I Hope You Dance

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Well folks, I have made it back safe and sound to the states! What a life changing experience I have had in a country that I highly recommend people visit. I promise you when you visit South Africa, you will have a changed perspective of what it means to live in Africa. Life is so different from many preconceived notions. The people are welcoming and beyond friendly and the sights you will see are unlike anything you have experienced before. As I was sitting on the first plane ride (11 hours long by the way), I came up with a list of some of my favorite things that I did and experienced throughout my travels. Here we go!

11. The food. Let’s just say that the three times we went to a buffet for dinner, I ate two plates of dinner food and three plates of dessert. I am in desperate need of a few good runs thanks to the amazing cooking of my host mom. Some of the new dishes I enjoyed were butternut soup, lamb curry with roti, and hake and chips.

10. Seeing the biggest rainbow ever in Langebaan. After a weekend of rest and relaxation with some of my South African family, we woke up on Sunday morning after a rainy Saturday night to the biggest rainbow I have ever seen. Not only was it the biggest rainbow, but it stretched from one side of the beach up and over the bay. Quite a beautiful way to start your day if you ask me.

9. Riding an ostrich. This part of the trip was probably one of the most unique things that I did. I mean, let’s be honest, how many people can say that they took a ride on the back of an ostrich. Probably very few! I was surprised by both the speed and strength of these birds as they carried me all over their enclosure.

8. Swimming with the Great White. As we got into the cage in the ocean and our guide yelled to us “Down! Down! Down!,” my adrenaline was pumping and I was both nervous and excited for what I would see. Being so close to such a vicious animal while also realizing the calmness and beauty of them was incredible. The sharks welcomed us into their home and gave us a stunning and very close view.

7. Climbing through the Cango Caves. The mental and physical challenge of this experience made it one of my favorites. We traveled through chambers that were so big that concerts used to be held in them, to tunnels that were so tight there was a size restriction on people traveling through them. It was these tunnels that tested me and I luckily aced the test!

6. Climbing Table Mountain. We first took the cable car up the mountain but took the scenic climbing route down. From the mountain, we had a beautiful view of nature and the city below. I was amazed by the beauty of the world in which we live and felt truly blessed to be able to do what I was doing. Climbing down the mountain was also a great team building experience as we encouraged one another to keep stepping and appreciating where we were.

5. Riding Sam the elephant. I never appreciated how majestic and beautiful the elephant is. Elephants are loyal, loving, and brilliant. For those of you who don’t know, elephants have an incredible memory. They remember almost everything that happens to them and everyone that they meet. Riding the elephant, Sam, made me feel very in touch with the nature of Africa, an experience which I will never forget, making myself a bit like an elephant as well.

4. Watching the sunset from Lions Head. As we ventured up the “Climb at Your Own Risk” route, we hurried our way to the top of Lions Head to be sure we would arrive in time for the sunset. The challenge of the climb made the view at the top that much more rewarding and beautiful. We watched as the sun sank into the ocean and then turned around to see the lights of the city come to life.

3. Falling in love with my elementary students. One of the greatest parts of this study abroad was how involved in the community we were. We spent nearly four weeks in varying schools in the area. I spent my time in a first grade and second grade room. Everyday I was greeted with forty hugs from my students. I felt so much love from all of the students at the school. Learning about each student and what many of them overcome everyday in their lives is inspiring. Being with them made me want to be more than a teacher, but a mentor and sometimes a parent. I am more prepared to enter work everyday knowing that it is not just content that I teach, but I teach caring, kindness, and love.

2. Making a home away from home and expanding my family. I was blessed beyond words to have met the people I met on this trip. To start, our instructor, Corvell, acted as a father to all of us whenever we needed one, and even times when we didn’t. Our other drivers and team members were always showing us kindness and care, going above and beyond every day. My colleagues who traveled with me became like brothers and sisters. We shared everything with one another and bonded closer than I ever imagined we would have. Lastly, my host family welcomed me into their home with arms opened wide. I know it made my family back home feel comforted knowing that I was loved and cared for during each day of the six and a half weeks I was there. I know when I return to South Africa one day, I will have great family to visit.

1. Discovering my new found love for travel. Before this time in my life, I had never traveled outside of the country except for the Caribbean and Canada. Even when I did travel, I always had close family and friends by my side. This time was quite different. I adventured to the other side of the world and fell in love. This traveling experience is the first of many world travels for me in the years to come.

Overall, one of the most important things I have learned about traveling is how humbling of an experience it can be. We live our day to day lives forgetting that we are part of one community, within one city, within one state, within one country in the entire world. Although some may say the world is small, it is not. I have learned that the world is huge, but, what makes the world often seem small is the fact that we are all so similar. People in all parts of the world face the same trials and triumphs as we do here, yet it is important to see this first hand as you travel and learn from other cultures. Traveling helps you to become selfless as you become more aware of life and stories of people from across the world. It is an experience unlike any other that does change your life for the better. In my closing remarks, I would like to share with you a few verses from a song by Lee Ann Womack:

“I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean.
Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens.
Promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance.
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance.
I hope you dance.”

