The University of Iowa

Student Reflections on Diversity Abroad: South Africa

September 24th, 2019
Hiba Ibrahim sitting on wall with mountains in background


Dear Prospective Study Abroad Students,

My name is Hiba Ibrahim, and I am a fourth year student studying public health with a minor in Arabic.  I was born and raised in Iowa City, Iowa as a Sudanese-American first-generation immigrant.  Growing up in Iowa, I had limited exposure to diversity among my peers and had to get accustomed to being the only black person in the room.  Because of this, I would seek out those with whom I identified:  the black community.  To my surprise, I was ostracized by the predominantly Christian African-American community solely due to my ethnicity and religious affiliation.  I finally got to a point where I knew that these feelings of isolation that manifested throughout my life was something trivial in my self identity.  I came to the realization that there was more for me to identify with in a global context, which lead to my decision to study abroad.

This past summer, I had the opportunity and privilege to study abroad in Cape Town, South Africa through the IES Cape Town Health Studies Program.  Through the program, I was able to visit different health centers and non-profit organizations that focused on public health efforts.  I was able to learn about the strengths and faults within the South African healthcare system. I was introduced to the lifestyle of those living with HIV/AIDS, poor nutrition and disabilities.  What impacted me the most were the program’s township visits; the conditions varied depending on the economic status of each family.  From apartments to poorly built shacks, the effects of apartheid are still seen in South Africa today.

"For the first time in my life, I was rarely asked about my ethnicity; I was just me, and that was okay."  

I spent nearly two and a half months immersed in the various cultures South Africa had to offer.  During that time, I found a comfort and felt welcomed in my new and diverse community. I was commonly mistaken for being South African while walking in the city center and through the markets.  For the first time in my life, I was rarely asked about my ethnicity; I was just me, and that was okay.  

Studying abroad has changed my life for the better.  I needed this experience to navigate through my struggles in identifying where I belonged.  Seeing the diversity in Cape Town as a norm, and being in spaces where I saw those just like me (black, African and Muslim) filled that void.  I encourage you to take that step towards learning about the people, languages, and cultures around you.  You will not regret it.




Please note that the opinions and views expressed by diversity ambassadors are solely those of the students and do not reflect or represent the views of International Programs or the University of Iowa.