probability that Mariza Van Zyl can be found within the walls of Ennis Hall, GC’s art building. An advocate for the arts, the senior psychology major plans to pursue a career as a child life specialist and art therapist.
“I’m really passionate about acceptance and people loving people where they’re at,” Van Zyl said.
To her, a child life specialist is the bridge between doctors, nurses and children. She plans to use her minors in creative art therapy and photography to provide creative outlets for the children she will work with.
Van Zyl is passionate about this idea of creative expression and using it to help others become more aware of mental health. She is currently working on a photography project that focuses on the realities of battling mental illness, as well as the victories that come through it.
Van Zyl battled depression throughout middle and high school and uses her experience to grow the conversation about mental illness.
“I’m very much an advocate for talking about mental health and getting help,” Van Zyl said. “When you talk about it, you find out that you have so much in common with people. You’re never alone in your struggle.”
Another thing Van Zyl is incredibly enthusiastic about is her faith in God. This is something she said motivates and orchestrates every moment of her life.
“God has put my passions in my life,” Van Zyl said. “I can’t explain why I want to do what I want to do without bringing it back to the Lord; every good thing comes from him.”
“She knows what makes her happy, and she’s not afraid to do that and be a little weird,” said one of Van Zyl’s best friends, Olivia Johnston. “She’s very sure [of] who she is and doesn’t shy away from that. She goes out of her way to love people well and be encouraging.”
Her friends describe her as “unapologetically herself.” Van Zyl said this freedom largely arose due to her unique childhood.
When she was only six, Van Zyl and her family found themselves on a plane from South Africa to Atlanta. Growing up in these two very different places, Van Zyl said her family has always been different from the typical American, nuclear household.
The cultural differences between South Africa and the U.S. have become more apparent to Van Zyl as she has grown older, especially as her family tries to incorporate their African ancestry into their everyday lives.
“Whenever I tell people I’m from Africa, they’re like, ‘Oh, did you ride a giraffe to school?” Van Zyl said. “I’m like, ‘No! It has cities, too.’ But because my family is from South Africa, I have a passion for other cultures. My parents always taught me to eat weird foods and be friends with people of all different ethnicities and cultures.”
Van Zyl said the values her family emphasized have pushed her to passionately pursue others. She considers herself an intentional friend and prefers to spend her free time with a friend by her side.
Over this past summer, Van Zyl interned in Clarkston, Georgia, where she was able to create relationships with refugees from all around the world.
Clarkston is the most racially diverse square mile in the entire country. The city is home to over 90 different ethnic groups and nearly 14,000 people.
“We go into neighborhoods and put on a sort of VBS [Vacation Bible School] for the kids,” Van Zyl said. “We were just essentially loving on these kids. We would also do English as a second language [for the mothers], and we spent a lot of time in their homes and going to doctor’s appointments with them.”
Van Zyl said that one day, she hopes to tuck all she’s experienced into her back pocket and travel to India to be a full-time missionary and use the arts to create intentional and in-depth relationships with others.