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Thoughts on the First Month

One month in, and what a month it’s been! All the craziness is just beginning to die down, and as usual, there’s more just around the corner.

When classes began, the first week was stressful and confusing. I had to find all my classrooms, figure out whether the professors were coming, and settle into my life here in other ways (laundry, food, etc) all at the same time. I learned quickly that the first week of classes is when most of the professors prepare for the coming school year, and thus only about half the professors held class the first week. But by the time the second week rolled around things became much more regular.

My classes feel very similar to the ones back home. The professors are friendly and engaging, and one even invited me to visit his home village sometime. There are also some very interesting classes. In particular, my Botswana Politics class, which is lead by a man who also writes political columns in one of the local newspapers, is always engaging and educational. Because the professor is so up-to-date on current political situations, he always has new and relevant examples to highlight what we’re learning in the abstract, and he encourages enough class discussion that I learn more about Batswana opinions and political view every day! My Historical and Comparative Linguistics in Africa course is also fascinating, and it’s amazing to be able to look at the Setswana I’m learning and compare it to the earlier languages it came from. And for that matter, Setswana class is a blast as well! It’s definitely a struggle to learn a language so different from English, but there are plenty of laughs while we do. I have already made a fool of myself trying to get the difference between “t” and “th” in Setswana (the th sounds like the t in “time,” and the t is soft enough that to my ears it almost resembles a d), and practicing the tones. I discovered at the dining hall how different “mabElE” and “mabEle” sound to a native speaker (the first one means “sorghum,” one of the staple grains of Botswana food, and the second means “breast”). Despite the fact that I’ve never been a math person, I’m even enjoying my Statistics class, thanks to the funny professor and lively class.

I’ve also been getting more exposure to the culture in and around Gaborone. The Office of International Education and Partnerships, which coordinates all the exchange students here, arranged both a traditional dinner and a weekend trip to Kanye and the surrounding area. At the traditional dinner, I had the privilege of trying my first dried caterpillar!

…while I will not be adding it to my list of favorite foods, it was another first to add to my list.

The weekend we spent in and around Kanye was also a favorite. We spent a night in a cultural village outside the sleepy town, and we sat around the fire watching traditional dances and hearing traditional Setswana songs. The next day, our group of students got to visit the Mokolodi Game Reserve. We were driven in a modified truck through the endless scrub land, and saw giraffes, warthogs, ostriches, and a rhino!

The most recent experience I had was attending a traditional Tswana wedding this weekend. I was invited, along with some other exchange students, by a local student whose cousin was getting married in the town of Mochudi. After an hour-long bus ride from Gaborone, we were taken to one of the families’ houses and shown the preparations for the wedding. I got the chance to stir the huge metal cooking pots, and taste the traditional beer they brew from sorghum for weddings. We then moved on to the house of the newlyweds, where we were treated to a sumptuous dinner. There was a great deal of dancing, and the couple changed outfits multiple times to participate in choreographed dances. Despite the fact that we were complete outsiders, knowing no one, not even the people getting married, we were still made a seamless part of hte ceremony. It was amazing to be welcomed so thoroughly. The priest asked everyone in his speech to make sure and speak English around us, and we were invited to come and talk to the bride and groom! Even the bride’s father personally thanked each of us for coming as we left after the dancing.

Without question, it has been a month filled with more new experiences than I could ever share. And the pace won’t be letting up, with the possibility of teacher strikes at the university, and the upcoming spring break. On to adventure!

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