When he left South Africa for a six-week study tour at Fordham, Awelani Rahulani had only a glancing interest in political issues. But no more.
“I’m going back home as a challenged human being, looking for what I can actually do to improve my country and my sphere of influence,” said Rahulani, an economist who now wants to work on improving local government in South Africa.
His classmates reported the same kind of changed outlook after taking part in the growing, thriving summer program run by Fordham and the University of Pretoria. Ending in early July, the program immersed the students in all things New York—from the diversity of the Bronx to the rarefied precincts of international business, where they got to directly question the people who run world-famous companies.
“It’s companies that we work with, but we’re so far removed from them,” said Lulama Booi, a chartered accountant whose study tour was arranged by the African Women Chartered Accountants Forum. “The mix of the theoretical classwork that we do and the site visits has been amazing.”
Begun five years ago with nine economics students, this summer the program hosted 24 students and grew more diverse. While some were pursuing fourth-year honors undergraduate studies (college is three years in South Africa), others were professionals who were sent by their employers.
Most took classes in strategic financial management and political risk analysis through the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. But six took classes at the Graduate School of Education, and next year some will attend the Graduate School of Social Service, said Booi Themeli, PhD, economics professor and director of Fordham’s collaborations with the University of Pretoria.
“Everybody is thinking of how we can broaden the collaboration,” he said.
The six-week program is one of many educational exchanges between the two universities—including the semester-long Ubuntu program for Fordham students at the University of Pretoria—that are growing Fordham’s reputation in South Africa, Themeli said.
“The Fordham brand in South Africa is much bigger than maybe even Harvard,” he said.
Harvard, in fact, was one of the students’ stops during an excursion to Boston. They also traveled to Washington, D.C., visiting the International Monetary Fund and seeing other sights. In New York they visited companies including Credit Suisse, JPMorgan Chase, and Moody’s, where they spoke to the analyst responsible for South Africa’s credit rating.
Seeing their country from the outside gave some of them new ideas about what they want for it. Anri Oberholzer, an aspiring trader, learned that she’d like to eventually play a role in enhancing the country’s educational system. Rahulani, an economist with the South African Reserve Bank, wants to start an institute to help local governments deliver better services.
“With the sort of exposure that I’m getting here, and with the people that I’m meeting here in lectures, they inspire that confidence that actually I can do this,” he said.
In addition to visiting business sites, they soaked up the city through visits to Yankee Stadium, the Bronx Zoo, and other landmark locations. Some of Fordham’s summertime rites also made an impression, like the pie-eating contest at the University’s Dagger John Day, an employee party held in June. “In South Africa we don’t have things like that,” said Nick Mamabolo, who won.
Also interesting to the South Africans was Fordham’s Jubilee reunion weekend, in which alumni from as far back as 1959 returned to campus.
“It has been an eye-opening experience,” said Theriso Pete, an investment analyst. “It was unbelievable, seeing people who were here so long ago and they still love this place, they still come back to this place.”
“We realize how fortunate we’ve been to be here at Fordham,” said Lulama Booi. “What I’ve realized, being here, is that Fordham is maybe a great picture for us of New York.”