Tuesday, September 25, 2012

There's No Place Like Home...

And by home (Sorry Mom…) I mean Stellenbosch. It took me a little more than two months and 9 days away traveling to truly feel it but there really is no place like home. It’s an odd thing finally feeling right at home thousands of miles away from the people you love the most. Yet through facebook and Skype I often don’t feel that far away. As my incredibly wise mom (brownie points!) once said – I have a whole crowd of people cheering me on back home who will be there when I return. I’ve learned how incredibly much everyone from home means to me – I guess distance really does make the heart grow fonder!

It is so strange to me to see many of my Stonehill friends just departing or settling in to their study abroad homes! LSCE remains a blessing as I continue to grow and discover challenges I never would have imagined I could overcome. My LSCE family is always there and my community partners and I have established a secure relationship where we learn more and more from each other each week. This week, my time working with my learners was cancelled and while I was relieved to have a break after lots of traveling, I missed my time with them and was excited to put in action the activities we planned! We have started our community projects with our learners which is challenging but so exciting! We are working hard to keep the project in the learners’ and teacher’s hand since the whole point is for us to enable empowerment and not dictate as first world outsiders. I’ll bring more news about the project as it unfolds – a bit of info since we are all so excited – book release party! Okay, that’s all I’m saying.

Now, you’ve probably seen the pictures but have you heard the stories? Okay this doesn’t exactly give me the space to dish out all the juicy details but I can at least give an account of all the activities. So it may sound crazy since it is September, fall, and the beginning of the academic semester back in the states. But in my part of the world, it may be September but it is spring and half way through the academic semester! So last week was spring break!

So first, the Garden Route!
Day 1: After a 7? Hour eventful night car ride straight from a full day of lecture at LSCE we finally arrived at our first backpackers! The following day we had a full animal day! First stop was Monkeyland where we had the chance to be up close and personal with a variety of species of monkeys – no cages just us and these active creatures! Next was the big cats at Tenikwa feline sanctuary where I got to see some of these amazing animals and even get my picture taken with a sleeping Cheetah which felt a bit too close for comfort and unnatural but very cool! Sure made my cats back home look like mice in comparison. Next we went to Knysna Elephant Park – my favorite stop of the day! As many of you know, coming to South Africa was no small feat for me. For numerous reasons, getting here took a whole lot of belief – as my Mom sent me “Sometimes you have to believe in something larger than yourself – I believe in elephants – and you!” The elephants we met had so much character my friend and I laughed the entirety of the time we fed these creatures as their trunk vacuumed the fruit from our hands! I’ll never forget my moments with them!

Day 2: If your friends told you to jump of a bridge would you do it too? Remember you parents asking you that? Well the answer is yes, yes I would and I did. The thought never crossed my mind to bungee jump when coming to South Africa – especially not off the highest commercial bungee jump bridge in the world at Face Adrenaline at the Bloukrans Bridge. But hey, while I’m feeling all more confident, care-free, and happy, why not? It was honestly the scariest thing I’ve done – but so worth it! What a view and I swear the adrenaline rush is still lingering! After that we went zip lining in the tree tops which was child’s play after bungee but relaxing and fun! For a person so vertically challenged I loved being so tall!

Day 3: Next we traveled a bit more and made our way to the Cango Caves – an adventure tour through the most amazing caves I’ve seen or imagine – like something from Indiana Jones! Then we were off to an Ostrich farm. Our guide introduced us to the creatures. Some got to ride the Ostriches. I did not agree with this practice – the birds looked in pain straining underneath their weight and it just didn’t sit right with me so I choose not to participate but also didn’t interfere with others’ experience. We also go to feed them which I did participate which was quite interesting! We also made our way to our next backpackers – a very charismatic little place!

Day 4: Next was a day off – which my friends and I took full advantage of and took a hike up to a waterfall! Such a beautiful time in nature complete with swinging branches, rustles in the bushes, and playing in the water! Then we were off to the beach!

Day 5: SO MUCH TRAVELING! We made our way back to Stellies. Then some of us got right back on the bus to Capetown where we got on another bus for a 12 hour trip to the Kalahari!


