South Africa trip gives Notre Dame's Brianna Turner new outlook

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

Modern technology has its place.

But there are times when it’s best to holster the cellphone and soak in the surroundings.

It took a trip to a different world for Brianna Turner to come to that conclusion.

Turner, the Notre Dame women’s basketball team’s 6-foot-3 inside presence, will start her junior year in summer school this week with a better understanding of culture and the differences that make people special.

She was one of about 20 Notre Dame students — about half of whom were athletes — who just returned from three weeks in South Africa. The university devised an opportunity for athletes, who are consumed by their sport year-round, to study abroad in the time between the end of the school year and the start of summer school.

Turner’s situation was a bit more difficult, since she spent most of her time with her right arm in a sling as she recovers from postseason shoulder surgery.

But it didn’t stop her from immersing herself, at least temporarily, into a new way of life.

Her suggestion for anyone contemplating a similar trip?

“Try not to get a cellphone plan (for South Africa),” Turner said. “Literally, try not to be near your phone and just experience (the country). We didn’t have that much access to wifi. We got used to being around each other.

“We took the time to look at our surroundings and understand the environment we were in. We weren’t able to look at our phones, snap all these pictures…

“Being in the moment. That’s probably what I miss most about South Africa.”

Turner, who is from soggy (after the recent rains that have pounded the state) Pearland, Texas, was exposed to metropolitan areas like Cape Town and Johannesburg, as well as the hinterlands where poverty was part of life.

“We visited the ALA — African Leadership Academy,” she said. “They take about 100 kids each year from all over Africa. It’s like a high school; a prep school for two years. Then, they end up getting scholarships to schools in America and Europe.

“They had six kids going to Notre Dame next year. I thought it was really great how they find these kids who have this great potential and help them with success in the future.

“I learned so much. Everything was so amazing there. I learned more there in three weeks than I would in a whole semester sitting in a classroom. Experiencing that culture firsthand changes your perspective.

“We visited towns and orphanages (in the outlying areas). They have nothing, but they still made the best of it. It makes me realize how grateful I am for what I have. They’re basically getting one solid meal a day, if that. I’m over here eating three meals a day and six snacks; whatever I want to.”

So, what was the meal she missed the most?

“Tacos,” Turner said without hesitation. “The first thing I had when I got home was homemade tacos.”

Turner’s most uncomfortable part of the experience was dealing with her surgically-repaired shoulder. She’s on schedule to lose the sling this week, then ramp up her rehab. She probably won’t be cleared for full basketball participation for a couple months. While her teammates are playing pickup games this summer, Turner will be focused on a tougher challenge.

“It got annoying at times,” she said about the bum wing. “People always helped when I needed help. It wasn’t bad. There’s no pain yet — hopefully it stays that way.”

“All the athletes got to a gym to work out every day. I brought things that our trainer gave me to help with the rehab. I have to make sure my shoulder is strong and healthy.”

Just like her new perspective on her world.

Brianna Turner gets up close and personal with a couple penguins near Cape Town. Photo provided