Abby Poeske in South Africa

Photo of Abby Poeske

Abby Poeske

Abby Poeske, a junior from Ohio who is majoring in middle grades education, spent the Fall 2011 semester living, studying and working in South Africa.

Poeske traveled to South Africa with 11 other Carolina students as part of the Burch Honors Program. They spent much of their time in the city of Cape Town, but also toured parts of South Africa, and part of the group also took an excursion to the neighboring country of Zimbabwe.  

In addition to seeing African wildlife, spending time in a township outside of Cape Town and working in a school devoted to helping bridge the poverty gap in South Africa, Poeske also had a chance to meet Desmond Tutu, the activist and now-retired Anglican bishop who helped lead the movement to end the system of racial segregation known as apartheid.


Carolina students serve as 'AfriTars'

During their semester in South Africa, Poeske, along with eight other Burch Honors students, participated in an education track that included a service-learning course led by Suzanne Gulledge, clinical professor of middle grades education.

Gulledge, who has led several study-abroad programs at Carolina, said she wanted to find a way to share her students’ experiences with middle school classrooms back home. That led Gulledge to develop a program in which her students in South Africa regularly communicated with seventh graders at McDougle Middle School in Carrboro through live video on the Internet, sharing pictures from their adventures and answering questions from the seventh graders. The seventh graders were studying Africa as part of North Carolina’s standard course of study.

“Among the opportunities that I am especially anxious to support are those that serve public school teachers and students as they study those places in the world that our students visit and about which they have first-hand knowledge,” Gulledge said.

In Gulledge’s program, the Carolina students served as “AfriTars” for the McDougle students. Gulledge coined the term by combining ‘Africa’ with ‘avatar,’ indicating how the Carolina students would work remotely to gather primary source information on behalf of the McDougle students who were researching various topics regarding Africa.

“The university students even posed some questions of their own to explore the students’ understanding and perceptions about Africa,” Gulledge said. “The middle school teachers describe a level of excitement and personal connection to their topics of study through the AfriTar project that no other project has attained.”

In January, the Carolina “AfriTars” visited McDougle Middle School to meet face-to-face the students with whom they had spent the fall communicating. Each seventh grade social studies class listened to their “AfriTar” talk about their experience and threw a party for their guest.