Day 6: We arrived in the Kalahari – a place I wouldn’t have believed existed if I didn’t see it with my own eyes. After setting up our tent, my friend and I went off on our run in the desert! Then we had a meeting and walk with a Kalahari San Bushman.

Day 7: Again, something I never believed I would be able to say I did – a full day safari in Africa! We saw a cheetah, leopard, lions, many many springboks, oryx, various birds, and other wild creatures. I got way too much sun and simply had a fantastic and unbelievable say.

Day 8: We drove to our next campsite, went wine and brandy tasting, and went on a sunset walk across beautiful Augrabies waterfall. At this campsite, monkeys and dussies were everywhere! One monkey even used our tent as a trampoline…

Day 9: Even though I feared falling in I braved it and did yet another un-Kristen-like adventure – river rafting! Surprisingly, I really enjoyed our trip through the Orange River! And survived the bugs! We began our 14 hour trek home…

My apologies for being so late on this post! Getting back into the swing of academics was tough and I’ve experienced many adventures since spring break that have kept me busy! I’ve realized I’m not very good nor do I really enjoy blogging – but don’t fear I have everything recorded in my journal!
Until I remember to do this again…

Monday, August 27, 2012

Adventures and Poetic Life Lessons

Honestly, I had completely forgotten about the blog until a friend reminded me. I finally feel completely at home here and have become so consumed with having fun, exploring, running, classes, and homework that the blog had escaped my mind. As I was telling my mom the other day, so much happens that I would like to share with her and others that it is impossible to do so. It is also hard with something like this to then narrow down what to share. 

A little more than a week ago the majority of my LSCE group and I went to Capetown for the weekend. We all took the train from Lynedoch where we work and learn at Lynedoch Primary to Capetown and made our way to a hostel. That weekend I had the chance to eat at remarkable restaurants, explore Capetown, and even go to a Springboks game – the SA national Rugby team! Being in Capetown gave me a chance to see a different side of South Africa – one that appeared to be much more culturally diverse and a faster pace than Stellenbosch. At the end of the weekend we met up with our AIFS group and made our way to Cape Point and Boulders Beach to see the penguins! Those trips were definitely on my SA bucket list and it was an amazing experience! But who knew penguins were so unfriendly?

Another adventure I have had since last blogging was Shark Cage Diving! A few of my friends and I went on a boat in Gansbaii to Shark Alley where we jumped in a cage and got to see up close the massive and beautiful Great White Sharks. They fed them while we were there and so they came very close – one even latched on to the cage while I was in it giving me quite a view of his mouth, teeth, and eyes! Honestly the scariest thing I have ever done but it was one of the best experiences.
Things like shark cage diving, making my way to Capetown, staying in a hostel, running more and more, working with my third graders at Lynedoch, and my other classes have all demonstrated to me how I have already grown immensely in confidence and strength.  Whenever I reach an obstacle or am unsure I have no choice but to take a deep breath, laugh a bit, and find a solution.  These evolutions in myself make me wonder who I will be come November when I return stateside. The point of life as I see it is to constantly evolve to be a better version of yourself, to enjoy the moment, and to love yourself and others. It strikes me that I had to come all the way to South Africa to finally be able to begin to truly embody these principles.  South Africa, the experiences I’ve had, the people I’ve met, and the lessons of LSCE have already taught and allowed me to be more comfortable in my own skin. While I will never be perfect I certainly feel more comfortable with and appreciative of myself.

Sunday was the first night homesickness truly hit me. I was feeling very sick with a chest cough and needed my mom and familiar things! Luckily I have two amazing flat mates who have helped me through.  That night I went to church for the first time since being here which was absolutely amazing. It was just what I needed – a lively night of praising with people from all over. Finally I felt like I welcomed back into my heart what I was missing. While I still feel sick today I feel more centered and positive. Every day no matter where you are there are challenges – I am learning and have gotten better at facing and loving these challenges while abroad.  Watch out, what doesn’t kill me is making me one wicked strong woman and a happy one at that. South Africa is the time of my life…Table Mountain, the Garden Route, Kalahari Desert Safari, and more to come soon!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Settling In

