Some of you know that my coming to South Africa was a “last minute decision”, my original hopes were to do the SIT International Honors Program for this semester where I would travel start my program in an American city and travel to South America, Asia and Africa focused on a theme about urban development/planning. Because this program was competitive, I did not secure a spot in time because my application was not submitted early enough. My back up plan to not getting into this program was to go explore with DIS in Copenhagen, after looking at the expensive program fees and realizing that it is very easy for me as an American to go to Europe, I decided to pass up a Euro study abroad experience. So how exactly did I get to South Africa? Well, I knew that I was for sure going to spend a semester in Thailand on the continent of Asia and thought that I should take my scholarship opportunity on another continent. With the very poor Spanish skills I have, I knew I wasn’t ready for South America and well, South Africa is known for is multifaceted population with many cultures and… THEY SPEAK ENGLISH! And bingo, South Africa it was. Also as a young teenager I was also very obsessed with Nelson Mandela and his teachings, my first ever high school report was written about him and I also read his book at the age of 14. I have had desires to go to South Africa to see what the country he revolutionized was like. I never thought the opportunity to go to South Africa would come as a study abroad option.
Well, it is safe to say that everything happens for a reason. A lot of you close to me also know that I love serendipity and everything about this semester was so romantically serendipitous --- I CANT EVEN. (sorry I had to say it) I can’t believe the generosity I came across this semester from my program directors, the staff of my program, and of course the strangers who were my homestay families. Having four homestays and having them all be wonderful is an extremely lucky thing to come across, and I am so happy the heavens or whoever arranged for this. I learned the most from my trip by living with my families and I cant even begin to think about being the person I was before I met them. Before I had come to live with these families, I was just this little innocent spoiled girl (baby girl of the family persona) who was very wary of living with strangers. These homestays taught me love and compassion in a way that I didn’t know I could. And I am very grateful.
One thing that I also learned how to do and am still struggling to cope with is the dynamics of group work and teamwork. My program was 23 students from all over the United States, one from Sweden and one from Bolivia and it was a very interesting group dynamic as a lot of us had strong personalities and got along very well in just the first few days. However, most of the time, I am not a people person, but I am a polite non-people person. Staying reserved while everyone thinks that I am shy but in reality I just cant stand people. This sounds harsh but I think I am person that loves privacy way too much and I also may love myself too much (but we can talk about this in another blog post, another day) but I did not realize being with the same group everyday for classes would put a strain on me and make it difficult for me to get along with people. I had my ups and down in being in a strong group dynamic, it often drove me crazy. However, the people that I met in the program were some of the nicest people I have met in my life regardless if I could not stand them as a whole some time. I made very close friends and had the opportunity to even live with some of them. What it funny about study abroad is that while you set out to learn about the people of the country but also learn about the people doing this study with and learn more about other parts of the world in the end. I was very grateful to study with the group that I did and I am happy they kept me grounded.
Another opportunity that taught me a great deal was the Independent Study Project period of my time in Cape Town. After many struggles to develop a topic, I sought out to learn more about religious affiliated organizations that perform feeding schemes. I was aiming to look at the religious motivations to feed the hungry and help the poor. My studies took me on interesting endeavors, including going on a feeding scheme that were in the famous Cape Flats. I was scared and terrified to go on this feeding scheme but it ended up being the best days I had in Cape Town. I learned so much about the poverty that Cape Town still deals with as a legacy of apartheid and broken government that does not uphold the progressive values of its constitution. In addition to gaining a lot of academic experience with this hand on research, I was also astonished by the concept of Ubuntu by the locals whom I interacted with. The interviewers in which I had to go quite far from where I lived gave me a ride home to ensure my safety and security. This was something that totally surprised me but greatly enlightened me to what the concept of Ubuntu really was.
If you aren’t familiar with Ubuntu, it translates into “human kindness. It is an idea from the Southern African region, which means literally "human-ness," and is often translated as "humanity toward others," but is often used in a more philosophical sense to mean "the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity". This philosophy is real and alive in South Africa, the amount of generosity I have received this past four months have been incredible, so much so, I cant even put them in this blog post because it would be too long. To look at Ubuntu as just a philosophy the first day and see it come into action immediately afterwards was in some ways overwhelming, it has taught me to be a better person and look at the world in a new light.
I’ve said time and time again but I feel incredibly blessed to have had this opportunity to study abroad. I am glad I came over my fears of being away from home for a long period of time, I am glad that I learned how to enjoy traveling and flights and I am extremely glad that I am person who has grown up and continues to grow everyday as I embrace the world around me and take advantage of the opportunities bestowed on me. There is still a lot more I need to learn about South Africa and the world. South Africa is a country that I will come back and visit because it is so beautiful amongst its landscape and the people. I am no longer scared to explore the world as much as I was before, and I have South Africa to thank for that.
For everyone who has helped me get to this point in my life, where I am healthy enough to travel and happy enough to enjoy it: Thank you so much for your love and guidance. I’ll see all of you real soon, but make sure you get me before I jet set again to Thailand on Jan 19, 2015.
Enkosi Kakulu, South Africa. Sobanana! (Thank you, South Africa. See you later!*)
*there is no isiXhosa word for “Bye” only “see you later”
P.S stay tuned for a slideshow I made for my group!