Student spends summer abroad in



Eric Bellomo

Villanova students often spend their summers exploring the world, serving their communities, gaining professional experience or sometimes a combination of all three. Of the great variety of summer experiences we have heard recounted since classes commenced, one Villanovan’s story stands out because of its courage and impact. 

Aida Mohajeri, a junior Political Science and Arab and Islamic Studies double major, minoring in Peace and Justice, from Devon, Pa., spent her summer serving as a middle school teacher in Manenberg Township in South Africa while simultaneously taking classes at the prestigious University of Cape Town. 

Manenberg, originally established in the 1960’s by South Africa’s National Party, is a township approximately 20 miles outside of Cape Town. Since it was established during the peak of apartheid, Manenberg is still populated by low-income families of color and continues to deal with the issues of similarly borne townships. These issues—including poverty, crime, inequity and disenfranchisement—are remnants of a disturbingly intolerant time and serve as a constant reminder of the world’s need for responsible and capable leadership. 

Mohajeri confronted these issues head on. By day, she was a teacher and a role model for sixth and seventh grade students. She provided instruction in everything from math and English to life skills like the importance of tolerance, the HIV/AIDs pandemic and the importance of straying away from violence. By night, she was a student taking classes at the University of Cape Town in community development, which is her field of choice and her primary academic focus during her time at the University. 

As a student passionate about race relations, volunteerism and community development, this opportunity, both inside and outside the classroom, provided Mohajeri the exposure she needed to make a legitimate impact on an intimate level. 

“My goal was to make a real impact on the students,” Mohajeri said. “I didn’t want to be in my own bubble, I wanted to be out in the community.” 

In reaching her goal, Mohajeri was struck by the kindness of her students. “Compassion was everywhere,” she said. “They were so compassionate despite their circumstances and the obstacles they faced individually and as a community.”

Furthermore, as a student of Arab and Islamic studies and Peace and Justice, Mohajeri said she valued the opportunity to grow into her role and responsibilities as a global citizen. “I learned a great deal about the culture, history and language of South Africa, especially because I didn’t know much about the region before I left,” she said.

Although the experience was incredibly rich, Mohajeri pointed out that it was not without its difficulties. Serving as a teacher without any formal certification, prior experience to draw upon or adequate supplies provided a significant obstacle. This was in addition to the significant language barrier that at times existed between her and the students. 

Equally as challenging and burdensome was knowing that “when I left on a bus to go to my own classes I was going to another world,” Mohajeri said. “But I was leaving my students in their own world, one filled with gangs and poverty.” 

Nevertheless, what helped combat these issues was the students’ appetite for education and their willingness to learn, despite everything that stood in their way. 

After an emotional goodbye and memorable experience, Mohajeri says she is committed to similar work in the future. 

“I want to work on the federal or international level to address the rights of children and those of all levels of ability,” Mohajeri said.

After reflecting on her international experience, Mohajeri offered some advice to those who may be considering their own international experience in the future.

“Don’t be afraid of doing something different, going somewhere different and don’t be afraid of the unknown,” she said. “You’ll be amazed by what you’re capable of when you find yourself in a different environment. You will grow and learn more than you can possibly imagine.”

“We all have super powers,” Mohajeri preached. “We often underestimate our own power and the impact we can have on other people. Despite all the challenges that exist in the world, there is a still a phenomenal amount of love and kindness in this world and getting to spread this love is a privilege and an honor.”