by Colette C. '20
I can remember the study abroad assembly in fall of my sophomore year, where my class first learned about the many opportunities we would have as juniors to live and learn in other places. Immediately I knew that studying abroad was something I wanted to do. Fast forward to a little under a year later, and I was getting ready to embark on my 25-hour journey to O. R. Tambo International Airport. I was headed to my first semester at the African Leadership Academy in Johannesburg, South Africa. As a member of their Catalyst program, I was among a handful of international students admitted to study for a short period of time while living with full-time students.
African Leadership Academy, or ALA, is a two-year boarding school for students from the entire continent of Africa. Its mission is to develop and inspire young leaders who will go on to create positive changes in their communities and in Africa. I attended the school for almost four months, starting with the newly admitted first-years. ALA had a tremendously positive impact on me; it’s vibrant social life, supportive community, and interesting classes were only some of the many wonderful aspects of life at ALA. At school, I was able to develop my academic passions further and I learned how to build important leadership skills. The ALA Entrepreneurial Leadership course is a large part of their core curriculum, along with various African Studies courses. I took a class called “Omang”- roughly translated as “who are you” in Tswana- which focused on what an African identity is and how different people define what it means to be African and who an African is.
Of course, not everything about the African Leadership Academy was easy to adjust to. At first, being only one of three Americans in the whole school was a bit of a culture shock, but I expected that and was able to move on quickly. However, the hot, dry climate was not as easy to adjust to. The grading system in South Africa was also very different from that of Lakeside. Yet, none of the potential challenges outweighed all of the opportunities and experiences that came with attending ALA.
The fun, diverse, creative student body was one of the best things about ALA. I could be learning Arabic words from my Tunisian friend, while listening to Kenyan music and eating Nigerian food. I was constantly being exposed to new cultures and customs; I learned as much from my peers outside the classroom as I did from my teachers in the classroom. The students at ALA were inspiring; there were many that had already started organizations or projects prior to coming to the school, and some had already won prestigious awards and scholarships. One thing that all of the students had in common was their passion for making a difference. I was surrounded by peers who had dreams of making the world a better place, and I have no doubt that one day they will. My journey taught me a lot and, though it could be difficult at times, I came back a better person and now have community of friends from across the globe.
Students gather at Taalaw, the school's welcoming ceremony. (African Leadership Academy)