Raisa Alstodt ’16
During the Spring 2015 semester, I took a leap and did the Semester at Sea study abroad program. I’m so blessed to have had this opportunity and unbelievably grateful for the people I met and the things I got to experience. I saw 12 countries spanning Asia, Africa, and Europe in under four months while traveling on a ship. And while my bucket list now has lots of things crossed off, it has only grown longer. This program has gotten me even more excited to travel the world and experience all there is out there. While on the trip, I kept a blog, and what follows is one of my entries.
Ubuntu is a term I learned on the ship back in January on the way to South Africa.
I’ve come to realize that life is a constant obstacle course. Many things can change in very little time. People come and go. A word that meant nothing to you six months ago could now mean everything to you. Change and growth can occur. The shock is when you look back and actually notice all of this. South Africa was this shock for me.
How did a word foreign to me just four months ago come to mean so much? It’s a short word, though with a multitude of meaning. It’s a philosophy. It’s a way of life even.
The word is defined as an African philosophy roughly translated to “human kindness.” It literally means human-ness, often translated as “humanity toward others.” Even used in a more philosophical sense, meaning “the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connect all of humanity.” Another definition: “I am what I am because of who we all are.” Archbishop Desmond Tutu says a person with ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened by what others have, believing that we belong to a greater whole. It’s the essence of being human. Those who have ubuntu are known for their generosity.
In short, it’s about human kindness, about respect. Some define it as community. Some would even say it’s humanity; it’s the belief that all are equal. Some would add religion. Some see it as humankind seeing no color. Peace for all people. Acceptance of all. Understanding for all. It’s having virtue. Kindness for all. Goodness. It’s what Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu asked the people of South Africa to believe in, yet it’s all over Africa. In Kenya, they have the word, too, just said differently. This word just keeps growing on me and gaining value in my life.
Each person I’ve met has defined it just a tad bit differently. To everyone it means the same things, just reworded in personal words. To me it’s humanity, love, and so much more. It’s a philosophy to love and be loved. It’s God’s work fostered in a word. It’s hope for people.
On the ship, they’ve asked us to think about it in our travel. To me it seemed as though they were asking me to adopt the philosophy in my travel, and so I’ve tried. To me it became a travel philosophy and so much more. In return, I made it a permanent addition to my life.
For more images from Saint Leo’s international trips, visit spirit.saintleo.edu/travel.