What it’s Like to Study Abroad: the U of Chicago Program


I’ve often been asked what it is I’m doing here. What does studying abroad in SA consist of – what does it entail?

In theory, the U of Chicago program is an attempt to examine “African Civilization in Africa.” It follows pre-colonial, colonial, and postcolonial history here. We investigate the ways in which Africa and its diasporas have been represented, both from the outside and from within. We look at how the politics of knowledge – of the past, of the present – have cast the African panorama in diverse and different ways. There is an emphasis on landscape, which is really a discussion into topics like the environment, ecology, geographical space and nature, and which centres on contemporary Africa.

I think, perhaps, the broad goal of our African Civilization courses is to weave together representation, possession, repatriation, land reform, politics and economics, and treat the question – How has South Africa, the country, come to stand for South Africans, the people, in light of the former’s complicated and complex history, the diverse social backgrounds and different pasts which it claims?

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The program, conducted this year by U of C professors John Comaroff and Chris Dorsey, and University of the Witwatersrand professor David Bunn, takes place over 10 weeks. The first week is spent in Johannesburg, followed by seven in Cape Town, and we spend the remaining two in the Kruger National Park. It’s fast-paced and active, but engaging.