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!
1. THE BEST BIRTHDAY EVER:
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!
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!
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!