A Semester of Hope: Studying abroad in Cape Town, South Africa with Charles Konkolics ’26

News & Spotlights | April 9, 2024
here are two photos. In the one on the left, Charles Konkolics ’26 takes a selfie wearing a blue athletic t-shirt. There are mountains and natural brush behind him. In the one on the right, Charles is juggling on a rock overlooking the coast. There are buildings and the ocean in the background.
Photos courtesy of Charles Konkolics ’26 in Cape Town

Written by Flavia Nunez Ludeiro ’26 of the Morehead-Cain Scholar Media Team

Last semester, Charles Konkolics ’26 studied abroad in Cape Town, South Africa. If you ask him how it went, he might pull from a pool of honest and positive adjectives: immersive, incredible, impactful.

He might also tell you the story of the time he cut his hair at the urging of his friends, Craig and Clement.

“I hadn’t cut my hair since arriving in South Africa, and the people at work started saying, ‘Tshepo, we’ll take you to get a real Capetonian haircut!’” Tshepo is the South African name Charles’s coworkers gave him. It means “hope.”

Laughing and smiling throughout the whole experience, Charles felt a sense of genuine friendship and belonging that can be rare to find in an unfamiliar country.

When Charles was deciding whether to study abroad, however, friendship was not at the forefront of his mind. Instead, his decision to travel to Cape Town stemmed mostly from a desire to discover and learn in a place he knew little about.

Operated largely through Honors Carolina, Charles’s program consisted of two classes and an internship. When reflecting on the academic growth he achieved overseas, Charles recalls his favorite class—one that focused on post-urban South Africa.

“I loved breaking down the norms that we typically speak about in Western terms and ideas when discussing these topics from a South African lens,” he says.

If he had to choose, though, Charles would say that the key to his immersive experience was his internship at RLabs. The nonprofit focuses on creating environments and systems where people are empowered through entrepreneurship, hope, and innovation. Charles focused on commercializing initiatives and supporting entrepreneurs from several townships in Cape Town.

Not only did Charles find meaning through his work, but he formed deep bonds with his coworkers and clients. On his last day at the office, his team pitched in to get him a customized shirt featuring the team’s faces so that Charles could carry them everywhere he went. Charles and his coworkers still text even now.

“I always felt welcomed, loved, and cared for by the communities I was a part of,” he recalls. “It was so hard to say goodbye to all the people I had worked with, but it was so sweet to see how they had impacted my life!”

Beyond Cape Town, Charles also flew to Johannesburg on a Lovelace Fund for Discovery Grant. In “Joburg” (as Charles jovially refers to South Africa’s biggest city), he visited the African Leadership Academy and studied their entrepreneurial leadership curriculum. The African Leadership Academy was founded by Morehead-Cain President Chris Bradford. Charles pursued this idea after feeling inspired by the work he was doing in Cape Town. Never had Charles seen how crucial it was for individuals to be equipped with business knowledge that could respond to social problems, such as poverty and education.

Outside of the classroom and work, Charles would often visit the beach and the mountains. In his free time, he swam in tidal pools and took up hiking the mountainous trails. He often went dancing with his UNC–Chapel Hill study abroad cohort, and he would see Rugby World Cup games at a food hall called Mojo Market with hundreds of cheering Springbok fans. When South Africa won the entire cup, Charles was elated. He had never seen a country come together like that for any sport.

While he lost some hair during his haircut, Charles will never lose the memories he made, the lessons he learned, and the people he met. Like his South African name, Tshepo, Charles hopes to one day see Cape Town again.

With funding from the Foundation, scholars have access to nearly 400 programs in more than 70 countries on every populated continent of the world. Learn more.

About the Morehead-Cain Scholar Media Team

The Morehead-Cain Scholar Media Team is an extracurricular program and internship run by the Foundation’s marketing and communications team. Scholars of all class years collaborate to produce multimedia content for social media (Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, LinkedIn, Facebook, and X), the Catalyze podcast, email newsletters, and the website (moreheadcain.org). The team’s audience comprises more than 3,400 scholars and alumni.

The Scholar Media Team is led by Sarah O’Carroll, the content manager for Morehead-Cain. Participation is a semester-long commitment.