When St. Louis Park high school senior Emily Doss first told her parents, Robb and Sue, that she wanted to study abroad her junior year, their response, says Emily, was short of enthusiastic. “They didn’t want me going away, and they really didn’t want me to go to Cape Town,” she says. She preferred South Africa because of its contrast with where her friends chose to study abroad (commonly Europe or Australia) and because English is spoken there. Her father, on the other hand, not only preferred Europe but also questioned the value of studying in another country if learning the local language wasn’t part of the experience.
But it seemed Emily would not be easily dissuaded. “Emily has always been independent-minded, with strong convictions,” says her dad. He and Sue did research about ASSE International Student Exchange (the agency with which Emily had engaged) and Capetown. Eventually they were able to come on board, says Robb. One person instrumental in their comfort with Emily’s choice, says Robb, was ASSE state coordinator Sheba Coffey. The qualities that make a good candidate, Coffey says, include maturity, eagerness to learn, and an open attitude toward new things. An outgoing personality and excellent communication and problem-solving skills also help. “Emily displayed all of these and more,” says Coffey. “I highly recommended her for study abroad in South Africa.”
Emily’s parents had one more requirement: Their daughter would be responsible for half the cost of the program. Emily accepted the challenge. Finally, in January 2016, Emily headed off to Cape Town, where she met and lived for six months with her host family, whom Emily describes as “perfect.” They showed Emily (and ultimately two other exchange students from France and Italy who came to live with them) all around Cape Town, “took us on vacation, to the beach, hiking, everything.”
Emily attended a private/public hybrid high school, grades eight through 12, with about 1,250 students, in a neighborhood of Cape Town called Edgemead. “There were some kids from the townships, some kids from wealthy families. Racially, it was very diverse,” she says. “The curriculum was definitely not as rigorous as what we have here in St. Louis Park.” There were no AP or IB classes, and little to no computer/high-tech equipment use. Nonetheless, Emily says, “kids took school very seriously.” Classes included art, Afrikaans (the national language of South Africa), biology, math, English and history. “I really enjoyed learning American history from another point of view,” she says. Learning Afrikaans, on the other hand, proved to be one of her hardest experiences.
In one outstanding adventure while in South Africa, Emily and several other exchange students went on safari together to Kruger National Park. But for Emily, it was the people who mattered most. “The experience was all about lifelong relationships with local and other exchange students. It was my German, Swiss, Italian and all of my South African friends that gave me the best experience.”