South African student adapts to life in Mankato
MANKATO, Minn. -- Scott Fee remembers exactly when he knew Bulelani Magxaka was ready to come to America. Last year, when the first group of Minnesota State University students visited Eden Campus -- the South African school Fee, an MSU construct...
MANKATO, Minn. -- Scott Fee remembers exactly when he knew Bulelani Magxaka was ready to come to America.
Last year, when the first group of Minnesota State University students visited Eden Campus -- the South African school Fee, an MSU construction management instructor, helped launch -- most of the Eden students were a little intimidated by this group of visiting white Americans. But not Magxaka.
"He stepped up like no other student stepped up," Fee said. "And he had some of the biggest personalities in our group."
Even in this environment -- where history, class and politics gave him many reasons to stay quiet -- Magxaka proved himself a leader. He was not intimidated. In fact, his gregarious personality worked well in smoothing over the divide between the Americans and South Africans.
"After that," Fee said, "we started talking to faculty about bringing him over here."
Now, he's officially done with his first semester at MSU. None of his credits transferred from Eden to MSU. So, while it may have been his third year of higher education, he was starting from zero at MSU, just like the more than 2,000 other high school graduates from Eden Prairie, Burnsville, Lakeville and all over southern Minnesota.
But his story of getting here couldn't be more different.
He grew up in a town about four hours from Cape Town, the capital of South Africa, where his township is about half the size of Mankato. At one point, he said, there were 18 or 19 people living in his family's modest house.
"If I could do stuff without having money, I'd do that," he said.
It was 2006 when he first learned about Eden Campus. He was in a taxi on his way to apply for a job when he overheard two people talking about Eden. They mentioned a presentation being given that day about Eden, and Magxaka changed his mind -- and his future -- on the spot.
He went to that presentation, and ultimately chose to attend Eden campus. He was the first person in his family to attend college.
Eden campus teaches entrepreneurship. The curriculum, in fact, requires students to engage in some kind of business startup. Magxaka's startup was a car wash. Income earned from those businesses is used to pay tuition.
As his time at Eden wound down, Fee asked him if he wanted to come to Minnesota to study at MSU. Magxaka wanted to, but his mother had doubts.
To convince her, Fee went on a drive with her, one that took him hours from campus and into the African bush. They got out of the car, sat on the ground, and talked.
"I've never felt so interviewed," Fee said of that encounter. "What I needed her to know was that I wasn't adopting him. He would be just like any other 20-year-old college student coming to the states."
It was a difficult decision for Magxaka, and after he decided to go, he made his mom promise to not tell anyone. If people found out, he said, it wouldn't be uncommon for them to ridicule his ambition.
He came to Minnesota in late December.
And he didn't make his first call home until mid-March.
"Mom said, You've proven your point, now come home.'"
He stayed, of course, and finished his first semester, a semester he says was difficult for him academically. But he passed all his classes. He said that if he returns to South Africa a failure, he will carry that reputation with him the rest of his life.
Since coming to Minnesota, he's kept busy. He's given several presentations on campus and at area schools. He has a job. He even was a presenter at the South Central College Global Connections Conference.
He's not exactly sure what he'll major in, although for now he's sticking close to Fee's department, and using Fee as his adviser.
But when he's done, he's pretty sure he'll return home.
"South Africa needs me more than America does," he said. "I want to be where my help is actually needed more."