College Student’s First Flight Begins Transformative Learning Experience

Daisha Robinson speaking with a local man under the shade of a tree

Bloomfield College of Montclair State University media communications major, Daisha Robinson ’25, recently returned from a transformative South Africa learning opportunity coordinated through her media communications professor, Jason Torreano. The student’s work there was part of a plan to further enhance the College’s international engagement portfolio in the region.

To achieve their mission, the student and professor boarded a plane for the 8,000+ mile journey to South Africa where Robinson was to create documentary-style podcasts that would include her attendance at the Scaling the Summit education conference that took place at Rhodes University, Makhanda, South Africa, on January 27-28, 2024. A unique learning experience for a U.S. college student, the conference gathered key stakeholders in the education space of the 140,000-population province to examine the upward trajectory of the city’s educational equity, literacy and partnerships.

“This hands-on fieldwork abroad while still an undergrad is one I had not imagined coming my way,” said Robinson. “This was my first time traveling on an airplane, never mind my first exposure to people and culture abroad. I learned so much from this international experience, and especially through the personal interviews I did for creating the podcasts.”

Robinson had previously completed a class with Torreano, who is also the founder and executive director of Inkululeko, the organization that serves motivated South African township youth with finishing high school and moving onto university studies.

“I was intrigued by what Professor Torreano shared in class about college students working with Inkululeko in education-focused endeavors. I really wanted to get involved, and was so excited when I was offered an internship,” she said. “This is where it all began, where my interests grew and my academic journey brought me to new places and new people.”

As part of the internship stateside, Robinson edited two podcasts covering a Zoom discussion between South African high school-age students and students of ITC High School, Syracuse, New York. In the discussion, the learners spoke with their counterparts about issues impacting both communities such as mental health, adapting to COVID, their school environment and the curriculum they each follow. She was also responsible for posting the podcasts to the Inkululeko webpage.

Taking note of her great work on the internship media projects, Torreano offered Robinson the one-student-slot-per-year travel assignment, a Bloomfield College of Montclair State University experiential learning opportunity to South Africa financed through faculty development funds and the Humanities Division.

“In Makhanda, Daisha conducted interviews and shot video as part of the media team for the education conference. She also refined her ability to use editing software as part of her major,” explained Torreano. “Later, in her communications capstone course, she will create and edit two podcasts that will be used internally by the Inkululeko team to communicate about the organization, and its mission and volunteers.”

Fortifying a global perspective among its students is an important learning goal for Bloomfield. “There’s probably not too many people in the U.S. who can say that their first plane ride brought them to an Eastern Cape province of South Africa,” noted Torreano. “Or, that they went abroad and were able to immerse themselves within the local population, and directly engage with them about their daily lives and their educational system.”

Robinson agrees, adding that the 10-day engagement left her wanting to “use all the resources open to her, travel more and create even more stories with more people.”

By way of example, she spoke about one of the interviews she conducted. “I spent an afternoon speaking with a lawyer who shared what it was like to grow up in South Africa, their challenging life experience and about the practice of law there. Back home, I have never had the chance to interact with a practicing attorney. The totality of this international engagement opened me up to a new perspective. I learned, and saw, so many things I’ve never seen before, that I feel encouraged and motivated to continue to expand myself.”

Torreano affirmed the transformative nature of his student’s travel experience in South Africa. “Through this hands-on learning experience, Daisha was exposed to people from another part of the world. She was curious and engaged, and asked tons of questions as she soaked it all in. I’m so incredibly proud of her and the phenomenal work she did in Makhanda,” he said.

When asked where she may wish to travel next, the first-generation college student who hails from Jersey City, New Jersey, says she plans to apply to the Peace Corps after graduation in the hope of volunteering with the organization abroad for 12 months before moving onto graduate school somewhere in the United States.

Torreano noted, “As shown in multiple studies, exposing students to these types of meaningful international learning opportunities at the undergraduate level can be life-changing and completely shift their future plans. They come home with a broader, fuller worldview, expanded networks and enhanced problem-solving skills. I have witnessed this being the case for Daisha, as well as the other exceptional Bloomfield students who have traveled with me on Inkululeko projects abroad.”

Photo: Bloomfield College of Montclair State University media communications student, Daisha Robinson (right), traveled to South Africa on her first-ever plane ride to conduct interviews with local people to create podcasts about education in the province of Makhanda.

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