Part 1: Antipode

Over the summer of 2011, Zach Tobin circled the globe to 3 different continents and 5 different countries (including South Africa and North Korea) in 40 days. Initially planned as a professional academic experience, Zach’s journey become much more than this. For the next several weeks, Zach will share his story with you 1 piece at a time.

Zach Tobin is a second-year graduate student in Student Affairs Administration at MSU’s College of Education. Zach was born in Seattle, WA and has had the privilege to travel throughout the world including stints in Central America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Middle  East. Along with traveling, Zach’s interests include higher education policy and Eastern European history and politics. Zach also serves as a Programming Intern at the Office for International Students and Scholars (OISS).

There is an old saying in the United States that if you keep digging into the ground you will eventually find your way to China. Well, this isn’t exactly true. In fact, you are much more likely to drown in the Indian Ocean by the time you reach the other side. The term antipode is used to denote the point on earth directly opposite to another fixed location ( to try it out!), and is essentially the farthest you could possibly be from where ever you currently are. For those of you in East Lansing, your antipode is in the Indian Ocean just southwest of Perth, Australia. For me Seattle has always felt like my true home and its antipode is also in the Indian Ocean southeast of Port Elizabeth, South Africa, which just happened to be my first stop in my 40 day and 5 country journey around the world last summer.

I decided to set out on this trip because I couldn’t pass up the chance. Someone once told me that “you rarely have time and the ability to travel at the same time, and it’s even rarer to have youth too.” I feel privileged enough to have all three after working professionally for four years before coming back to graduate school. I am an American 2nd year MSU graduate student who took a break from the books and hectic life of school to explore the world and share a little bit with you about my experiences. Each week I hope to provide a story or insight from my time in South Africa, Qatar, India, China, and North Korea.

My journey started in Port Elizabeth, South Africa where I found myself, along with nine other students and two faculty members who were invited by Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University to share ideas on how to create true learning environments outside the classroom. In the first few days I spent on campus I took in so much and was surprised both at how similar and how different NMMU and Port Elizabeth was from my experience in the United States. I wanted to highlight some of the first impressions I had, some serious, some not, of South Africa and college life here…


  • The NMMU campus is in a gorgeous setting just a half mile from the Indian Ocean. Parts of the school are also nature preserves and in the first two days I had already seen zebras and monkeys on campus!
  • 10 years ago, NMMU was actually three different Universities that tended to serve different functions and segregated students. Once the schools merged, African students were suddenly taking classes with white Afrikaners (whites of Dutch descent). One consequence of this was that the residence halls, which were once half white and half African based on which school you went to became entirely African. In many ways what happened was a smaller scale “white flight” that occurred in Detroit or other major US cities in the 60’s and 70’s. Now many white students live in the residential communities surrounding NMMU comparable to the suburb concept in the US.
  • Lectures at NMMU are similar in many ways to the US. Students in the front are engaged and ask a lot of questions while many in the back text and doodle the whole time. From my limited exposure, the classrooms did appear to be more racially mixed than the residence halls.
  • South Africans drive on the left side of the road (a relic of early 20th century English rule.) They also walk up stairs and through streets on the left as well. I never realized that the two were connected!

Over the next few days my group visited local townships, went on a safari, and gave professional presentations to NMMU staff and students. More to come soon! Thanks for reading!