University of Tulsa students participate in experiential learning activities that quite often involve travel to other countries. In this story, you’ll get a first-hand look at some of the activities Braydon Rennie participated in during his internship in South Africa.
By Braydon Rennie (BS ’19)
One of the many outstanding features of the exercise and sports science program (EXSS) at TU is the requirement that each student complete two internships during their final year. During my final fall semester internship, I worked with Associate Professor Roger Kollock as a research assistant in his Biomechanics Research Laboratory. I’m a hands-on learner, so this experience enabled me to develop a far better understanding of how to assess human mechanics and how that can be applied to real-world conditions.
Due to a few complications, I wasn’t able to complete the second internship during the normal spring semester. Thanks to the support of my department head, academic adviser, athletic director and TU’s global education adviser, however, I got permission to complete the internship during the summer. So, for my final three credits, I packed my bags and traveled nearly 9,000 miles away to Cape Town, South Africa!
Community health through exercise
The organization I worked for in Cape Town was Community Health Intervention Programmes (CHIPs). The focus of CHIPs is to improve the health and well-being of South Africans through the implementation of exercise programs for all age groups. The CHIPs staff works on a teach-the-teacher model in order to reach as many individuals as possible, most of whom live in underprivileged communities.
My first experience with CHIPS was at a primary school where I participated in an exercise program we had designed for the teacher to implement. I had the privilege of participating in the initial sessions with the kids, and I was struck by the minimal amount of time and resources that were dedicated to them.
Within the first week, it was clear that this would be a common narrative. Many of the schools I visited did not have an organized time for exercise. Even at the ones that did, the amount of time allotted varied greatly. Furthermore, there were no designated physical education (PE) teachers or consistency in the materials used in the sessions. Comparing this to my experience at school – which included hour-long gym classes every day, access to plenty of sports equipment and registered PE teachers – I realized how fortunate I had been.
Nevertheless, seeing how many games and exercises the South African children could perform using only a bean bag and a Hula-Hoop reminded me how simple and lighthearted exercise can be. Two motivators I took away from this experience were that having a good attitude is far better than having good equipment and that exercise is not a right, it is a privilege. Since then, I have continued to challenge others to think the same way.
My own time to play
While I worked hard each week in Cape Town, on the weekends I also had the opportunity to enjoy fun group excursions. These included visiting Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was held prisoner; hiking Table Mountain; going on safari; and walking with penguins. These were all things I had never done before and, prior to this internship, had never even considered a possibility.
During my internship, I was endlessly motivated to try new things because, well, “when’s the next time I’ll be in South Africa?!” That question became our group mantra and was the catalyst for everything from swimming with great white sharks to trying a Gatsby sandwich (which is, btw, unreal!).
There is something about being in a foreign place with new people that ignites an innate curiosity and desire to explore. I was overwhelmed by the possibilities and by how much I was able to learn in only three weeks, because I was just so interested in everything!
Now that I’m back home, I have made an effort to tap into this travel mentality in order to avoid falling into a boring daily routine. I find this allows me to look at life from different angles to get the most of every opportunity, regardless of how monotonous or insignificant it may seem.
Studying abroad is something I believe every student should experience or, at the very least, consider. There are certain things that can be learned only while in a foreign, unfamiliar place, whether it be career related or self-growth. I can’t thank enough TU and the staff who made my internship in South Africa possible, and I hope my story encourages other students to pursue a similar program.
(Editor’s note: If Rennie’s story whet your appetite for traveling and learning abroad, check out Casey Seitz’s account of his spring break course in Ireland. TU’s Center for Global Education can help students plan exciting and insightful overseas education adventures.)
About the author
Hailing from 150 miles north of Toronto, Braydon Rennie completed his bachelor of science in exercise and sports science in 2019. Now back home in Canada, Rennie is involved with ThinkMotion, an organization that finds creative and fun ways to challenge children physically and mentally through PE class. He is also working full time with a construction company to save up for a master’s program in kinesiology, which he plans to start in the fall of 2020. With his education and experience, Rennie hopes to build an exercise-programming career in youth sports.