American isiZulu student Mr Wade Southwell.

Mr Wade Southwell of Ozarks Technical Community College in Springfield, Missouri in the United States is at UKZN’s College of Humanities on a scholarship to study isiZulu.

Southwell won the Boren Scholarship for International Study worth US$25 000 to pursue a year-long study of the language. 

Before arriving at UKZN, Southwell took a two-month isiZulu course at the University of Florida as part of the scholarship requirements and instantly fell in love with the language. Having done extensive research into the best places to study isiZulu in Africa on a full-time basis, Southwell chose UKZN and says he has never looked back.

‘The isiZulu language is fascinating. The sentence structure and grammar is completely different to European languages especially when it comes to expressing ideas,’ said Southwell. ‘I love learning the various clicks when pronouncing certain words and I am working hard to master them. I feel that in order to connect with people on a deeper level, you need to speak their language. It’s an invaluable skill to have.’

Three months into studying the language, Southwell has progressed into having discussions with other students in isiZulu. He is confident that by exposing himself more to the language, he will eventually be able to speak it fluently.

Due to his newfound love for the language and his thirst for acquiring new knowledge during lectures, Southwell was given a Zulu name Xoxani – changed from Xolani – which refers to his chatty, talkative nature.

Lecturer in the isiZulu programme, Dr Shamilla Naidoo, said: ‘Xoxani is an enthusiastic student – and that enthusiasm is contagious. His presence actually inspires his classmates. Apart from that Xoxani is interested in linguistic aspects of isiZulu and we hope to see him pursue research in that area.’

Southwell enjoys watching local isiZulu TV soapies such as Generations and other isiZulu shows.

Asked his opinion on South African life and Zulu culture, he said: ‘Initially I had to adjust to everything here in South Africa including how people think and interact, and the differences between our societies. It was overwhelming at first but I immersed myself in the culture and history and I have embraced all these new perspectives and it is everything that I had hoped it would be and so much more.

‘I’m from one of the poorest states in the US, where very few opportunities like this come along for students, so getting the scholarship to come here to study isiZulu is amazing and I would like to return in the future.’

Southwell is in contact with his mentors and friends back home and gives them regular updates on his lectures and academic experiences at UKZN, often in turn inspiring them to grab opportunities and make successes of their lives.

When he returns home next year, he hopes to pursue majors in Gender and Sexuality studies at either Yale University or the University of Pennsylvania. He also wants to study isiZulu at an advanced level, looking into the history and grammar of the language and hopes to one day become an isiZulu expert.