Travel Course to South Africa Reinforces Community

The 14-day travel course to South Africa took students on an academic, theological, and cultural journey.

“Ubuntu,” the African philosophy of community, is something Dr. Afe Adogame’s students experienced during a recent travel course “Towards Interpreting Foreign Cultures” in South Africa. Adogame, the Maxwell M. Upson Professor of Religion and Society and a leading scholar of the African diaspora, says the Bantu African belief of “Ubuntu,” a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity, resonates with Princeton Seminary’s covenant community initiative.

The term “covenant community” reflects the Seminary’s aspirations to realize the full potential of a residential model of theological education and to affirm that a diverse, ecumenical, international community is an essential part of the learning environment and leadership formation.

“Academic lectures, museum trips, wherever we went the concept was Ubuntu. The sense of community was very visible,” Adogame says about the January 2019 travel course.

Student traveler Kelsey Holderman says, “I left craving the connectedness of the people through the spirit of Ubuntu and the care and attention the South Africans place on the earth and on relationships.”

The 14-day travel course to South Africa took students on an academic, theological, and cultural journey from Cape Town to the University of Stellenbosch, in the picturesque heart of the western cape winelands, to the University of the Western Cape, about an hour north in the suburbs of Cape Town, to Johannesburg, South Africa’s largest city, and to Pretoria, the nation’s capital city. The history of the two universities and the city of Johannesburg showed stark contrast. Stellenbosch was “where some theological ideas legitimized apartheid,” Adogame says. “This is where those ideas were made concrete and sold politically. I wanted students to encounter that and to see how the university has changed over time.” The University of Western Cape, founded in 1960 as a college for “colored” people, played a unique role in the struggle against apartheid. Soweto, a township in the city of Johannesburg, was one of the centers of political campaigns in the 1970s that led to the overthrow of the apartheid state. In this environment, some students reflected on slavery and racism – and how it’s not peculiar to the United States, Adogame says.


“We learned about the struggles of the past and the aches of apartheid that still remain for many people, such as the Khoisan and the residents of Bo-Kaap. Nevertheless, hope is alive in the hearts of many South Africans as they continue resisting, telling their stories, and embodying a legacy of freedom,” says student Laura Fairchild.

Travel to South Africa, outside of the comfort zone of the Princeton Theological Seminary environment presented the 18 travel study students with the challenge of understanding other cultures. The mission of the experience was to learn something from another culture, to share that intellectual experience and to demonstrate the covenant community that is PTS, Adogame says.

So, why South Africa as a travel study destination? Adogame says students needed to see the contrasts in Africa. Cape Town, predominantly white; Johannesburg and Soweto predominantly black South Africans. “Africa is a huge continent that is so diverse historically, culturally. You cannot go to one country and say you saw all of Africa,” he says.

Adogame’s trip to South Africa is the second travel course he’s organized. The first was to Ghana in 2017. The next will likely be to Brazil, the homeland of PTS Assistant Professor of World Christianity Raimundo C. Barretto, Jr. Adogame and Barreto, who both traveled with students to South Africa, are combining their travel courses and collaborating on the goal “to stimulate an intellectual exchange that can be long lasting,” making connections and gaining understanding that can only be experienced outside of the classroom. Adogame says some of the professors from University of Stellenbosch and the University of the Western Cape traveled to Princeton to attend the March 2019 PTS World Christianity Conference, a chance for the student travelers and professors to reconnect and network.


Why will Brazil be the next destination? “The largest black population outside of Africa is Brazil,” Adogame says, “and almost all came from Africa.” “In Brazil,” he says, “there is a recreation of a rich African culture.”

“My idea around travel courses and institutionalized changes is to have the mentality which we are not simply thinking about how we give to people, but also how we learn from them.

We don’t want this to be one way– this is a collaboration,” he says. “You must see in it what you want and wish to give. What can you give to PTS in return? What can we learn? What can we receive?”

“The trip to South Africa helped me to find something I had lost earlier in the school year; me,” recalls student Darcella Sessomes. “After a challenging 2018, somehow the mountains and ocean, as well as the humble and giving spirit of the people of South Africa, helped to center me spiritually. It also helped me reconnect with God on a deeper level and lift some burdens I was carrying.”

“The best way to know yourself is by knowing others,” Adogame says. “Once you are able to know others you are able to define really who you are.” As we are thinking through the covenant community, Ubuntu can perhaps be something that we can learn from and think with.”

Educating faithful Christian leaders.

Senior Pastor, Asbury United Methodist Church, Atlantic City, NJ

Latasha Milton, Class of 2018

“My passion is doing what I can to empower and liberate people who are hurting. PTS has made me a better person and pastor because it’s given me the tools to better serve the oppressed and marginalized.”