Lesego Mabiletsa laughs as she talks about the way schoolmates perceive her native South African country, Botswana.
“They ask me, ‘Did you buy those clothes when you moved here?’” Mabiletsa, 22, said as she motioned to her blue sweat pants and Nike sneakers. “Americans think all the people in Africa go barefoot and wear tribal clothes, but I’m dressed today just as I did when I lived in my country.”
Mabiletsa, a journalism major at Temple, is from Gaborone, population 1.5 million, the capitol city of Botswana. According to Mabiletsa, Gaborone is full of traffic, people and businesses–and is not much different from Philadelphia.
Mabiletsa rejects many opinions she believes Americans have of her. She said that people incorrectly assume her family must be rich because they live well in Africa and she goes to college in America.
“It is because of my country that I can come to school here,” she said. “They pay my tuition, health insurance, airfare and give me a monthly stipend to live on.”
When she graduated high school with the desire to work at a new television station near her home, Mabiletsa was disappointed by the lack of training offered in Botswana for a career in broadcast journalism.
She applied for a grant to study in America and began her freshman year at Indiana State University in the fall of 1998. She was not satisfied with the courses ISU offered and transferred to Temple the following year.
Mabiletsa said she is so thankful to study at Temple, but misses her home terribly. She described her stay in America as a time of keeping to herself. The international student’s daily (sometimes twice a day) calls from her boyfriend of 5 years, Tebogo, “really makes [her] day.”
Mabiletsa said she looks forward to graduation in Spring of 2002 so she can hurry home to plan a December wedding.
Once she returns to Gaborone, the ambitious student plans to study for a master’s degree and hopes to eventually work as an editor at a TV station. She smiles often and speaks softly, but when conversations turn to future plans, her voice deepened with a tone of assurance as she spoke about the faith she has in her homeland.
Not only does Mabiletsa’s hope for her homecoming push her through the daily grind of credit hours, but her faith in God sustains her when stress knocks at her door.
“My grandparents became Christians when missionaries came to my country many years ago,” she said. “Our religion, going to church and our faith has been very important.”
It was this spiritual force, Mabiletsa explained, that pulled her mother, brother, sister, and herself through the tragedy of losing their father to illness several years ago. She described losing him as a trying time, but one that united her family.
Mabiletsa said she hopes to make the most of her time left in Philadelphia, and plans to just keep laughing at the odd perceptions Americans have of her.