Experiences in South Africa, Chile and beyond prepare UI student for multicultural world

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By Katelyn McBride

Brian Buh and another study abroad student from the American University in Washington D.C. volunteered at an AIDS orphanage in Durban, South Africa.
Brian Buh (right) and another study abroad student from the American University in Washington D.C. volunteered at an AIDS orphanage in Durban, South Africa.

 Brian Buh is not a typical University of Iowa undergraduate student.

In one of his two trips to South Africa, Buh ate a stew of cow intestines and liver to not be rude – despite being a vegetarian. While in Bolivia, he biked down Yungas Road, later named by the UN as the “world’s most dangerous road” because of its average yearly fatalities. He has been living in Chile since August, 2010, taking classes at the Universidad Nacional Andres Bello as part of the USAC program. In May he will graduate from the UI with degrees in Religious Studies, Political Science, and International Studies, as well as with a minor in Spanish.

Below, Buh shares his many unique experiences on the UI campus and abroad and how they have prepared him for a life-long commitment to spreading cultural awareness.

 
What made you choose each of your three majors (and minor) and have you been able to integrate those fields during your studies and research?

I started with Political Science and loved it, yet I still had an interest in many other subjects. As I grew in my college career, I picked up other majors that reflected classes that I had already taken class that I had loved. My focus became more and more international within my Political Science and Religious Studies majors, and when I had a meeting with academic advising in International Studies (IS) on the possibility of picking up a minor in IS, I learned that I had already earned half of the major because of my other interests. It only made sense to pick up a third major. I also had to take a new language for the IS major, which led me to develop an interest in becoming bilingual. All my majors have led me down the path of being more internationally aware and able to focus on creating a more multicultural world.

Your senior project explored the impact of xenophobia on Zimbabwean immigrants in South Africa. What about that topic interested you and what did you discover in your research?

My senior project for IS developed when I was studying in South Africa the first time. While I was there, there were massive xenophobic riots within many of the townships in South Africa. I saw much of the damage caused by these riots and the fear it struck in the hearts of many of my classmates and friends who had immigrated to South Africa from other African Countries. I became curious of the cause and effects of these riots, particularly on Zimbabweans since they had become the main target. This was because the economic crisis in Zimbabwe hit its peak in 2008 and there had been a recent influx of Zimbabwean immigrants into South Africa.

Then you returned to South Africa to complete research for your Religious Studies honor’s thesis… How was this trip different? What research were you conducting?

My return to Durban for my honors thesis research was amazing. This time, I moved into a two-bedroom apartment with a black South African family of 13 people. They were all members of the religious group I was studying called Shembe. I started researching 24/7 as a participant observer. This included living in the holy city of Ebuhleni in one of the poorest townships outside of Durban. I shared a small one-room shack with my five host sisters and one brother for that month. Much of my time involved fetching water and cleaning clothes. When I wasn’t doing that, I attended church services and held interviews.

My goal was to find out what had caused the population of the church to more than double since the end of Apartheid in 1994, and through living amongst its members I was able to conclude that economic conditions and health concerns created a need for a new type of religion relevant to the people in this area. In the end, it was the experience of completely involving myself in a new community, with customs and practices different from those of the largely individualist western cultures, that made me grow the most in my undergraduate career.

Brian Buh (center) listens to a presentation by a teacher and church leader on the importance of education and working hard in school. Buh was conducting research on the religious group Shembe while in the village of Ebuhleni, South Africa.
Brian Buh (center) listens to a presentation by a teacher and church leader on the importance of education and working hard in school. Buh was conducting research on the religious group Shembe while in the village of Ebuhleni, South Africa.

Why did you choose to study abroad in Chile?

I have always had a desire to live in South America. Chile intrigued me because of the landscape. I love both the mountains and the ocean, and to live within proximity of both made me excited to go to Chile. I started learning Spanish as part of my IS requirements. I felt ashamed of not being able to speak a second language, and Chile gave me the opportunity to take a year and learn Spanish in a gorgeous country. I used the five-week break between semesters to backpack through Bolivia. Spending that time alone, relying on my Spanish skills to get by, was amazingly rewarding.

What are your plans for the future?

My future is an open book. As I approach my graduation, I start to come up with more and more things I would like to do. I want to be able to live in as many cultures as possible while pursuing opportunities in rewarding and challenging careers. I want to go to Southeast Asia next and teach English there for a while, hopefully in Thailand. After that I plan to apply to the Peace Corp with a hope of returning to Sub-Saharan Africa. My dream job is to eventually return to Africa and work in poverty relief. Right now, it is my goal to be able to shed light upon the plight of many people who are without access to basic needs and the easy solutions that can be done to help improve their quality of life.

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