Every year, the Honors College selects up to eight Honors students to participate in the South Africa Honors Abroad program.

The eight students selected for the 2017 trip were Abbygail Lapinski, Ellyn Shaffner, Erica Castaneda, Jonathan Brescia, Kellan Ritter, Olivia Batshon, Sage Emerson and Taylor Collins. The students left for their trip on May 8th and recently returned on May 31st with a whole new perspective on life.

These eight courageous students traveled as a group from Orlando to Johannesburg and back, staying a total of 4 weeks. "My experience in South Africa was fantastic. I was able to meet new people and experience new things during the trip. Every day felt like a new adventure,” said Kellan.

This program gives students a chance to focus on service-learning projects that have been developed with our international partners in South Africa. During their time the students worked on both individual and team projects.

Kellan’s project involved taking dresses donated to by Dressed in Hope, a local charity organization, and distributing them to the girls of Intabazwe. He was also in charge of organizing and collecting sports equipment for the children at the community center.

Ellyn was responsible for the clothing and shoe drive for the community center where they gathered donations of gently used children's clothing and shoes while stateside.

Olivia provided kindles, school uniform supplies, school supplies, and arts and craft projects for kids of all ages. “This helped me realize that my heart for service is only growing bigger and the Peace Corps is definitely a step in my future,” explained Olivia.

Taylor and Erica co-lead lead Nambiti projects. The teamed up to gather anti-poaching equipment such as GPSs and binoculars to replace rangers’ outdated equipment. They also teamed up on the project of funding and assisting with the humane dehorning of two white rhinos. “Due to the vicious nature of rhino poaching, the numbers of black and white rhinos are depleting rapidly,” explained Taylor, “In effort to combat this decline, rhino horns are surgically removed by veterinarians to reduce their risk of being poached.” 

Although there were long days spent working, they also got to hike to Cathedral Cave, walk through the Apartheid museum, experience the Cradle of Humankind and explore the Sterkfontein Cave. 

The students got a taste of the highlands, the townships, the lowlands, and the big cities, but something particularly extraordinary was the sighting of the African elephants.  

“I remember staring at them and just admiring their kind nature, powerful stance, and wise eyes. I can’t stop thinking about how amazing they were, physically and intellectually, and how incredibly heartbreaking it is that people kill these beauties for sport,” said Taylor. “The way I felt in that moment and many other times in Nambiti, assured me that I must help these amazing animals like the rhino who are facing extinction because of humans own selfish doing, they are innocent and I want to be a voice for them.”

The students described their time as life-changing, eye opening, and more amazing then they could have ever hoped it would be.

“South Africa gave me a greater appreciation for wildlife and conservation efforts thanks to the passion and dedication of the staff of the Nambiti Big 5 Private Game Reserve,” Ellyn said. “Never in my life have I witnessed such majesty as in South Africa. I'm so grateful that not only does this part of the world exist, but that amazing people are working hard to preserve it. It's incredible that I got to be even a small part of their efforts.”

For more information on what the trip entails and how to apply visit, honors.ucf.edu/students/study-abroad/south-africa/.