"On the Road Again" is a series of stories highlighting several of the University's student-athletes and their study abroad and/or international playing experiences. The GO (Global Opportunities) program at Susquehanna ensures that each student will have a meaningful cross-cultural experience abroad or in the U.S. during their four years at Susquehanna.
While it can be tricky to balance studying abroad and athletics, as you'll see in this series, Susquehanna's student-athletes are doing just that while still others are opting to extend that experience by returning abroad to play their respective sport.
Susquehanna senior basketball player Matt McGugan '15 stepped outside of his comfort zone to study travel writing in South Africa during May 2014.
Susquehanna Sports Info (SU): What interested you about this particular GO program?
Matt McGugan (MM): I wanted to go somewhere I felt like I couldn't go to again on vacation. The opportunity that South Africa presented was an once-in-a-lifetime experience with things like living in a village or going on safari I could only get by going on this trip. With somewhere like Spain, I felt like maybe later in life I would travel there again on vacation.
SU: You mentioned that you lived in a village during your program. How much of an adjustment was that experience coming from Susquehanna as a student?
MM: It was a lot different. We lived in small huts on dung floors and had to walk to get water; we took baths in little containers. Everything was different but it just opened up my eyes to a new culture and to how different places in the world work, which was really cool.
SU: How did the experience of living in South Africa align with your expectations?
MM: I definitely had expectations about how the people might perceive Americans because a lot of those that we met had never seen Americans or white people in general. I felt like they might not be open or welcoming to us, but really, they were amazing. They made us feel really welcome and I didn't really feel uncomfortable or unsafe.
SU: What was your exposure to South Africa's history and struggle with issues like the Apartheid (ed. note: the systematic and unequal segregation of black and white South Africans from 1948 to 1994)?
MM: We got a good look at the history of Apartheid; we went to two Apartheid museums, one from the perspective of black South Africans and one from the perspective of white South Africans, so we really got a good impression of all viewpoints. I had the opportunity to meet with a black South African who fought for his freedom back in the 1970s and 1980s, so that opened my eyes. Before traveling, I knew a bit about it, but not nearly as much as I learned when I got there.
SU: Part of the South Africa GO program involves travel writing and journaling observations. How important was it for you to write your daily experiences and reflect on them?
MM: I would say it was very important. There were too many cool experiences and new things where I couldn't afford to not write them down. To this day, I still read some of those journal entries and it brings me back to moments during the program.
This included eating things that people would consider disgusting, like oxen head or worms, to going to a beach where the sand dunes are so high that they look like mountains and the beach itself is as wide as two or three football fields.
SU: Lastly, was there anything in your experience as a student-athlete at Susquehanna that prepared you for the program?
MM: Being a student-athlete, you deal with adversity and uncomfortable moments and even when things aren't going well, you still need to keep going. I went into this trip not knowing what to expect, but knowing that I'd be ok with these experiences if they were new, odd,
strange or whatever they might be.