Senior Plans to Bring Lessons from South Africa to the South Side of Chicago
December 6, 2010
BLOOMINGTON, Ill. – Illinois Wesleyan University senior Bianca Spratt knows that having
the support of a university can make all the difference.
A sociology major, Spratt is a first-generation college student from Chicago’s South
Side. “Where I come from a lot of people don’t make it out and go to college or graduate
from college,” said Spratt, who knew she wanted a degree that would enable her to
return to her community and open a youth center. “At home, I had a lot of mentors
who took me under their wing and showed me what community organizing was about, how
to organize youth, how to allow youth to lead.” Spratt said she knew she would find
the same mentoring relationships at Illinois Wesleyan.
That mentoring began with the Summer Enrichment Program (SEP) the summer before her
first year at IWU. SEP offers minority students the opportunity to engage in an internship
and connect with mentors. “It was a great way to begin my college career,” said Spratt.
Although her dream is to return to work in her Chicago neighborhood, Spratt said she
also chose Illinois Wesleyan because of where it could take her. “I’ve always wanted
to study abroad in Africa, and IWU is one of the few school that gives you the opportunity
to study abroad and to graduate on time,” she said. To prepare, Spratt absorbed information
from across the campus. “I took classes like Politics in Africa and African Expressive
Art,” she said. “I spoke with Wesleyan students from Africa, who shared with me thoughts
about their home.”
Spratt also spoke with Director of the International Office Stacey Shimizu to find
a program that fit her desire for social justice in South Africa. “Bianca was looking
for a program in Africa that would allow her to combine her studies with some sort
of hands-on research, and the School for International Training program in multiculturalism
and human rights seemed like a good fit,” said Shimizu. “She has such a drive and
energy, I knew she’d do well in the program.”
At Shimizu’s suggestion, Spratt applied for the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship,
a highly competitive national scholarship, which offers awards for undergraduate study
abroad. Spratt won the scholarship and went in the spring of 2010 to rural South Africa.
There, she worked with an eco-friendly business school that is geared toward teaching
underprivileged youth business skills. “The school is about sustainability and being
green as well as building business skills, leadership skills and social skills,” she
said. “The school’s coordinators are about the holistic approach.” While abroad, Spratt
studied and wrote a 40-page research paper on the school and its interaction with
a local non-government association.
One of the key lessons Spratt said she took away from her South African experience
is an appreciation of the ability to communicate through language. “South Africa has
11 official languages, and my study abroad program taught us one language,” she said.
“I stayed with four families in South Africa, and only two of them spoke Xhosa, the
language we learned.” Spratt said overcoming those language barriers helped give her
perspective and learn that communication is about more than speaking. “It allowed
those of us there to immerse ourselves in the culture, rather than just being a tourist.
That is a lesson that can be applied anywhere,” she said.
Spratt said she will take all the opportunities Illinois Wesleyan has given her and
use them back home in Chicago. “I want to be a trailblazer for youth in my community,
youth in my family and people older than myself who want to go back to school but
feel their dreams won’t be accomplished,” she said.
Contact: Rachel Hatch, (309) 556-3960