As my third week in South Africa comes to an end I counted that I have spent (if my math is correct) 20 days in South Africa with 111 remaining. This counting is due to a mix of emotions. For one, I am thoroughly enjoying my stay here and each day brings new challenges, excitement, joy, and lessons learnt. I finally feel adjusted and at home here and it feels as if it has been many more than 20 days here. On the other 111 days feels like such a long time! No matter how long I am away I will always miss my family, friends, and my Stonehill home. However, my classes, friends, and activities have been keeping me busy! My LSCE course is incredible – This week I bonded with the class, with my community partners, and with our director Grant’s unbelievable knowledge and insights. I find myself often noting what I call his “Grantisms” such as; “I am because you are,” “Nothing for us or about us without us,” and “the problem is never the problem – the problem is always the problem”. The wealth of knowledge and experience he holds and brings to us is so great that I am trying desperately to absorb as much as possible. One lesson that I have already learned from this experience is to be more in tune to what myself and others are feeling. For example, every class we “check in” with our names and how we are feeling and I have noticed that I rarely assess myself to determine exactly how I am feeling physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Being aware of how I am doing in these aspects as well as how my peers are dramatically helps the energy of the room and my ability to be live in the moment mindfully. 

With my HIV/Aids course we are conducting a community project with the Kayamandi Township at the Legacy Center. With this project we are, in groups, paired with a community partner to address a need. Our partner brought us to the Creche, a day care center located in a shack where three ladies are trying desperately to take care of 15 children from infants to toddlers. These ladies have little resources to do so and often have to deplete their own pockets to feed the children. They simply are asking for mattresses and blankets and we as a group were given 1,000 rands (about 100 U.S. Dollars). We want to do so much for this deserving project – a new floor is need, the Creche needs to be expanded, books, toys, food, are all needed. But we may not even have enough to purchase the mattresses and blankets they are asking for. We as a group are struggling with this situation for we want to create a project that could be sustainable and include the community more than just simply purchasing materials. This project will certainly be an ongoing challenge throughout the semester and I will keep posting updates as it progresses. If there are any suggestions, comments, or questions about the project please don’t hesitate to leave comments or contact me at kdevoid@students.stonehill.edu
One thing that has greatly helped me in my transition to life abroad has been keeping active! From running (which I’ve been improving so much on! It must be the air in South Africa…) to hiking being active has helped so much! Yesterday I went hiking at the Jonkershoek nature reserve where we hiked, saw waterfalls, explored, and even went a bit off the trail to do some little unplanned rock climbing… All in a day’s work! Now I am off to go for a run now that the rain has finally cleared!

Monday, July 30, 2012

So Much to Share...

Apologies for letting two weeks go by without a post! At first my excuse was that I didn’t have internet, then that I was too busy, and now it is that there is just too much to write about! I am having such a dilemma narrowing down what exactly I will write about. I have narrowed it down to five unforgettable topics. Please keep in mind that I have so much to share and that classes are in full swing now so it is impossible to share everything – just think how much I will share when I am home! So here it is, enjoy! And feel free to leave comments or questions!

1.      ON A JET PLANE:
     Every morning when I wake up I still can’t believe that I am in South Africa until I’ve wandered into the common room to catch the view of the mountain! Two weeks ago I boarded a plane from Boston to London and finally to Capetown! Saying goodbye was harder than I thought but I know that all my friends and family are with me in spirit! Arriving in London and then South Africa was surreal as I have never been outside of the country before – I just couldn’t believe I wasn’t in the States anymore! Our program director, Hestea, met us in Capetown and the AIFS group traveled to Stellenbosch to settle in. Jet lagged and tired we moved in to our flat – which is where I now feel right at home!

      On the second day of orientation, my birthday, we had sessions on basic isiXhosa (such an energetic teacher, and yes, Lucas, it is the language with clicks! He taught us them but I just couldn’t do it!), a session on surviving culture shock, and basic Afrikaans. We even received our student cards (it’s so official looking!) and had our academic meetings with Hestea. All day I heard “Happy Birthday” from new friends which made me feel at home – as well as a quick call to mom with the calling card from Hestea (our program director) to thank her for giving birth to me, you know, no big deal! My new flat mates even gave me a card and present! At night, the international students’ dinner at Moyo just happened to land on my birthday night! It was absolutely an incredible night of authentic South African food. The night was complete with dancing with new friends with music from a DJ with familiar and new songs. What a way to welcome in my 20th year!

