During the upcoming January Interim Experience of 2012, the Gustavus Symphony Orchestra will be studying and traveling in South Africa on a musical tour. Led by Professors Ruth Lin, Lois Peterson and Ester Wand, the orchestra will be performing, touring and delivering goods to children in need.
Every four years, the Symphony Orchestra partakes in an international tour. This year’s tour to South Africa will take place from Jan. 23, 2012 with the group returning on Feb. 1, 2012. In addition, the orchestra members will partake in a companion course throughout the month of January in which they will study the history of South Africa, the AIDS epidemic, apartheid and other topics.
“The purpose of the companion course is to provide context for the students when they are in the country. Its intent is to prepare them to be more than just tourists. South Africa is an extremely fascinating country and it has so many challenges that we can observe and learn from,” Professor Lois Peterson said.
When the students arrive in South Africa, they will be educated about the history and social conditions from the companion course, which will allow them to have a unique appreciation for many of the sites they will visit.
“South Africa is a country of social contrasts. While the big cities look very much like Chicago or New York City here in America, there is also a lot of poverty, corruption and hardship that the students will get to see. They will be doing a certain amount of ‘tourist’ stuff but will also be going as scholars and performers. I am very excited to see how this experience changes the student’s world views,” Professor Ruth Lin, conductor of the Gustavus Symphony Orchestra said.
Aside from exploring and learning about the country, the orchestra will also perform six to seven times, including once in a township at a school for disabled children. Townships are comparable to informal squatter settlements, characterized by poverty and despair so the orchestra members will be bringing supplies provided by the Starfish Project to an orphanage as well as a small child’s coat provided by each orchestra member.
“The students each are only bringing a small amount, but with about 58 students going on the trip, that adds up to quite a bit of stuff for children in need. The service component of the trip is very fitting and important. Helping out these children will be something the students will never forget,” Professor Ruth Lin said.
Lin was responsible for choosing the tour destination for 2012. She chose South Africa because she thought it would be an eye opening and broadening experience that students would likely never forget. She also chose South Africa because the summer season in the Southern Hemisphere would provide longer days for learning and performing.
“Most importantly, I wanted to take the students somewhere they would be unlikely to go on their own. This is not like going to Florida or Mexico on spring break—this is something that would change their lives,” Lin said.
Items on the orchestra’s itinerary include a morning of sightseeing through Cape Town, visits to homeless shelters, a traditional African dinner at a café, a visit to Le Bonheur Crocodile Farm and a visit to the Nelson Mandela House Museum. Students will also be visiting Robben Island, also known as the “Alcatraz” of South Africa. Robben Island is well-known for being Nelson Mandela’s place of imprisonment during the Apartheid. The group will also have the experience of seeing the African wildlife with visits to game reserves.
“The tour includes such a wonderful mix of performing, seeing new places and things and seeing the history of the country. There will be some ‘tourist’ parts but also a lot of parts that will help give the students a deeper worldview and understanding,” Peterson said.
Members of the orchestra are looking forward to the new experiences.
“As cheesy as it sounds, I really don’t have any expectations except that my life will be changed. I really don’t know what the atmosphere will be like in South Africa, how our audience will interact with us and how we will impact them with our music. I’m just planning to learn and soak up as much as I can while I’m there and see where that experience takes me in the future,” Senior Music and French Major Brittney Raasch said.
Raasch, who has travelled internationally in the past with the Gustavus Wind Orchestra, is looking forward to this trip to South Africa as another unique experience.
“On our tour to Eastern Europe with the Gustavus Wind Orchestra in 2010, we touched many people’s lives and had ours changed in return. Having experienced that on a previous tour, I am really looking forward to that life-changing feeling again on our upcoming one,” Raasch said.
Jeff Halvorson, a first-year member of the orchestra, is simply excited to leave the country for the first time and for the experiences the trip will provide.
“I have been anxious to go abroad since the beginning of the semester. I don’t really know what to expect, but that is what makes this trip so exciting for me. Performing in general is a great experience by itself, but traveling internationally for a performance is gaining more. Visiting another culture is something everyone should experience,” Halvorson said.
The trip, which will last 12 days, is more than just a visit to another country according to Peterson.
“It is so much more than a group of students traveling abroad and walking around looking at stuff. With the performance component as well as a focus on the social history, these students will be completely enveloped in everything South African,” Peterson said.