South Africa: Youth Leadership in Peace, Politics, and Human Rights

Examine human rights, multiculturalism, and inequality in the context of South Africa during this high school summer abroad program.

An Experiment Leadership Institute Program

This highly competitive Experiment in International Living summer abroad program for high school students is specifically focused on leadership development. Participation for accepted students is fully funded.

Students receive intensive leadership training in Washington, DC, followed by a four-week experience focused on Youth Leadership in Peace, Politics, and Human Rights in South Africa. Finally, students return to the US for debriefings, project planning sessions, and reentry workshops on the School for International Training campus in southern Vermont.

Program Key Features:

  • Intensive leadership and activism training in Washington, DC
  • Discussion on youth leadership at the Nelson Mandela Foundation (South Africa)
  • Participation in the workshop “Young Voices in Conflict Resolution” hosted by The African Centre for  the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD)—the largest conflict resolution center in Africa
  • Visit to the UKZN Leadership Center (South Africa)
  • Workshop on gender roles facilitated by a local NGO focused on developing young women leaders (South Africa)
  • Homestays with two South African families in contrasting areas of the country
  • Project planning sessions in Vermont
  • Action-oriented project to be implemented after the program’s conclusion

Similar programs
Learn about the Experiment Leadership Institute program in India.

Washington, DCThe Experiment Leadership Institute program begins with an intensive, four-day leadership seminar in Washington, DC. This portion of the program includes trainings, workshops, field trips, group exercises, and discussions with political and NGO leaders and is based on a powerful experiential leadership curriculum.

The DC portion of the program includes:

  • Thematic and experiential workshops on:
    • leadership and leadership skills building
    • intercultural communications
    • diversity and multiculturalism
    • critical global issues
  • A workshop on “storytelling for social change”
  • Site visits to NGOs and policy organizations such as:
    • United States Institute of Peace
    • Human Rights Campaign
    • CQ Roll Call
    • Congressional Management Foundation
    • National Institutes of Health
    • The World Bank
    • Other local community organizers and youth organizations
  • A tour of Washington, DC, including visits to the Smithsonian museums
  • Fourth of July activities

Examine human rights, multiculturalism, and inequality in the context of South Africa, a country that has undergone an extraordinary transition from the brutality of apartheid to democracy and improved social cohesion.

South Africa—home to exceptional leaders and peace activists such as Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu—provides a fascinating backdrop in which to investigate the complex dynamics of intercultural leadership, youth activism, and political and social change.

Through leadership workshops, seminars, meetings with NGOs, and field visits to sites of historical and cultural significance across South Africa, you build on the intensive leadership and activism training you received in Washington, DC.

Examine inequality and poverty; racial, ethnic, and gender-based discrimination; and current South African politics and socioeconomic realities. Together with your group, meet with a range of institutions involved in providing leadership training and mentoring, including the UKZN Leadership Center and the Nelson Mandela Foundation. Engage with South African youth of different ethnic, religious, and class backgrounds who are working to advance change and exert leadership on issues of local and global relevance.

Discover the significant role that the city of Durban has played in South African history, including the city’s role in the struggle against apartheid. Reflect on the kind of leadership that emerged from Durban. Continue to expand your knowledge of South Africa through field visits in other areas of the country, including to Cape Town, Johannesburg, rural areas of KwaZulu-Natal, the Umfolozi and Hluhluwe game reserves, and the Drakensberg mountain range.

The program is grounded in the experiences of South Africa, but the focus is nationally and internationally comparative. While investigating leadership and activism in the context of South Africa, you will be challenged to draw and reflect on the experiences of your home community and country in addressing—or not addressing—many of the same critical issues you examine in South Africa.

SIT Vermont campus

Following your month in South Africa, continue to advance your leadership capacity as you return to the US where you and your group spend four days on the School for International Training campus in southern Vermont.

During this portion of the program, you have synthesis and brainstorming sessions, briefings, and a reentry workshop. You also begin working on a post-program project of your choosing to be implemented in your home community.

The Vermont portion of the program includes:

  • Reflection on and synthesis of learning
  • Workshops on reentry and culture shock
  • Workshops on project planning and project management, including a focus on:
    • Development of fundraising plans
    • Budgets
    • Group management
    • Social media strategy
  • Workshops on participants’ follow-up project, including a focus on:
    • Identifying key issues in participants’ communities
    • Ways to address issues with follow-up projects
  • Final presentations to a panel of SIT professors and local leaders

Program Eligibility and Selection Criteria—At a Glance

Because there are only 15 spaces per Leadership Institute program, the application process is highly competitive. We seek applicants who can take initiative through the application process, particularly because this is a leadership development program. Applicants—not their parent(s)/guardians(s)—are responsible for each step in the application process. It is the applicant’s responsibility to ensure his/her application is complete (including references and the financial aid form) by the January 20 deadline. It is highly recommended to complete the entire application early and to check in with The Experiment to ensure the application is complete.

