I’ve lost count of the number of times I have been asked, “Why Botswana?” over the last few months. Although it is difficult to explain to others my exact reason of why I want to travel to Africa as an education major, I have no doubt that I made the right decision. With that decision comes excitement and hope for adventure as well as worries, anxiety, and fear of the unknown. As I lay in bed at night I like to imagine what some of my adventures might look like during my time in Botswana. The opportunities to meet new people from different countries and experience a unique culture full of foods I have never tasted, music I have never heard, and other things that are too new to me that I cannot even begin to imagine them. I daydream about the days when I will be volunteering in the schools, and truly making a difference. The excitement about the endless amount of possibilities I will have to learn and explore overwhelms my worries (although they still exist).
I worry about little things like what clothes I am going to take, and will I bring too much stuff, or not enough? I worry about the fact that I am a picky eater that is going to be living in a new country with new food that I have never tried. I worry about the issues of safety and having to be more cautious while in Botswana than I have to be here at home. But if there were not things that were worrisome and there was not the fear of the unknown, then this adventure would lack excitement! I know I will grow as a person from the challenges that I face during my time abroad, and what a great outcome that would be.
With just over a week until my departure for London, most of my thoughts are still on planning: will my credits transfer appropriately? Is my suitcase the right size? How many pairs of shoes should I take?
In the off chance I let myself actually think about what life in London is going to be like, I hit a wall. Combinations of old Mary Kate and Ashley movies, postcards from childhood friends and visits to the British goods store in my town flood my vision, forming an awfully stereotypic idea of what the place must be like, so I’d rather stick to thinking about my goals for the semester. I have plenty of aspirations, I want to find a little underground music venue and see some band before they get big, I want visit as many museums as I can, but mostly, I want to know what it’s like to be a student somewhere other than the United States
All that said, a few panging worries also cross my mind when I think about the reality of the coming months. I’m worried that I’ll get lost in such a large city. I’m worried I won’t make friends living by myself and I’m worried that I’ll miss my family and friends in Boston. But judging from others who have gone before me, even the disasters in a once-in-a-lifetime experience can make the most positive memories.
I write this in school coffee shop on an oversized comfy-chair with two legs clad in warm leggings hanging off the armrest. Every morning, I wake up—not too late, but definitely not too early—in a warm bed with four blankets to make up for the lack of any sense of a proper-working heater in my apartment. The day, everyday, is filled to the brim with classes, practices, meetings, and the daily dose of dining hall. To me, this life is “normal”, usual for a student my age. Any other life seems irregular and foreign. What do I want to gain from my experience abroad? Simple: a new “normal”.
Perhaps the greatest difference between a tourist and a full-time student abroad is what each call “home”. Home is a place of identity, support, and comforting familiarity; it is a context in which things are regular. A tourist walks through the Uffizi Galleria in Florence or roams the royal castles in Stockholm as a visitor, wide-eyed and perhaps feeling a little out of place. For a student abroad, however, sunbathing on the beach in Barcelona or hiking to the top of Table Mountain in Cape Town are not out of ordinary, for those are the adventures that become regular, and those the places that become a part of “home”. Read more
“So South Africa? Why go there?”
As my school semester wraps up, and that little red dot on my calendar gets closer and closer, I’ve found myself asking that question more and more often. After all, squeezing my entire life (which I’m realizing is surprisingly full of stuff) into two suitcases, waving goodbye to my best friends and cozy apartment, and jetting off to a school and a city in which I know nobody and nothing isn’t something I’m doing on a whim. There is obviously something I’m looking for that drove me through the essay questions,the deadlines, the visa applications and the occasional fluttering of the heart that comes with the realization that in a time so short that can be measured in weeks, I will be standing in Durban, South Africa.
And here’s the hard part: identifying the something. I’ll be honest and say I’m not sure I can in the space of a single blog post. I can try to piece together the kaleidoscope of small things I imagine I will meet in South Africa, but past experience is enough to tell me that expectations and experiences very rarely end up matching. What I can do is say that I hope for an adventure: one in which I meet people I’m amazed by, and people I don’t agree with, in which my priorities shift, in which I’m unsettled and excited and exhausted and, at the end of it, a different person from the one that first arrived. It’s a tall order, but something tells me that South Africa is more than up to the challenge.
To The University of KwaZulu-Natal: I’m excited to meet you. Get ready to bring it.
**I wanted to make a note of the “Rebel County” because through research, according to goireland.com, Cork is known as the “Rebel County” due to the high level of rebel activity in the county during the War of Independence and the subsequent Civil War. Read more
This NY Times article highlights the continuing struggles of social class and access to higher education in South Africa. Interesting stuff!
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