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Oct 14, 2013

South African Students Find New Friends at JMU

Photo of MartieWhen you first meet Emily Jolly and Martie Theron you’d assume that they’d been friends for years. From their inside jokes to the way they sarcastically poke fun at each other these two are the picture of college friends, which makes it hard to believe that they met only a short week prior to our interview.

In reality, Martie lives in Bloemfontein, South Africa over 8,000 miles away from Emily’s home here at JMU. Emily, an RA in White Hall, was selected to be a host for the First Years Leadership for Change program that brought Martie and seven of her fellow students from the University of the Free State (UFS) to America.

“I’ve always been interested in different cultural opportunities at JMU so I saw this program as a chance to learn more about another culture without having to be completely immersed in it,” Emily said. “I’m from a pretty conservative small town in Virginia so coming to JMU really opened my eyes to other cultures. When I learned about this opportunity only open to RAs I thought ‘why not apply for it.’”

While the selection process for Emily was fairly short, Martie had a lot more preparation and work to do in order to be selected.

“As a first year you apply to a leadership program, that is quite hard to get into, only 140 are selected out of close to 5,000 first year applicants,” said Martie. “First you are interviewed based on your merits your first year at the university, then you have to do a presentation on the programs three main topics: leadership, citizenship and diversity. Once you complete that, you are assigned a school to travel to, and I’m so glad I got JMU.”

Before she could travel to the U.S. Martie had to attend seminars focusing on ethnical diversity, ethical reasoning, leadership and what citizenship means. She also had to attend lectures that reviewed differences in education systems and government, knowledge that better prepared her for her 15-day trip.

Beyond noting that students at JMU sleep pretty late, 9 am being late in her eyes, and eating her first tater tot in D-Hall, Martie noticed other large differences between the universities.

“At my university we live in our residences for four years. You choose the residence you want to live in and they choose you, it’s a mutual thing, so you have so much residence pride. At JMU, everyone comes to JMU because of JMU, not because of Hanson or White,” Martie said. “At JMU everyone wears JMU stuff, at home we wear stuff for our residence not UFS. The first UFS labeled shirt I got is actually the one we got for this trip.”

The school pride she has seen in JMU students is one thing she hopes to take back to UFS.

Martie also pointed out another large difference that she and the other UFS students have noticed around campus. During their stay the students are encouraged to discuss these difference with each other and with their hosts in hopes of bettering both sides.

“The students do a lot for the students here. JMU has a lot of student clubs and associations. At UFS it’s difficult, you have to go through a lot of channels to organize something. Here, everyone is willing to work with you and you have a lot of resources so it seems easier and more accessible,” she said. 

JMU’s BeInvolved website lists over 320 groups in the Organization Directory, a number that all JMU students should be proud of. These organizations provide students with a variety of options to fit their individual interests, and if you can’t find something that fits your interests you are encouraged to develop your own.

The best advice Martie has for other students who are participating in an exchange or study abroad program is to “keep an open mind. Learn as much as you can, take in as much as you can and give what you know. I can learn so much from you but I really want to teach you stuff as well,” she said.

While she doesn’t have any concrete plans yet, Martie definitely wants to return to JMU again, maybe even as a grad student next time. “The people here are so friendly. Everything here is just awesome, there is WiFi on campus. My life is easy here, everything is accessible.” We have undoubtedly sent one more student home bleeding purple with a new friend that bleeds the same.

By Megan Martin ('11)

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