Dan Trunzo

DAN TRUNZO - STUDENT PROFILE | bospcapetownsa@lists.stanford.edu

Stanford in Cape Town, Winter 2016-17
Major: English
Minor: Economics
College year while abroad: Junior
About the photo: The sun sets behind me the night of a full moon at the peak of Lions Head.

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS WITH DAN

Why did you choose to study abroad in Cape Town?

I knew that I wanted to study abroad, but I didn’t know where to start. When comparing programs, Cape Town stood out to me. The opportunity to apply the skills I’ve learned at Stanford in the civil society space through the community engaged learning component caught my eye. In further exploring the Cape Town program on the BOSP website, I found the class topics and structures extremely interesting. On the Cape Town program, you have the option to attend the engaged learning internship Monday through Wednesday. On Thursday and Friday, classes are offered. There are also block classes that meet all day for a few days throughout the quarter. I thought that this structure would allow me to pack a lot of new experiences into one quarter without being overwhelmed.

I wanted to study abroad in Cape Town to seize the unique opportunity of immersing myself in the culture and history of Cape Town and South Africa. I had actively sought to go outside of my comfort zone at Stanford, and I had always found that those experiences helped me grow the most.  As a boy that grew up in suburban Wisconsin among a predominately homogenous group of people, studying in Cape Town pushed me to go beyond my limits and became an experience of a lifetime for me.

What were your expectations before you went and how did those change once you arrived in Cape Town?

Before I went to Cape Town, I was very excited about the program but also fairly nervous. I vaguely knew one or two people going out of our entire cohort which was intimidating. When I met with Julie-Anne, the engaged learning coordinator, about my placement in Autumn, we were still trying to find the best fit. I was excited about the class offerings, meeting an entirely new group of people, and experience a new place with an incredibly rich history. My goal was to arrive in Cape Town with an open mind. I knew that as long as I was open to new experiences and stories, I would grow.

I found that approaching Cape Town with an open mind was essential because as I found out, any preconceived notions I did have were shattered.

What were some of the academic benefits from studying abroad in Cape Town?

My greatest and most influential experience in Cape Town was from the community engaged learning internship. My time at Triangle Project is still one of the most formative experiences of my time at Stanford. Like most of the community engaged learning opportunities, how much you put into it impact how much you learn. During my time, I wrote over a hundred pages in policy memos and briefs covering three separate subjects. I attended town hall forums, sat next to ambassadors, and wrote pages on hate crimes legislation and the protection of LGBTI individuals in traditional courts. 

The courses proved to be an incredible source of insight into South Africa and southern Africa’s issues. Courses like Youth Citizenship and Community Engagement, and Public and Community Health in Sub-Saharan Africa tackled highly relevant issues that permeate throughout South Africa’s current events.

As an English major, I was interested in exploring South African literature while I was abroad. Unfortunately, there were no classes offered on the program about South African literature. I approached Professor Paula Moya, who was one of my English professors, about the possibility of doing an independent study. After formulating a very detailed syllabus, she agreed to advise my independent study of narratological principles in late apartheid literature. Although executing a course on my own was difficult, it was one of the most fulfilling experiences while studying abroad in Cape Town. I delved into extremely difficult texts that dealt with issues that South Africa still faces. I have never felt the experience of truly interacting with a work of literature in that capacity since the works I read continue to permeate South African culture and society to this day.

What did you learn about yourself while you were studying abroad?

I learned that you’re often not going to be able to change people’s minds. I found that every time I engaged in a debate, simply saying, “your beliefs are anachronistic” or “that’s a hateful point of view” isn’t going to convince who you are debating. But, I didn’t let this mindset stop me. Instead, I sought to look beyond the initial beliefs of individuals. I looked at what facts and perspectives they were basing their beliefs upon. From there, I learned that the best way to engage in a productive conversation on a controversial topic was to approach the discussion with humility, grace, and a desire to understand why people believe what they believe. I’ve carried this mindset with me since Cape Town, and it is one example of how important and formative the entire experience was for me.

What was the most challenging experience you encountered while you were abroad and what did you learn from it?

Cape Town is an extremely challenging program. From taking classes on relevant and important topics to working in organizations that are trying to promote change, I was never able to escape the issues of Cape Town. It was a truly immersive experience, constantly thinking about Cape Town, South Africa, and the continent in general. I became enthralled with the issues that the city and country faced. However, I was not a resident of Cape Town or South Africa. 

The most challenging experience of being abroad in Cape Town is trying to understand the problems you will see but also understanding that you are just a visitor. It made it extremely difficult at times to remember why I was there. But, instead of telling others how things should be, I instead approached each opportunity to learn and contribute with a sense of humility. The actions I took were to benefit others, but not attempting to understand the people I was trying to help was going to make all my work worthless. Hearing the stories of others and understanding their point of views is an essential component of finding fulfillment on the Cape Town program and is one of the most valuable lessons I learned.

What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make?

One of the biggest cultural adjustments I had to make was become comfortable with the level of security in South Africa. Stanford puts an incredible premium on our safety. And, the residence like every other home has tall walls and barbed wire. On campus, it’s not uncommon to leave your laptop at a cube in the library to go to the restroom. It took me a few weeks to fully acclimate to this new mindset.

What was your favorite part of your everyday life in Cape Town?

Every morning when I would exit B house, I saw Table Mountain. The natural beauty of the Table Mountain and Cape Town is incredibly powerful. I would often sit on the top of the exterior stairs of A house and just stare.

What was the most memorable experience you had while you were in Cape Town?

Ally, our cohort’s resident cloud lover and moon tracker, mentioned that we should all hike Lion’s Head the day of a full moon. So, a group of us set out to grab supplies like snacks and head lamps to do the hike. We started our hike at around five and reached the top of Lions Head before it got too busy. A few of us set down blankets and ate with a prime seat looking over the ocean before the sun set in front of us. Before the sun set, I went to the other side of the peak to watch the full moon rise. The sky was painted with a mix of coral, magenta, and indigo. It was one of the most beautiful sights I had ever seen. From the peak, I could watch the full moon rise and the sun set. The hike down after the sunset was incredible too. A trail of headlines loop around the mountain as if a river of light flows down from the peak.

What 5 words would you use to describe your experience?

Impactful, complex, unique, spontaneous, necessary.

Fun Questions:

What was your favorite food you had in Cape Town?

The Kitchen in Woodstock makes the most incredible sandwiches. All the ingredients are so incredibly fresh and bright. I still crave this sandwich. It was freshly baked bread with a fresh herby pesto on one side, and a subtle sun-dried tomato paste on the other side. The fresh lettuce, tomato, and red onions provided a bed for this delectable roasted chicken. Before they close the sandwich, they crack some salt and pepper on it and add this slightly acidic vinaigrette that gets soaked into the bread. I am getting hungry just thinking about it.

What was the most valuable item you took with you on the program?

A versatile sweater. The weather is similar to Stanford, especially in the winter. Early mornings and nights can get a little chilly. It can get pretty windy in Rondebosch. But, downtown the wind is much calmer, and it gets hotter. Also, do not forget adapters for charging phones, cameras, etc.

What was your favorite music/band that you discovered in Cape Town?

We saw an incredible performance by The Soil at Kirstenbosch which was incredible. But, jazz night at The Great Wizoo is my favorite. Performers will flow on and off stage performing different songs, and it’s usually packed with UCT students, even when school isn’t in session.