Rutgers University–Camden Celebrates 20 Years of Signature Spring Break Trip to South Africa

By Ed Moorhouse

Neha Malkani with South African students during the 2012 trip.

Neha Malkani with South African students during the 2012 trip.

It has become a rite of spring for Rutgers University–Camden students; an annual tradition woven into the fabric of the Rutgers–Camden experience. Since 1996, more than 1,000 students and faculty have spent spring break in South Africa, exploring historic Cape Town and Johannesburg, getting to know the culture and traditions of the region, and giving back to communities of native people.

On May 29, 120 Rutgers–Camden students gathered at the Craft House & Beer Garden on Marlton Pike in Cherry Hill to reminisce and celebrate 20 years of the signature South Africa trip during a special reunion.

“Learning is being open to new ideas, people, cultures, philosophies, and experiences,” says Sharon Brown CCAS ’96, who went on the very first Rutgers–Camden trip to South Africa in 1996.

Commenting on the importance of global learning experiences while in college, Brown, a Yorklyn, Del. resident, says, “We are all in this life together and each have something unique and yet the same to offer. The more we know, the better informed we are to keep moving forward to make this world a better place.”

That’s a pretty good motto for the South Africa trip. Each year, Rutgers–Camden students dedicate time to the betterment of communities and schools, donating of book bags filled with brand new school supplies to the Kalksteenfontein Primary School — an initiative established by Rutgers School of Business–Camden professor Julie Ruth. To date, 500 book bags have been delivered to students in grades K to 7.

Sharon Brown at the recent reunion of students who went to South Africa over the years.

Sharon Brown at the recent reunion of students who went to South Africa over the years.

“When the students come back from the trip, they say it was the trip of a lifetime and the best experience they ever had,” says Cal Maradonna, manager for off-campus business and international programs for the Rutgers School of Business–Camden and the founder and organizer of the South Africa trip. “Years later, they have the same feelings. For many of the students, we open up a door to travel and give them cultural learning experiences that they won’t get anywhere else.”

Maradonna says he has witnessed remarkable improvements in Cape Town over his 20 trips to South Africa.

“I take a picture at the same spot in Cape Town every year,” he says. “The first year, there were old shacks, a giant smokestack, and pollution, and in the background, there’s Table Mountain, which is beautiful. Through these pictures, you can see how it’s evolved. Now, the shacks are gone, new homes have been built, and you can see all of the improvements. It’s wonderful, and the people there are proud of it. It’s given our students a whole new perspective.”

The Rutgers–Camden students say they are just as proud to contribute to the revitalization of the region.

For Antony Muthangya, a senior management major at Rutgers–Camden who went to South Africa in 2015, helping school children at Kalksteenfontein Primary School was just as rewarding to him as it was to the young students.

“We got to spend time and interact with the children and in doing so we realized that that deep down, we are all the same and want the same things in life. The experience was humbling because it put into perspective how much we take the little things for granted.”

Neha Malkani SBC ’13, who traveled to South Africa in 2012, echoed Muthangya’s sentiment.

Antony Muthangya helps South African students in 2015.

Antony Muthangya helps South African students in 2015.

“It was one of the most fulfilling things I have ever done,” she says. “I believe having international learning experience is important in order for people to learn about different cultures, develop a broader understanding of the world, understand differences in the education styles and systems, and to develop communication skills and in general learn more about the world.”

At the reunion, students from the 20 different trips bonded over these shared experiences; reunited with one of their South African tour guides, Muhammad Khan, who was visiting the U.S.; and even had a few laughs over some unexpected adventures, including one instance during the first trip in 1996 in which a baboon hitched a ride on the Rutgers–Camden bus before being lured away by an apple in Brown’s lunch bag.

“It was truly an adventure,” Brown says. “I found lifelong friends, great memories, and stories to share.”

Maradonna is already preparing for the 21st trip in 2016 and hopes the longstanding tradition continues for years to come.

“I hope we can do it for 20 more years and even longer,” he says.

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