What South Africa Taught Me
Over the course of my three, going on four years of undergraduate studies in topics like international affairs, comparative cultures, and African studies, I’ve noticed a widespread trend of Western state relations with African nations: Western nations and institutions (IMF, World Bank, even the UN) inflicting lessons and principles upon African nations, without much transfer of information the other way. Essentially what I’m saying is that education on governance, policy, social institutions, and to an extent culture flows unilaterally between Africa and many Western states.
As the country with the highest GDP in the world as well as a long history of being heralded as something to which others aspire, it’s easy for us in the US to think we’ve got it all right. In arriving at this conclusion, we are depriving ourselves of the wisdom and values that other cultures have to offer, and thus missing out on some really beautiful ways to view the world.
So I figured I would share what is, in my opinion, the most important lesson that South Africa taught me during my time there:
People > Everything else.
Living in such a fast-paced, productivity-driven society like the US makes it easy to forget that what ultimately matters is not how far you get in life, but how you treated people getting there. There were many times during my internship this summer where it took me awhile to finish my tasks because of any number of reasons (usually the language barrier) but I was never criticized or belittled because of this. I always genuinely felt my contributions were valued and that I was an important part of my organization. I wonder what our work culture, and society in general, would be like if more people held this mindset?