Cohort 8 reflects on trip to South Africa

The Cohort 8 executives from Stetson University’s Executive MBA program have been returning in waves over the last several days from South Africa. The business portion of the trip ended last weekend, but many of the students opted to stay extra days to enjoy more of the culture and — for some — shark diving!

“It was an incredible trip,” said Wendy Lowe, Stetson Executive MBA program coordinator. “I would really like to go back again sometime. The students had a great time and we all learned a lot!”

Apartheid was the most riveting aspect of South Africa’s culture and history for most of the students. For Raul Herrera, the highlight of the trip was visiting the Apartheid Museum.

“I am so amazed how far the people of this country have come in the last 15 years when it comes to race relations considering where they were,” said Herrera. “Apartheid was one of the most oppressing forms of government mankind has ever seen.”

Dr. Stuart Michelson, director of Stetson’s Executive MBA program and dean of Stetson’s School of Business, concurred. “It was remarkable to learn about apartheid and how much this country has changed in such a short period.”

Herrera found inspiration in the plight of Nelson Mandela, who spent three decades in one of the most brutal prison in the world, Robben Island. “He insisted on reconciliation, not retaliation or revenge — in marching toward a unified South Africa instead of a South Africa that will sulk in its past,” Herrera said. “Whoever thinks one man cannot affect change is sadly mistaken and should read about this man and his struggle for freedom.”

The business visits were very professional and organized, said Michelson. “Vodacom, especially, was so first-class. The top leaders of the company took the time to meet with us, and after having just unveiled the company’s new marketing campaign, they were eager to share their strategy and findings.”

“At all our business visits, our speakers were very candid about the country’s dark past and how they are all working toward the future,” added Herrera. “No one tried to sugarcoat anything about what happened, nor were they trying to condone it.”

In addition, experiencing wildlife and nature was icing on the cake. “The safari was great,” said Michelson. “Seeing the leopard that has only been seen three times this year was incredible!” Cohort 8 executives enjoyed getting close to many animals on their trip, including elephants and penguins.

The bike ride through Soweto was Lowe’s highlight. “It was a three-hour ride, up and down hills, and it was vigorous! The sights and the people made every minute worth it,” said Lowe. Lowe said she and Michelson would consider future visits to South Africa based on their recent positive experiences. “We are confident that our weeklong visit just scratched the surface of what the nation has to offer,” said Lowe.

“South Africa has an amazing power to forgive and move forward,” Herrera said. “It’s an amazing country with amazing people.”

Cohort 8 visits seniors in South Africa for philanthropic experience

Denise Edelmeier, left, visits with a resident named Denise at Oakhaven Home for the Aged in Cape Town.

Members of Stetson University Executive MBA program’s Cohort 8 wanted to give something to the South African people in return for their adventure in the nation. After careful consideration, the cohort selected a retirement home as the best place to visit and provide support. This decision was made in part because of the age of residents who could share what it was like to live through Apartheid during this evolutionary century of change.

The cohort visited Oakhaven Home for the Aged, coordinated with the assistance of Francis Chamarengah of Cross Cultural Solutions. “Oakhaven is not a place for old people to live before they pass, but it’s a place for the living,” said the local director, Ms. McPherson, “It’s their home. We work tirelessly to provide an environment that allows residents the freedom to go about their day in a manner that feels most comfortable to them.”

At Oakhaven, residents can participate in organized games, exercises and movie viewings. Oakhaven provides total care (health, emotional, spiritual) for its residents, including medication, meals, laundry and hygiene services. Oakhaven houses more than 100 residents, 50 years of age and older.

Victor, age 84, is a retired carpenter who built one of the first skyscrapers in downtown Cape Town. He said he loves living at Oakhaven. He doesn’t have any family in the area, so he relies on his friendships at Oakhaven to provide company and support emotionally.

McPherson said Victor’s situation is not unusual for Oakhaven residents. Few have consistent visitors, and the students’ brief time visiting will not only be incredibly stimulating for the residents, but it will boost their morale for days and weeks to come, especially upon learning about the students and their lives in the United States.

Residents gave members of Cohort 8 a tour of their home at Oakhaven.

Cohort members mingled with the residents for more than an hour. Student Denise Edelmaier was captivated by a resident, also named Denise, who was born and raised in Cape Town and in earlier years was a seamstress making dresses in a factory. Jason Plas and some fellow students spent time with light-hearted residents Christine and Gloria. And resident Sam was a very sweet man who was more than happy to share his smile. He seemed very content to be a father of four, but it was sad for the students to see that he struggled to remember his children’s names.

“I could see that visiting with the seniors meant a lot to them,” said student Eric O’Leary. “The fact that they do not receive visitors is sad, and sharing time with the seniors was very rewarding.”

During the cohort’s time with the retirees, many residents requested photos, which the students gladly took and shared. At the conclusion of the visit, Cohort 8 presented Oakhaven Home for the Aged a donation equivalent to $200 (U.S.), a portion of which was raised at Stetson Executive MBA’s Alumni Event.

“You forever made a positive impact on Oakhaven and its residents,” said McPherson to the students upon their departure. The students concurred after leaving that they too had been forever changed by the conversations they had there and the time they spent with the retirees.