Student Blog: My first 21 Days as an ALU Study Abroad Student

In July, Kevin Kai Wen Cheng joined ALU as the first Study Abroad student. Cheng, a Taiwanese student at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, chose to spend his time abroad at ALU because he wants to explore the continent through the eyes of young Africans who know their countries best.

He says, “I’m here to learn about the continent because at home, what we usually learn about Africa is through American movies. I also want to teach you guys about Asia.”

Cheng is spending two months on campus and is already fully immersed in the ALU community. His days are spent in class or outdoors exploring the island. He is also conducting research with the Sino Africa Centre of Excellence Foundation, and is facilitating workshops on Sino-Africa relations with students.

Experience Cheng’s first 21 days on campus through his short blogs below. Enjoy!

Day 1: Short stop in Abu Dhabi
This is how my journey began. I spent the day in spectacular Abu Dhabi, on a local transit coach. I was surrounded by faces I’ll never see again as I stared out the window. I explored the Grand Mosque and met a Chinese traveler. We spent some time sharing stories and enjoying a good dinner together. This wasn’t my first time in the Middle East. I have been to Dubai before and this was as fantastic as my first trip to the region.

Day 2: Flight to Mauritius
I sat beside a female Mauritian scientist who told me about her research and the conference she had just attended. As I listened to the scientist speak, I thought back to my encounter with the Chinese traveler the day before and I kept thinking, “there are so many people who are going to be part of my journey at ALU, and this is only the beginning.”

My flight landed around 5pm and I met Ashraf, Daniel and Mpumi. I can’t remember exactly how I felt but what I do remember was the sense of being amongst kindred spirits. I was in my Indian Ocean home.

Day 3: Beaches and parties
I had seen images of Mauritius before coming but the real thing was better than I imagined. There were boats scattered across the blue sea and pebbles and coral reefs at the bottom of the water. It was like Mark Twain said, “the model of heaven.”

It didn’t take long for me to immerse in the ALU culture and get comfortable in Mauritius. I got a phone within a day. I got to meet people and was invited to Noah, a fellow student’s birthday party. I suddenly realised how there was very little difference between my new friends and I. I also realised that I had a long way to go in being able to embrace new cultures without bias.

Day 4: Peer work time
One of ALU’s beliefs is that people understand things better when they teach and help each other. I spent the afternoon helping students with their Data and Decisions (D&D) work. The best thing about studying at ALU is that you can always take breaks from intense school work to enjoy the beauty of nature. It’s really refreshing. I stopped D&D to take a stroll on the Trou aux Biches beach and watched the sunset with a few students. I will say that, that this is the best place in the world for studying.

Day 5: Rediscovering the essence of friendship
I couldn’t resist the attractiveness of the beautiful beach and so once again I spent the afternoon walking along the Trou aux Biches beach with my roommate Amani. We talked about our childhoods, shared memories and bonded. It is the connection between people that makes bonds. Here, on the remote Indian Ocean Island of Mauritius, I rediscovered the essence of a pure friendship.

There was a debate in my apartment at night. Lethabo, an ambitious man from South Africa, Ashraf, one of the first ALU students I met, Sandile, my buddy and future scholar from Swaziland and I held a very long conversation about Africa’s current opportunities and challenges and the future of the continent. I don’t know if any other experience will top how much fun tonight was.

Day 6: The ALU learning model
One of the reasons why I chose to come to ALU is the learning model. I found it really practical. For example, I learnt about creating a company in Entrepreneurial Leadership class and was able to implement that in Projects class. My reflection for the day is, “from now on, what I study in any course the university should have skills that are applicable in real life situations.”

I spent the evening participating in the Student Ventures Programme pilot. I’m working with Tolotra from Madagascar to create an online platform where you can exchange secondhand stuff. I’m also working with Kaone from Botswana on a food waste project that aims to turn food waste from the cafeteria into the organic fertiliser. These are the two incubating student ventures that I will work on during my staying in Mauritius. We will see how they go.

Day 7: Biking, Football and Conversations
After having nice discussion with Dennis about his country, Zambia, I borrowed a bike and travelled to the La Croisette mall on my own. A day without class can be unbelievably relaxing in Mauritius. Later on, I went to Northfields, the sports center to play football. For the first time in my life, I scored as a striker. At night I had another conversation with Wassim about his country Tunisia. One of my favourite things about being at ALU is the opportunity to meet students from all over Africa and learn about the countries from their perspectives. I love it!

Day 8: Hike! Hike! Hike!
I went on a hike at the Black River Gorges National Park with the students from the English Immersion Programme. In the beginning it wasn’t a very pleasant experience. I decided not to focus on the muddy route or the slippery slope but rather to rejoice at the moment that the group got to the top of the mountain the view was stunning and the breeze breathtaking. It was like for a moment; I could see the whole world below me. There was a mind shift and my soul felt liberated. I actually do love hiking.

Day 12: Field Research
I started working on the field research for my project with the Sino Africa Center for Excellence Foundation. The project is one of the things I’ll do during my time at ALU. I spent the afternoon strolling around the Grand Baie area (where the ALU residences are) in the hopes that I’d spot some Chinese firms. This was my first time doing field research and I didn’t even know where to start. Luckily, I found one Chinese-owned restaurant. That’s a start. We will see how it goes.

Day 13: Making local Mauritian-Chinese friends
I continued my field research but this time in the capital, Mauritius and I went with my good friend Lethabo. We stopped to seek help from random pedestrians and it turned out to be a wonderful encounter. Kim and Kevin are local Mauritian Chinese. We became fast friends and hopefully they will also become a major part of my Mauritian adventure. Oh, here’s an update on the Chinese restaurant – I’ve finished my first interview and also got the contact information of a Taiwanese man, whom I will have dinner with later on. This is the best part of field research, talking and interacting with people, making new friends and feeling how tangible the information can be – much better than text printed on the computer screen. I’m enjoying it a lot.

Day 16: Of Children’s books and starry skies
I’ve been working on a children’s book with Sandile so we spent the morning fleshing it out. In the afternoon, the Tunisian boys and I drove to Cap Malheureux pursuing for some serenity. The church pictured here, Notre Dame Auxiliatrice, is known as one of the most famous spots in Mauritius for Chinese. A lot of couples have been married there. Later on we went to Mont Choisy Beach, where we chat under the starry sky. Lovely.

Day 20: My first horse riding lesson
I decided to give myself a day off. I went to Port Louis with Yassmine and Lyna, both from Morocco and we bought souvenirs. Then I went for my very first horse riding lesson at the Forbach Stables. Very fun! The day ended with a long conversation with Piet, my new roommate from South Africa. It’s been a full day.

Day 21 Casela and Feminazi Perfection
It’s been such a perfect day. Piet, Michael and I went to Casela Nature Park and tried out their different adventures. Everything was just perfect – we got a lot of nice photos, went on a safari and saw a full rainbow on a bridge. Just perfect. Then I spent the evening at a student-organised feminism-themed fashion show, Feminazi. It wasn’t the usual fashion show with a run way. Rather, models gave different forms of speeches, some as poems while wearing the clothes that been designed for the show. It was truly a night that displayed Africa’s diverse cultures and participants were discussing real African issues. Fantastic. I don’t think I will forget this day.

The adventures continue. Stay tuned for more blogs on my time at ALU and in Mauritius.

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