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LMU Senior Conducts Field Research in South Africa

Ryan PickeringPolitical science major Ryan Pickering’s passion for politics led him to the University of Cape Town, South Africa.

Pickering, a senior at Loyola Marymount University, studied the transitional organization Truth and Reconciliation Commission led by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The government program aims to restore a sense of justice in the state and implement a strategy of trading truth for amnesty.

“Before I went, I thought the practice was haphazard for it undermined basic principles of criminal justice but living in South Africa has changed my mind entirely,” Pickering said. “Exposing the truth set the nation free, and I am now exploring the philosophical justifications of this method.”

Living at the International House at the University of Cape Town, Pickering took challenging classes and conducted field research on the commission. His courses included South African politics and contemporary political philosophy. In between school and research, Pickering found time to make the university basketball team.

Pickering’s greatest challenge was engaging the locals in a dialogue about apartheid. However, after becoming involved in community events such as braais -- South African barbecues -- rugby games and trips to museums, the locals began to open up to him.

“At first, I met with serious adversity but I learned to cross cultural barriers, and investigate topics that have been exhausted, but not resolved. Through this experience, I learned to be more mature and build a deeper understanding and appreciation for their culture,” Pickering said.

Pickering felt LMU had prepared him with cultural sensitivity that would be essential when studying in South Africa. At LMU, Pickering worked with Professor John Parrish, who was his adviser for the Student Undergraduate Research Fellowship program.

“Sensitivity is utterly important especially when dealing with the South African political system being that it is so volatile. My contemporary history of Africa class that I took at LMU definitely helped me prepare to be sensitive to other cultures. Whereas some students still thought Africa was tribal, I felt an advantage having an idea of what to expect,” Pickering said.

Pickering plans to do post-grad service in the Peace Corps, Place Corps or Teach for America, then attend graduate school for political science.

Each year liberal arts majors have the opportunity to conduct a study on the topic of their choice through the Student Undergraduate Research Fellowship (S.U.R.F.). Students must present their topic proposal as well as enlist an adviser who will guide them through their studies. The S.U.R.F. recipients presented their research in Ahmanson 1000 on Nov. 18, 2008.

Photo: Ryan Pickering (second from the left) poses for a photo with fellow students.