Texas Tech student aspires to be a conduit for change after her study abroad trip to South Africa.
Disha Ganjegunte is not shy about her expectations. After her trip overseas through the Study Abroad program at Texas Tech University's Office of International Affairs (OIA), she is hoping this once-in-a-lifetime trip will be a far-reaching conduit of long-term change.
We chatted with the very goal-oriented general studies and nutrition major from El Paso about her journey to South Africa and why it left such a lasting impression.
Opportunity and History
The cost to travel overseas is not minimal by any stretch, especially for an extended period which is why scholarship opportunities -- such as those Ganjegunte took advantage of through Study Abroad Competitive Scholarship (SACS), Scholarship for Honors Study Abroad, Terry Foundation, and the Texas Tech Office of the President Globally Engaged Scholarship are so vitally important.
“I don't come from a financial background where I could say ‘Oh, $10,000? Let me just pull that out,'” said Ganjegunte. “Luckily, I was able to pay off that entire amount through scholarships through different organizations and Texas Tech's Study Abroad.”
When the moment came for Ganjegunte to choose her destination, South Africa was always a place that elicited her emotions.
“I grew up watching National Geographic because I loved seeing the ‘big five (rhinoceros, elephant, buffalo, lion and leopard), animals in that country,” Ganjegunte said, “but also, the rich history they have and the active conversation when it comes to making change and bettering their country.”
Warmth of the People
Actor Morgan Freeman eloquently pondered “How do we change the world? One random act of kindness at a time.” This thought melds perfectly into both what Ganjegunte wants to do in the future and she established upon her arrival in South Africa.
“I wanted to go in with almost a blank slate and let the experiences I had in that country really shape how I looked at it,” Ganjegunte recalled. “I think a lot of times when you study abroad, the narrative becomes ‘oh Americans are going to go save a different country', but it wasn't like that at all. It was us getting to learn from them. No matter what, the people had the most positive outlook; they were so accepting and welcoming.”
One of the more powerful experiences for Ganjegunte was traveling to schools around Johannesburg and Bloemfontein to educate students and teachers on nutritional alternatives for protein. The educational session suddenly became a celebration.
“All the children got up and performed their songs, sang how they were sons and daughters of Africa,” recalled Ganjegunte. “We all had a chance afterward to talk to the students about nutrition and I was standing on one side and one of the kids wanted to take a picture with me and I think I created a flash mob. I could just feel the presence of who they are. The feelings of community I felt in that moment is something that will always stick with me.”
Educating for a Better Tomorrow
In July, the World Health Organization released a report estimating global hunger grew to a staggering 828 million people in 2021, an increase of 150 million people since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Numbers like these have Ganjegunte motivated to help in whatever way she possibly can.
“I was able to go and help educate middle school and elementary school students about soy, nutrition, different proteins,” Ganjegunte said. “One of our professors, Wilna Oldewage-Theron has been doing research there for a while so while we were educating them, they followed up and installed a SoyCow in the area.”
A SoyCow is an electric food processing system which efficiently produces soymilk and it's many derivatives to provide protein.
“In the area they live, they didn't have as much financial access to meat products. Having access to the SoyCow and a recipe book was an amazing opportunity to give back as well as learn.”
Lessons Learned, Lessons Shared
Former U.S. President John Quincy Adams once stated, “patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish.”
Ganjegunte said those two attributes were essential as she went through the study abroad planning process all the way to the climactic point of her trip to South Africa.
“I had actually signed up for multiple study abroad programs but because of the pandemic and different situations, it got canceled four times,” she recalled.
“I made sure I had figured out my degree plans so that I could fit a study abroad program into my schedule. I was able to study community nutrition, which I think was perfect because I was in a community learning about nutrition. It couldn't have been a more perfect fit.”
Her advice for those contemplating study abroad is quite simple.
“Go to the study abroad office and tell them you're interested and start that conversation early,” she said.
“And don't let the money scare you. It's completely possible to study abroad.”