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This article explores how travel influences American attitudes to South Africa and Africa. It draws on long-term ethnographic relationships with American study abroad students in Cape Town, South Africa. Travel is often assumed to be an ideal way of changing how the ``other'' is perceived, but most research on travelers shows only how the traveler is changed. This article is a rare contribution to discussions of what travelers can learn about their destinations. Africa tends to be imagined in the US as a homogeneous entity either good in its primitiveness and wildness or bad in its violence, poverty, and disease. These perceptions color the expectations of students traveling to South Africa and frame their experiences there. Some of their preconceptions are shaken, especially the assumption that racial categories are the same everywhere. The students frequently assert, ``South Africa is not Africa.'' They also learn through their volunteer work, and conversations with South Africans, that poverty is not necessarily a homogenizing, debilitating force and that despite lack of material possessions, poor South Africans have ambitions and pride. The students' image of Africa is disturbed by the combination of their cosmopolitan experiences in South Africa and this unsettling of their preconceptions about poverty.

Keywords: Africa; America; Poverty; Representations; Study abroad; Travel

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Anthropology and Archaeology, University of Pretoria, South Africa

Publication date: January 1, 2004

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  • Tourism Review International is a peer-reviewed journal that advances excellence in all fields of tourism research, promotes high-level tourism knowledge, and nourishes cultural awareness in all sectors of the tourism industry by integrating industry and academic perspectives. Its international and interdisciplinary nature ensures that the needs of those interested in tourism are served by documenting industry practices, discussing tourism management and planning issues, providing a forum for primary research and critical examinations of previous research, and by chronicling changing tourism patterns and trends at the local, regional and global scale.
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