1.      CAPETOWN:
     We also had a day trip and bus tour to Capetown provided by the International Office. On the way to Capetown we drove through the Langa township. I have not quite processed all I saw. I was certainly taken a back once again by the apparent poverty and wide discrepancies in wealth in South Africa. It was interesting and a little surreal watching people of the township go about their day. I felt like an intruder and guilt swept upon me. However, I will continue to grapple with these realities throughout the semester. We drove through the city and stopped to walk through the gardens where we were all enthralled by birds, statues, and beautiful views of the mountains! We also explored the breathtaking views of the Cape at Camps Bay. The view was amazing with the ocean on one side and Lion’s Head and the Twelve Apostles Mountains on the other! We did not want to leave and I can surely see I have never seen a better or sight or felt more at peace!

      It is hard to believe that I still have so many more months and have only been here two weeks after the amazing weekend I just had! AIFS students, Mama H, and South African students working for the program ventured to Cederberg Mountains this weekend – about four hours from Stellenbosch. It was incredible weekend filled with campfires, home cooked meals, hiking (and climbing), wine tasting, and visits to Bushmen cave drawings. The hike was challenging but rewarding as the group bonded through jumping rocks, exploring caves, shimmying through tight spaces, facing fears, motivating each other, and getting quite an exercise! I feel so accomplished after our hike and ready to conquer any challenges while abroad and embrace all new experiences!
1.      LSCE:
     It feels like I didn’t even have a summer now that classes have begun again but I wouldn’t complain for a second since they are so interesting and a unique opportunity! Especially the LSCE course – Learning for Sustainable Community Engagement – at the Lynedoch primary school. The children at the school come from surrounding farms and townships and are from abject poverty – but they are not victims but victors and are incredibly sweet and happy! The first day, the children were so happy to greet us, sang the SA national anthem to us, and gave us high fives! The program director, Grant, has a wealth of knowledge and I am so excited to learn and grow from this experience! Grant’s mother even makes us wonderful lunches! I have been assigned to 3rd Grade and had my first day in the classroom today! I was a little nervous to begin but the learners and teacher were so excited that I couldn’t help but to jump right in. We explained to the learners where we are from and led a name card and favorite animal drawing activity which the children thrived at and loved being creative! When I introduced my animal as an owl one boy tried to teach me the word for it in Afrikaans! I was constantly shown by the children how different each were and their personalities all quickly shown through. When we brought them outside to play I offered to teach them duck, duck, goose – but they already knew the game and loved it! The joy and laughter was contagious and it was evident that they had already bonded and accepted us as they called us “Teacher” (there are three of us LSCE teachers in their class). When we left for the day one child spoke to the teacher in Afrikaans which she translated to us that he will miss us when we leave! While today brought many challenges and truly tested my patience and confidence I look back on it inspired and excited to continue on this journey!
  I am taking two other courses one of which is a political science course called Peacebuilding and Human Rights and the other is called HIV/AIDS from a South African perspective. Both are very interesting and the HIV/AIDS course includes a community project with the Kayamandi Township. I am also volunteering with a school in Kayamandi starting tomorrow – more on that experience to come!

I have met many American friends, international students, and have had interactions with South Africans but it is harder to meet South African college students because of the language barrier and primarily taking different classes. However, I have been introduced to South African students and it is so much fun and a relief to finally be meeting students here! At times they seemed more knowledgeable about my country than I and wanted to talk about politics, the election (and those who I spoke to were rooting for Obama! J As it is my first time away from home, it so cool to hear different accents and talk about the differences and similarities! That being said, it often does not feel all that different from home especially when I hear familiar songs and see familiar brands!

If you are still with me after all of that - congrats! I promise future entries will be shorter!
Until then - Totsiens!