An African Encounter

Richard Wehman '17 with his Namibian host mother and young brother Unpindi Itana in their rural village, Outapi. Wehman's host mother made his traditional oshiwambo with fabric matching her own garment.

On the first morning of his homestay in the rural village of Outapi, Namibia, Richard Wehman '17 woke up at 6:00 a.m. and started hoeing the family’s farm. Alongside him were the people he affectionately refers to as “my mother and two brothers.”

After working the farm, he and the men in the family went to the grandmother’s house where they prepared a pig for lunch. Some of the male relatives had killed it and it was Richard’s job to skin it— probably not what he imagined when he set off to study abroad in January of 2016.

The communication major's program was titled “Nation building, globalization and decolonizing the mind” and took place in both Namibia and South Africa.

He had chosen the trip, in part, because he wanted to challenge himself to step out of his comfort zone. “I didn’t know anything about South Africa. I didn’t know anyone,” he says. He spent roughly three weeks there before moving on to Namibia. In South Africa, they learned a great deal about apartheid. Richard’s favorite class was “Racism and Resistance in Southern Africa and the US.” He says, “we explored the parallels between apartheid and slavery and really got to learn about the legacy of apartheid and how that still impacts housing and education today.”

“I went to Africa for a great experience, but left it with a great deal of knowledge.”

During his time in Namibia, Richard made deep connections with the people in his community. He had two separate homestays—one in a township outside the capital and the other in a rural village. He had such an incredible time with one of the families that he returned to see them again, bringing them food and other gifts. While he lived in Katutura, Richard volunteered at the Basketball Artists School, an after-school program for kids from low-income families. He loved tutoring the kids in math and English, and then helping teach basketball afterwards.

He also took a trip to the Namib Desert Environmental Education Trust, a non-profit that promotes environmental awareness and education. Recalling his experience there, Richard nostalgically reminisces about solar-cooked pizza, bucket showers, and the brightest stars he’s ever seen. 

Reflecting on his time in South Africa and Namibia, Richard remarks that his experiences left him changed in numerous ways. He says, “The people I interacted with were totally different from myself. They were very committed to social change, development, and injustice. I was educated about a lot of different things.” He also mentions that Namibia’s severe drought has made him more conscious about his own water usage.

When asked about the value of study abroad, Richard answers, “I think its great to step outside of your comfort zone and have new experiences and meet new people. You gain a lot of different tools and skills that you can translate back to life in America.”

Indeed, Richard has translated certain aspects of his experience back to life in the states. For one thing, it's inspired a deeper interest in philanthropy, and he plans to involve himself in philanthropic organizations now that he's graduated and living in Winnetka, Illinois. 

“I went to Africa for a great experience,” says Wehman, “but left it with a great deal of knowledge.”

April 17, 2017