Inspired by her older brother’s study abroad experiences, Kallie Friede came to UW-Eau Claire knowing that she would spend part of her college years abroad.
The study abroad programs in Africa were at the top of her list because she knew exploring that part of the world on her own would be more challenging after college.
UW-Eau Claire’s program in Ghana was her first choice, but unfortunately, the Ebola outbreak hit that region shortly before she was to travel, forcing the university to cancel her program for safety reasons.
“I’d already had a subleaser for the semester and since I’d already made plans for what classes I could take and still graduate on time, I still wanted to go to abroad,” Kallie says of the setback. “Luckily, our Center for International Education was incredible and worked with me on applying to Stellenbosch University in South Africa. It all happened very quickly. Within a month of switching programs, I had my flight purchased and was applying for my Visa.”
The change of plans turned out better than the public relations and women’s studies major could ever have hoped.
“My time is South Africa was absolutely incredible,” says Kallie, who was in South Africa for six months beginning in spring 2015. “I lived in a flat with seven people. I had roommates from Mississippi, Austria, Belgium and France. The South African students who went to the university were looking to make friends with the international students so it was easy to make friends and travel with people from South Africa as well.”
Kallie packed so much into her time abroad that picking out highlights is a challenge.
“Going on safari is something that I've always wanted to do,” says Kallie, a senior from River Falls. “I had the opportunity to go on safari with a guy from Germany, a girl from Holland and a girl from South Africa. We spent two days driving to the Kgadagali Transfrontier Park. The national park is located in South Africa, Namibia and Botswana, so depending on where we were, we were on safari in different countries.
“We saw cheetahs hunting, springboks, wildebeests, a leopard and lions among other things. The pictures are stunning; it's hard to imagine that I was really there.”
While a giraffe was the first animal she spotted in South Africa, seeing a leopard was an unexpected and thrilling experience.
“Leopards are incredibly hard to spot,” Kallie says. “They don't come down from the trees during the day. On that day, we had to leave the park for a bit in the afternoon because I had to see a nurse about a spider bite on my face.
“On that day, in the late afternoon, it started to thunderstorm. The thunder scared the leopard out of the tree and it happened to be in the front of the park. We stopped our car, looked to the left and saw a leopard staring everyone down. It was terrifying and absolutely stunning. There are few times in life when spider bites seem lucky, but that day, it really worked in our favor.”
Watching a cheetah and her two cubs hunt was another once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“Watching videos of cheetahs running is insane but to see them do it in person is a whole other experience,” Kallie says.
When her formal studies in South Africa ended, Kallie spent two more months traveling with friends, including a road trip along the coastline of South Africa.
“We stayed in towns on the Wild Coast, which are towns near the ocean on the eastern part of the country,” Kallie says. “We met local people, went on a tour with an herbalist, stayed in a treehouse and we got to see a completely different part of the country than where we were living. To end our road trip, we went to Cape Agulhas, which is the southern-most tip of the continent. That was a bucket-list item for all of us.”
Traveling allowed her to interact with locals and experience the culture and traditions in a different way.
“When we were in Port St. Johns, we spent a morning with a local isiXhosa woman and her two daughters, and joined in a traditional skin-cleansing ritual they partake in every day,” Kallie says. “We sat in a pool of sulfur water, and then went into a mud cave where we got our faces painted with sulfur mud. When you wash it off your skin is incredibly soft.”
Her adventures in South Africa weren’t limited to the land.
“Another cool experience was cage diving with great white sharks,” Kallie says. “A lot of 'Shark Week' is filmed in Gansbaai, South Africa, which was only an hour away from where we lived. I drove there with two others from Mississippi and two from France. We spent the day on a boat and seeing great white sharks right outside our cage. They're pretty terrifying but also really incredible to see up close.”
Studying abroad is one of the best decisions she’s made as a Blugold, Kallie says.
“It taught me independence, flexibility and responsibility in a way that I don't think would have been possible if I were to have stayed at Eau Claire for my whole college career,” Kallie says.
It also took her out of her comfort zone and brought her together with people who could help her see and think about the world — and her place in it — in a different way, Kallie says.
For example, she took a course on HIV/AIDS in South Africa, which has the highest rates of HIV and AIDS in the world.
“The United States also has a lot of HIV and AIDS that we don't talk about,” Kallie says. “In South Africa, the conversation was a lot easier and the resources were more upfront. Seeing that gave me a passion to work with HIV/AIDS prevention in the United States so that we, too, can create a culture where there isn't such stigma around it.
This semester, Kallie is working in Eau Claire with the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin as part of her women's studies capstone, an opportunity she sought out because of her studies in South Africa.
“After I graduate, I would love to work with HIV/AIDS prevention,” says Kallie, who plans to graduate in December. “Right now, with my capstone, I work at ARCW, which I don't think I would have done had I not taken the class I took in South Africa.”
Learning about the United States from people with a completely different perspective also broadened her thinking, Kallie says.
“I had deep, meaningful conversations about privilege, politics and systems of power created by colonialism with people who have a completely different view of the United States,” Kallie says. “I learned more about our country in Africa than I have here simply because my South African friends challenged me to look at the world I live in in a completely new way.”
While her six months in South Africa were life-changing, Kallie has had numerous other experiences closer to home that also have enhanced her college experience.
Throughout her years as a Blugold, she’s embraced opportunities and experiences that bring her in contact with new people, ideas and viewpoints.
She currently works as an intern for the Women's and LGBTQ Resource Center, as a peer health educator for Student Health Services, as the Safe Space student coordinator on campus and in the Affirmative Action Office on campus
“Although many of these experiences are on campus, they've all given me opportunities to learn outside of my classes, to work on event planning and to facilitate conversations that aren't always easy to start,” Kallie says.
This summer, Kallie will travel to San Francisco for two weeks with the Women's and LGBTQ Resource Center. While there, she and the other Blugolds traveling with her will go to the Frameline Film Festival and begin planning next fall’s Eau Queer Film Festival at UW-Eau Claire.
“That's the beauty of this university — there are so many opportunities to step out of your comfort zone and see your world from a different perspective,” Kallie says. “For me, that step out of the comfort zone meant going to a country on the other side of the globe for six months by myself. For other people it's going on weeklong immersion trips, the Civil Rights Pilgrimage, National Student Exchange or joining new clubs.
“Every one of us should, at some point while we're at school, do something that we wouldn't normally do because that, to me, is the best way to learn about yourself and to learn about the world.”
Eventually, Kallie hopes to go to graduate school and then work at a university in Student Affairs.
“I've been a very involved college student, and I would love to work with college students on what their goals are for college and what sort of experiences they want to have and create those opportunities for them,” Kallie says. “I've had incredible mentors while working here, and I would love to be that for another student someday.”
Top photo: Kallie Friede admires the incredible scenery during her time in South Africa.
Photos within story:
1) Kallie and her friends happened upon this leopard during their travels.
2) Kallie and her friends spent a morning with a local isiXhosa woman and her two daughters and joined in a traditional skin-cleansing ritual.
3) A stunning sunset in South Africa.