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From South Africa to Syracuse-Student finds home away from home
When Mlungisi Mabele boarded a plane bound for London following an Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) Conference at the University of Missouri in 2001, little did he know that he would eventually land at Syracuse, too.
His change in plans can be attributed in part to the passenger in the neighboring seat – Bob Colley, associate dean of University College.
After introducing himself, Mlungisi explained to Colley that he was from a small town near Johannesburg, South Africa, and had visited the United States for the ACE Conference.
“Students who excelled in academic and athletic competitions were invited to the international convention,” says Mlungisi, “and I was to compete in the soccer kicking, bible memory, and oral argument categories.”
“As our conversation continued,” says Colley, “He told me that he would love to attend college in the U.S. one day, but with five children in his family, the financial aspect of that was rather dim.”
Upon returning to Syracuse, Colley stayed in touch with Mlungisi and put him in contact with the SU Admissions Office. After forging his way through a blizzard of emails, faxes and details, Mlungisi was admitted to SU. Not only was Mlungisi admitted, he qualified for a scholarship “that put me over the moon,” he says.
Unable to secure on-campus housing, Mlungisi contacted Colley for help in finding off-campus housing. But Colley had another idea, which led to Colley and his wife, Katryn Hansen, assistant dean of the School of Architecture, offering Mlungisi their spare bedroom. Mlungisi has been staying there since, becoming like a member of the Colley family; Colley says even his six-year-old daughter considers Mlungisi her big brother.
Mlungisi says his family back has been very pleased that he found a home away from home in Syracuse. Mlungisi’s mother was a psychiatric nurse in a hospital in South Africa until his departure; since then, she has moved to London to take a job that better enables her to help Mlungisi, leaving her other children in South Africa with her husband and visiting whenever possible.
English is Mlungisi’s third language, after Zulu and Afrikaans. He was tutored in English by his mother and was enrolled in a mostly-white English-speaking public school, which never would have admitted him under the Apartheid regime just a few years earlier.
When Mlungisi learned he was coming to Syracuse, he practiced ice skating in his socks on the wood floors of his South African home, and he has since learned the real thing at Tennity Ice Pavillion. He has also enjoyed learning to snowboard and played in a recreational soccer league at the Liverpool Indoor Soccer Center.
Mlungisi is learning to find a balance between being engulfed in the U.S. culture and keeping his South African roots alive. “Sometimes I feel like not every part of me is able to express itself here in the U.S. — a month may go by without speaking in my home language and that kid of feels weird, like part of me is inactive.” In May, Mlungisi plans to return to South Africa to visit his family and teachers, and in June and July, he will go to London to earn money for his next semester at SU.
“There are so many people that I need to thank that gave me the opportunity to tour the U.S. that ultimately led to the meeting with Bob–and so many people at Syracuse University to thank,” says Mlungisi.
Mlungisi is currently enrolled in The College of Arts and Sciences as a freshman, with a 3.7 grade point average. After his undergraduate studies, he’d like to attend the College of Law, and eventually return to Johannesburg. As he puts it, “I’d like to work with my country and give back the knowledge I’ve been lucky enough to receive at SU.”