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Cape Town study abroad program suspended starting spring quarter

(Courtesy of National Geographic)

Stanford’s Cape Town Bing Overseas Studies Program (BOSP) has been suspended indefinitely starting this upcoming spring quarter after the unexpected resignation of several faculty members. Ramon Saldivar, director of BOSP, hopes to reopen the program for the summer quarter.

According to Saldivar, the suspension occurred because the faculty director of the program and other Cape Town faculty abruptly resigned. The program is suspended until BOSP is able to find a new faculty director and replacement faculty members.

“The general issue is that Cape Town is a challenging place that requires a level of commitment that is sometimes more than a staff member can handle,” Saldivar said. “Students come back from Cape Town immensely challenged and changed, but also sometimes taken to a point where you need to pull back. That’s what happened to our director.”

Stanford students who have studied abroad in Cape Town in the past have also described their Cape Town experience as complex. Many of these difficulties arise from the political and social climate of Cape Town, where social justice is a main focus.

Stanford’s BOSP website describes that academic objective of the Cape Town program is to “introduce students to South Africa’s civil society… and important theories of social justice.”

Eli Briody-Pavlik ’18, who studied abroad in Cape Town last summer, stated that the program encouraged him to think about race and systematic issues.

“The Cape Town program is a struggle,” Briody-Pavlik said. “It makes you think deeply about race, your relationship to the world and it breeds resentment against systems.”

Saldivar emphasized that this closure is temporary, and BOSP does not intend to cancel the program.

“The Cape Town program is one of the major success stories for BOSP,” Saldivar said.

The program has only existed for eight years, but has been so successful that BOSP is currently using the program – specifically the community engagement aspect – as a model for future programs that BOSP may be developing in the next five to 10 years.

If everything goes smoothly, the Cape Town program will have a new faculty director by mid-winter quarter.

“We’re searching for a new director, but I don’t want to rush into it,” Saldivar said. “We have a large pool of applications to work through.”

Despite the circumstances surrounding the decision to suspend the Cape Town program, Saldivar says that the suspension could be positive in taking the program in a new direction.

“Changes, even unexpected ones like this, give the new faculty director an opportunity for innovation,” Saldivar said.

One possibility for change regards the community engaged learning aspect. Cape Town is currently the only Stanford study abroad program with a required community engaged learning component, where students work with local organizations in Cape Town.

The study abroad experience in Cape Town is challenging and sometimes overwhelming for both students and faculty, but many find the community engagement and lessons taught important and gratifying.

Divya Gopisetty ’18 participated in the program last spring and attested to the value of the Cape Town experience.

“Overall, it’s been very valuable for me,” Gopisetty said. “There were times where the experience was overwhelming, but in hindsight I think the change was a positive one.”

Briody-Pavlik added that going to Cape Town gave him a new outlook on life.

“I think Cape Town is definitely the Stanford program that offers the most opportunity for growth,” Briody-Pavlik said. “It changed a lot about the way I look at life.”

Contact Max Pienkny at maxp123 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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