Who is eligible to apply?

Applicants must:

  • Be rising seniors 16 years old and not more than 18 years old at the time of the exchange
  • Have a high school graduation year of 2017
  • Have permission from either a parent or legal guardian to participate in the full six-week program 

What are the criteria for selection?

Students will be evaluated on the following characteristics:

  • Interest in global issues, a commitment to volunteer and civic activities, and leadership potential demonstrated through community and/or school involvement
  • Ability to work cooperatively in diverse groups and tolerate the opinions of others 
  • Leadership potential demonstrated through community/school involvement 
  • Good social and communication skills
  • Strong academic performance
  • An energetic, positive attitude 
  • Ability to implement projects that benefit the applicant’s school and/or community
  • Demonstrated ability to reflect on learning 
  • Demonstrated potential to follow through with projects and apply what one has learned to new projects, initiatives, or plans. 

Application deadline: January 20, 2016

Application Materials:

Applicants for a Leadership Institute program must submit two references from two different adult teachers, mentors, or coaches; short answer responses; four essays; and a financial aid application completed by a parent/guardian. Applicants will be asked to describe previous leadership roles, learning acquired from those roles, and what the applicant hopes to gain through participation in the Experiment Leadership Institute. 

Apply Now.

When you start your online application for admission, on the Program Selection page choose either India: Public Health and Community Development (Leadership Institute) or South Africa: Youth Leadership in Peace, Politics, and Human Rights (Leadership Institute) for your first- or second-choice program. (Enter a third-choice Experiment program that is not a Leadership Institute program. If you are not selected for the Leadership Institute, we will consider your application for your third-choice program.)

When you reach the Letter of Reference page of your online application, you will be asked to submit the names and email addresses of the two adult teachers, mentors, or coaches who will act as your references. Your references will then be sent our online references form, which is required.

When you reach the financial aid page of your online application, you will be asked to submit the name and email address of a parent/guardian. Your parent/guardian will then be sent our online financial aid application to complete. Financial information for Leadership Institute students is only required for The Experiment’s documentation of the student range we serve.

Please also note that if you are not selected to participate in the Leadership Institute but would still like to be considered for one of our other summer 2016 programs, we can use your financial aid application information to determine your eligibility for one of our need-based partial scholarships. Be sure to check in with your references, your parent/guardian, and The Experiment to ensure the forms have been completed and received by The Experiment before the January 20 application deadline.

These are leader bios from summer 2015.

Eric Buley

Eric Buley grew up in Montana and, as a high school student, spent a year as a foreign exchange student in Argentina. This hooked him on the idea of exploring the world, which led him to live on four continents and visit more than thirty countries. His travels have comprised everything from hiking Incan trails in Peru, to visiting former concentration camps in Germany, to hanging out with penguins in South Africa, and watching snake charmers in Morocco.

While in college, Eric double majored in political science and Hispanic studies, and he spent two semesters abroad in Uganda and Spain. Upon graduating, he was awarded a Fulbright grant to Venezuela and worked overseas as an English teacher. When he returned to the United States, Eric chose to dedicate his time to a year of AmeriCorps service, volunteering with a program to boost graduation rates in San Antonio’s low-income communities. Eric now lives in Seattle, where he works at a high school and at a young adult homeless shelter. He is an avid runner and plays on a men’s soccer team. In the winter he enjoys hot yoga, and his favorite summer activities include hiking, biking, and camping.

Maureen McCarthy

Originally from Los Angeles, Maureen graduated from Georgetown University with a BA in American studies and justice/peace studies. During her four years in Washington, DC, Maureen coached cross-country at a nearby high school, hosted a campus radio show, interned at a local think tank, and spent six months away from DC studying at the University of Stellenbosch in the wine lands of South Africa’s Western Cape. As part of her coursework, Maureen taught and learned from eighth grade students who introduced her to the complexities of cultural literacy.

After her time abroad, Maureen felt even more encouraged to pursue interdisciplinary questions, especially through travel and experiential learning, at which point she chose to lead an Experiment program to South Africa in 2013. Recently, Maureen spent a year working as a project coordinator for a marketing and communications firm in beautiful Austin, Texas, and serving as a college test prep tutor on the side. As for her next life steps, Maureen plans to continue learning and exploring—obtaining a master's degree along the way. Aside from traveling, she enjoys running, live music, good books, rock climbing, coffee, and the ocean.