Prosapio takes a break from the Nelson Mandela University in South Africa

By Tina SnellStaff Writer

Through an Ambassadorial Scholarship from Rotary International, Luci Prosapio was able to attend the Nelson Mandella University in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. The scholarship, worth $26,000, helped her with her studies in economic and community development.

Luci Prosapio, Little Falls, takes a break from hiking to look over Cape Town, South Africa. Robben Island is pictured in the Atlantic Ocean. The island is where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years. He was later moved to Pollsmoor Prison on the mainland where he spend another nine years.

Prosapio has been gone an entire year and only recently returned home for the holidays, and for the South African summer break.

“Because I was able to stretch that money, I plan to go back for my second year in Port Elizabeth,” said Prossapio.

Her original plan was to spend one year in South Africa  and then her second year at the Hubert Humphrey School of Public Affairs in Minnesota or George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

“But, I would have had to start over since my credits wouldn’t transfer due to course structure,” she said. “I really love it in South Africa. And there is so much more to explore and to see. I’m not finished.”

Prosapio said she is the youngest person in her class, and the only student from the United States. The other students are mostly South African professionals getting their master’s degrees.

Prosapio’s interests lie in alleviating poverty. She is studying how people can rise above their situations and create good lives for themselves.

Luci Prosapio

“Africa is unique in its history of social and economic inequality,” she said. “It’s only been about 20 years since apartheid was abolished.”

Prosapio is studying how the new equality is working in South Africa and why it’s not. She is looking at how to change what is not working.

“I am developing my argument on how agricultural workers can utilize economic incentives to grow their crops or livestock,” she said. “It is so difficult with 40 percent unemployment nationally and 80 percent unemployment in the lower socioeconomic brackets.”

One of the requirements of the scholarship is to attend a school in a town with a Rotary Club. She was very happy about that since she had a support system in place when she arrived.  She said the Rotary members have included her in all they do, helped her find a place to live and more.

Prosapio volunteers at a non-profit program called Zama (Try It), a job she got through the Port Elizabeth Sunrise Rotary Club. It’s an after-school program that offers extra-curricular activities not offered in the school.

“I didn’t want to go to Johannesburg or Cape Town because everyone goes there. The name, Nelson Mandela University, attracted me and I learned it is the only school in South Africa he allowed to use his name,” Prosapio said.

Mandela was imprisoned from 1964 to 1990 for joining the African National Congress (ANC) and engaging in resistance against the National Party and its apartheid policies. After his release, Mandela was elected president of the ANC and he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.

During the past year, Prosapio lived in an area called Nelson Mandela Bay, near where the former president grew up.

“I love it here. I love the people, their unique perspective of life and their culture. They are a down-to-earth people and they love to learn,” she said. “They cannot get enough of my stories of home. They also love my accent.”

Courtesy of Google Maps

The people of South Africa don’t worry about time the same way as the people of the United States do. Prosapio said South Africans are very people-oriented and when they meet a friend on the street, they have to go have a cup of coffee and talk for hours.

“Even a braai (barbecue party) may last for eight or more hours,” she said. And a dinner party is more a social affair, not a meal. Prosapio said the cooking doesn’t start until all the guests have arrived. Everyone cooks together.

“They have a unique appreciation of others,” she said.

At first, Prosapio had a hard time getting used to how the South Africans viewed time.

“People will do things now, now now, or just now,” she said. “If someone says they will meet me now, that means in 10 minutes. If they say they will meet me now now, that means in one to three hours. But if they say they will meet me just now, who knows when they will show up.”

South Africa is made up of a dozen or more ethnic groups, all very strong in their individual customs. Xhosa (pronounced Kosa) is the main African culture in Port Elizabeth. With them, Prosapio had to get used to not having her own personal space.

“They will touch and crowd complete strangers. They will grab my hand when I’m walking, even though they don’t know me. They are very physical,” she said.

The Afrikaans have a Dutch and German heritage and culture and are very rigid. There are also Indians, Malaysians and Asians, but Prosapio said they all live in harmony while keeping their own cultures alive.

“It’s different in the U.S. where people seem to blend,” she said. “It’s like a fruit salad versus a fruit smoothie. It’s a very complex society, but so interesting. I get frustrated sometimes, but it’s part of life. I feel as if I have grown so much since coming to Port Elizabeth.”

Prosapio said she loved most of the food.

“All the food is very fresh and they use lots of curry,” she said. “And they love their meat, lots of it.” The South Africans eat kudu, a type of deer, ostrich, wors, a type of bratwurst and lots of seafood.

“Most of the food is locally grown which is a matter of pride for the South Africans,” she said. “They have almost an entire year for a growing season.”

While she said there were not many things she didn’t like to eat, Prosapio said liver pate and fried intestines were not her favorite.

Prosapio returns to Port Elizabeth Dec. 29, and classes start in the last part of January, at the end of the South African summer.