Ultimate Field Trip Takes Students to FIFA World Cup

Posted: September 13, 2010 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: September 10, 2010 at 2:15 pm

By Jennifer Edgerly

Professor John Nauright, left, and student Andrew MacKay at Wilderness Beach in South Africa. Photo courtesy of John Nauright

While most college students were home this summer enjoying some time off from school, a group of 17 students participated in the ultimate field trip for their sport management class — a trip to South Africa that included watching the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Undergraduate and graduate students from Mason, as well as Indiana University, Miami University of Ohio, Ohio University, Seattle University and Virginia Commonwealth University, spent close to three weeks traveling to different parts of South Africa to study, sightsee and take in World Cup soccer matches.

The students also had a short stop in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on their way to South Africa, and finished their trip with stops in the African countries of Zambia and Botswana.

“At first, I think all the students were more excited about the World Cup, but this trip provided them with a unique learning experience,” says John Nauright, professor of sport management and the faculty member who planned the trip.

“They observed firsthand how a mega-event such as the World Cup can affect an entire country while witnessing the diversity of South Africa and the amazing spirit of its people.”

The students were able to earn credit for SPMT 440: Global Perspectives in Sport and SPMT 480: Special Topics in Sport.

Student Jon Haynie in front of Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium. Photo courtesy of John Nauright

During their visit, the group members attended daily lectures that focused on the role of sport in South Africa. Students also heard about apartheid and political prisoners in South Africa; life, culture and sport in South Africa’s black townships; and tourism development in that country.

“Getting to watch World Cup soccer matches live is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but my expectations for the trip were exceeded tenfold,” says Molly McManamon, a Mason junior majoring in sport management.

“I never thought I would meet so many interesting people or see such a beautiful landscape. My entire life has been put into a completely new perspective from this one experience.”

Many of the students agreed that one of the most moving moments came while participating in a friendly soccer match with local African youth at the Gansbaai Communal Sports Centre.

“The time we spent at the sports center in Gansbaai, where children from the township go to play soccer, was one of the highlights of the trip and a truly life-changing experience,” says Mason sophomore Daniel Zimmet.

“We had brought some Mason T-shirts with us to distribute to the kids. However, there were more kids than shirts, so we literally took the shirts off our backs and handed them out to the kids. Yet, there were still more kids, so several of us went into our suitcases and started throwing out whatever shirts we could find to give to the kids.”

Nauright, who once lived in South Africa, has visited the region more than 20 times and is an expert on South African history.

"Future Mason students" in South Africa. Photo courtesy of John Nauright

He says their experience in Gansbaai has led several of the students to ask how they can make a difference and help these youth development programs from afar.

As a result, Nauright is now working with several students who went on the trip to establish Mason United, a student organization that would work to raise awareness and money for youth sport-development projects in Africa and the Caribbean.

Along with attending lectures and working with local youth, the group participated in a research project measuring the economic impact of the World Cup on the city of Cape Town.

They also visited some of South Africa’s most notable historic sites, such as Robben Island, where former South African President Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. Their tour guide was a former political prisoner himself.

“It was incredible to tour Robben Island with a former political prisoner,” says Zimmet. “I could not understand why he wanted to come back to this place until he said he did it to feed his family.

“Seeing former President Mandela’s cell was very humbling,” he adds.  “It truly is amazing how a man who was kept in such a small cell could be so forgiving and loyal.”

While in South Africa, the group attended three World Cup soccer matches. Nauright says that the students often adopted sides for the games and really got into the spirit of the World Cup by painting their bodies and faces for the Cameroon versus Netherlands game.

Students also bungee-jumped over the Bloukrans Gorge, toured the Zevenwacht wine estate and visited some of South Africa’s most significant tourist sites, such as Table Mountain, Addo Elephant National Park and an African penguin colony.

Before returning to the states, the group visited Victoria Falls in Zambia and Chobe National Park in Botswana.

“I couldn’t possibly pick my favorite part of the trip,” says McManamon. “Between the three awesome games we went to, bungee jumping, surfing and white-water rafting, it was all so amazing. I found the entire trip to be ayoba (a slang term used by South Africans to express amazement).”

Says Zimmet, “It really put into perspective how good we have it here in America and really made me appreciate everything I have in my life.”

During the course of the trip, the students kept a journal of all the things they did and saw and turned those entries into a final paper. Upon returning to the states, students also completed a research project.

Other Mason students who participated in the trip include Laura Campbell, Jon Haynie, Chris Knowizen and Andrew MacKay.

Write to mediarel at gazette@gmu.edu