized my dream to become a diplomat.”
Diego mentions that the most difficult part of his trip was to figure out how to connect with locals despite their differences – a challenge that many travelers face. He credits Ubuntu, an idea from the Southern African region that stands for humanity towards others and is suggestive of a universal bond that connects us, for his success in connecting with the people of South Africa. “I do believe it was Ubuntu that made this trip so enjoyable,” he says. “…Ubuntu helped us mutually recognize that instead of feeling pity or jealousy among one another, we were just human teenagers who wanted to talk and have fun. It made us realize that as long as we were all willing to recognize, appreciate, and enjoy the common human essence all of us have, our well-being and happiness can flourish.”
Diego was able to capture his eye-opening exploration of Cape Town in the video below, where you can get a sense of his experience learning about local culture and history, visiting must-see destinations, and making life-long friends both from the U.S. and from South Africa: