Throwback Thursday: Rutgers University in South Africa

All the college kids are back at school! I would like to take this opportunity to mention a man who changed my life. I had Cal for International Marketing. He spoke endlessly about South Africa. I first visited Southeast Asia with Rutgers (that's for a later post), and then visited South Africa just months later. It was thanks to Cal that I traveled to eight countries through Rutgers.

This was originally published in Rutgers University-Camden School of Business's newspaper, Minding Your Busine$$, Spring 2011.

Rutgers University in South Africa celebrated 20 years of friendship in 2016.


Cal Maradonna

Director of Learning Abroad at Rutgers University Camden

How did you become involved with leading studies abroad?

It was back in 1993 that there was a group of people on campus from Namibia. I had just opened a bookstore where The Corner is now. Namibia had just gained its independence in 1990 and in ’93 they had begun developing their universities. A new university needed a bookstore along with a student affairs center so they asked me to help. I went over on two separate trips in June and October of ‘95 to help with the project. It involved a lot of cross-over with Namibia and South Africa.

Rutgers had been hosting studies abroad since the 70’s. I had the chance to visit the Soviet Union in 1984 as part of a Russian Literature class - that was quite the culture shock. It was from my travel experiences and working with the people from Namibia that I decided to coordinate my own trip. So in 1996, I hosted the first study abroad to Namibia and South Africa. I went back to the university in Namibia in 2008 to see how things were going. The bookstore was still there!


What made you choose South Africa?

I had some knowledge of South Africa through working with some of the universities there. At the time I worked alongside another Rutgers employee, Ian Jacobs. We were operating in the Eastern Cape. I worked with Rhodes University, University of Port Elizabeth and Hare University.


How long have you been leading the South Africa trip?

1996 was the first trip so, this year, 2011, would make it 15 years.


How has the South Africa trip evolved over time?

Apartheid ended in 1994. When I first went over in ’95, the townships were literally villages of shacks. There was no such thing as running water or electricity. We met with one man there and he had a television hooked up to a car battery to watch TV. There’s a picture I take every year in the same township. It’s a view the township with Table Mountain and two cooling towers in the background. The cooling towers were for coal-fire plants. Around 2006 to 2007, houses began to pop up in the township. This year, the cooling towers were knocked down. With the Truth and Reconciliation Commission the quality of life has been rapidly improving each year.


What lessons have you taken away from your time in South Africa? Is there anything the U.S. could learn from South Africa?

South Africa’s ability to adapt is absolutely amazing. The people there were treated badly and they were able to put aside the negativity to work together on improving the nation as a whole. Nelson Mandela played a major role in helping achieve this. When I went over in ’95, I didn’t feel that the black population had any hatred toward me. Of course there will always be blacks and whites who are still bitter over what had happened, however, the general consensus is that the terrible experience of Apartheid is thankfully over.

I feel that we should learn to allow and accept change. I don’t feel that our culture allows the U.S. to change that quickly. Our problems date back over a century. Here, it was the majority suppressing the minority. In South Africa it was the reverse - it was the minority holding down the majority. Here, we’ve had freedom for decades and we still feel awkward talking about race. In South Africa, racial tensions have subsided for the last 15 years.


From your perspective, how has South Africa changed over the years?

I never saw what life was like during Apartheid. In my opinion, the country has done a lot to reconcile the past. After Apartheid was abolished, the biggest issue was housing. Since the majority of the population was forced to live in shacks, the government spent several of the first years constructing houses and helping blacks earn a living. Just 10 years ago there were no utilities. People had waste buckets and cooked with paraffin. About 80% percent of the population lived like that. Unfortunately a lot of people still see the continent of Africa as backward and deeply impoverished. I would say South Africa is home to first world and third world features. When I went to the World Cup in 2010, it was great to see the monumental improvements. We stayed in a township in Johannesburg. It was such a wonderful experience.


How have your visits to South Africa changed you?

It’s made me tolerant - I’m more willing to accept cultural differences. I’ve learned a lot about the history and culture of South Africa. Just from the experience, I’ve become more concerned about the wellbeing of others, I feel more connected with the rest of the world.


Do you have a favorite part of South Africa?

Cape Town. It’s a cosmopolitan city and all the different neighborhoods add to the appeal. The weather is generally good. I feel refreshed every time I land there.


What additional benefits do students receive from participating in study abroad courses?

It’s an opportunity to immerse oneself in the culture of other countries. Most students here at Rutgers Camden have a job so they can’t spend a semester abroad. The Spring Break trips offer a taste of the world. Because the global economy is so inter-connected and what happens in one part of the world could affect a number of aspects down the line, students who take advantage of these opportunities gain a wider perspective of how this system operates.


What advice would you give to students looking into international business?

You should be passionate. Always be passionate about your work - especially if you will be living another country for some period of time. With that said, international business is a very broad term. International could mean working on a project with our neighbors, Canada and Mexico. To really grasp international business, a student should first experience another country and he should really try to blend in as one of the locals. Learn as much as you can about where you’re headed and after your experience, make the decision. Ask yourself, “Do I really want to do this?” If the answer is yes, then don’t let anything hold you back!

Find Cal Maradonna on LinkedIn.