Stephen Allen – a young American reading for a master’s degree at Tufts University in Massachusetts in the United States – is also studying isiZulu as a visiting postgrad student at UKZN. Interestingly, Allen began studying the language before he arrived here.

UKZNdaba journalist Raylene Captain-Hasthibeer chatted to him:

What are you studying in the US and what brought you to South Africa?

I am completing a master’s degree in international relations at Tufts University with a focus on southern Africa. Last year, I interned for two months in Pretoria and really loved it but I didn’t get to learn an indigenous South African language so I am back to change that. A language fellowship at UKZN has provided me with a great way to learn isiZulu.

You are taking a course in isiZulu. What have you learned and has it helped in your daily life in SA?

I studied isiZulu in the United States before coming to South Africa. I am currently taking a mother tongue course at UKZN and it has definitely been challenging! Fortunately, the professors and my classmates have been generous with their time and patience.

What languages do you speak?

In addition to English, I speak French, Spanish, Modern Arabic, and Wolof. Hopefully, I can add isiZulu to that list by the end of my time here!

You have travelled in Africa a lot – tell us about a bit about that.

I have been fortunate to have lived and worked in a variety of countries in Africa. I have studied in Morocco as an undergraduate student; lived and worked in Senegal and The Gambia, and travelled extensively in east and southern Africa. I think perhaps the biggest misconception about Africa among people in the United States is that it is this monolith, when, in reality, the continent is enormous and incredibly diverse. I really enjoy learning and studying languages, and I think the linguistic diversity here in South Africa is very beautiful.

What about some of your experiences in South Africa?

I really love road trips and South Africa is such an amazing place for that! A friend and I just did a trip through the Free State – it was stunning! South Africa is without doubt one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited. I am very fortunate to be able to study here.

Have you managed to visit places such as the Gandhi Settlement in Durban?

I have not! But I just googled it and it’s on my list of must sees. My favourite Durban places thus far are the beach and the KZN Society of Arts.

Any memorable moments at UKZN?

My first day here was certainly memorable! I had just arrived and was dealing with some serious jetlag. It was the first time I had enrolled directly at a university outside the US and it’s an entirely different system. So that first day was overwhelming! People are generally surprised to learn that I am studying isiZulu.

What can UKZN do to better serve international students?

I am not sure about this as international students’ expectations and experiences are diverse and shaped by their home university environment. In the United States, I think students are used to a more hands-on approach, whereas my experience here has been more hands-off and student-driven. I think it would be good if there were more resources for extra-curricular opportunities on campus.

Words: Raylene Captain-Hasthibeer