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SDSU Students Study Abroad in South Africa

Group photo of class in South Africa holding SDSU Jackrabbits flag
The class poses for a photo with a SDSU Jackrabbits flag atop a mountain in South Africa. From left to right (back row): Dr. Bob Thaler, Karen Thaler, Dr. Michael Gonda, Allisyn Baker, Sydney Sheffield, Braden Waldbeser, Erin Schelling, Mackenzie Henning, Megan Sievers, Haley Maday, Emily Gerber, Emilee Schuetz, Garrett Bailey, Reagan Sevigney, Dr. Michael MacNeil, Prairie Retzer, Natalie Hoyes. Front row (kneeling): Taylor Stout, Bailee Anderson.

A group of South Dakota State University students spent their spring break studying abroad in South Africa March 10-20. The group was made up of students representing a wide variety of academic programs across campus such as animal science, agricultural science, biotechnology, agriculture communications and nursing. 

The 14 students in the class included Sydney Sheffield, Emily Gerber, Bailee Anderson, Emilee Schuetz, Erin Schelling, Megan Sievers, Allisyn Baker, Haley Maday, Taylor Stout, Prairie Retzer, Braden Waldbeser, Mackenzie Henning, Reagan Sevigney and Garrett Bailey. The class was led by Michael Gonda, professor in the Department of Animal Science, and assisted by Bob Thaler, distinguished professor and interim head of the Department of Animal Science, and Natalie Hoyes, former academic advisor in the Department of Animal Science.

“Students learned firsthand about agricultural practices as well as the culture and history of South Africa,” said Gonda. “The entire group learned about the differences of the country compared to the United States and learned about problems facing South African agriculture and society. Students also gained more confidence in their ability to travel internationally and interact with people of different cultures and backgrounds.”

The class focused on a combination of different topics such as agriculture, healthcare, culture and history. The students spent time with faculty and graduate students from the National Animal Research Center near Pretoria, South Africa, and spent several days on a local medical doctor’s farm where they learned about crop farming, cattle production and the raising of wild game.  

Students are posing with a nyala they helped tranquilize and relocate.
The students pose with a nyala they helped tranquilize and relocate to a different pasture. 

As part of their experience, the students assisted in tranquilizing a nyala antelope, treating it and moving it to a different pasture. The class also had the opportunity to work with Afrikaner cattle and study different agronomy methods. After learning about some of the different farming practices, the group then met with emerging farmers. Additionally, they visited the Apartheid Museum, Voortrekker’s Monument, the Cheetah Rescue Center, a native village and a national wildlife park where the students could closely observe elephants, giraffes, zebras, hippos and many other wildlife species.

“My favorite part of the class was the time we spent at Trekpad Safaris which was a game reserve that we stayed at for about half of our trip,” said Mackenzie Henning, a sophomore biotechnology and agricultural science student from Jackson, Minnesota. “The Trekpad staff shared a lot about their own experiences in South Africa, which was very interesting. They also spent time showing us their livestock and crop operations and took us along with them while they immobilized and relocated some game animals.” 

Students are encouraged to take advantage of educational opportunities abroad throughout their time at SDSU to step out of their comfort zone and improve and expand their worldview. 

“Dr. Gonda did a great job of leading the class, and I would encourage students to consider it in the future,” said Thaler. “Students need to understand that this is the best time of their lives to go abroad. This trip, and all international travel through CAFES, is life changing – it could be many years before they have an opportunity for an experience like this again.”