As I realize my place in this enormous world, I face the fact that the door to this chapter of my life has closed. New doors will open as I begin my student teaching in just a week. It saddens me that after dreaming for years of traveling abroad it has passed so quickly, but I have jumped into life and lived with no regrets. I pray that you will do the same.

Ta ta for now!

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Enjoying Everything Enthusiastically!

Last I left you I had just climbed Lions Head. How time has quickly past since then! I have very few days left in this amazing place. It is a very bittersweet feeling. I know that I have loved every minute of being here but not being able to share these moments with the ones that I love has also been very difficult. All in all, finishing out my time here has been more unforgettable moments with people who I will also never forget.

The Thursday after climbing Lions Head, we played indoor cricket with the whole group. We were not made aware that we would be watched by other leagues, yelling comments at us in a language that we didn’t understand. Of course, I’m sure they were complementing us on our amazing cricket skills ( :/ ). It came down to the very last batter, but our team, the Polar Bears, walked away with the victory! We then went out for milkshakes afterwards in celebration of the big win!

The weekend following was the first and only full weekend that we got to spend with our host families. So, although we weren’t with the whole group at all, we still did so many new things when experiencing the South African culture. On Friday nights, my family begins to celebrate the Sabbath. We had celebrated the Sabbath with them for two Fridays already and so when some of my friends invited me to go out to celebrate one of their birthdays, I changed my clothes, did up my hair, and out we went! It was great to hit the dance floor and relax with some truly amazing people. We went to a golf course where they were having a charity function, so our fun could still support a good cause.

The next day was Saturday and I got to go to church with my family for the first time on the trip. After church, we had a traditional Sabbath meal that was a three course lunch filled with amazing foods, including a dessert called trifle which was cake, fruit, icing, and custard layered together. Amazing! That night, our host family took us to Signal Hill which is always a beautiful place to watch the sunset. So many people had the same idea and the roads were completely packed up the hill. We had to get out of our car and walk towards the edge to where we could see the sun setting on the horizon. Something that was really interesting during this excursion was seeing the Muslim culture. During most of our time here, the Muslims have been fasting for Ramadan. This means that from sun up to sun down, they cannot eat or drink anything. So, as soon as the sun set into the ocean, the Muslim population went directly to their cars and grabbed their food and drink and began to indulge. It was so great to see how another culture and religion celebrates and worships. Later that night, my host brother, Brett, took myself, my roommate, and my host sister out to sushi. This was the first time that I have had real sushi, and where was I? In Africa! The best part was the sushi was unlimited. I ate so much sushi I didn’t know what to do with myself!

On Sunday, we got to sleep in. I think this was the first and the only time on this trip that I was able to sleep without setting an alarm. After a satisfying breakfast, we went to take a tour of Hout Bay, a beautiful destination outside of Cape Town with a wonderful view of the ocean jutting into the mountains. While we were there, we had fresh fish and chips and took a walk along the boardwalk. We saw seals swimming in the water and if I’ve learned one thing, it is that seals smell bad! The rest of the night was relaxing with our host family and preparing for our next two days at school before our long vacation weekend.

As you already know, I spent the previous week in a grade two class at the school. I fell completely in love with the students and so enjoyed talking and watching the teacher. I learned so much from here in the week with her that I was not ready to leave. I decided because of this that I would split my time in the grade one and grade two classes. This means that on Monday I was with grade one and on Tuesday I was with grade two. The week flew by and the kids were amazing. I got to teach more math and worked with many children one on one.

On Wednesday morning, we were off to our long vacation weekend! We were headed to a town called George which was about a six hour drive away. Our day of driving was filled with rain and flooded roads but we finally made it to our location: a hostel right on the coast of the Indian Ocean. At the hostel, the fed us dinner every night and had a nice breakfast ready for us every morning. Learning how to cook and make food for myself again when back in the states might be something I need to readjust to. The first night we all hit the hay early as the next morning we had to get up at five.

On Thursday morning, we drove to the province of the Eastern Cape where thirteen of the fifteen of the group did bungy jumping off of the tallest jump in the world. My newly acquired fear of intense heights and anxiety over free falling prevented me from participating in this activity. It was so much fun seeing all of the other participants in their excitement jump off of the bridge. Ultimately, I was glad I stayed behind as it was definitely not something I would have enjoyed. From there we went to Tsitsikama Falls where we zip lined across the rivers and water falls. Now this was something that I was able to enjoy. The height wasn’t nearly as intense as the bungy jump and the ride was much smoother than free falling off of the bridge. During this time of the year due to the amounts of rain, the falls full as ever with water. On one of the zip lining rides, we went right through the mists of the waterfall. It was already raining so the extra wetness was nothing. From there, we returned to the hostel to eat, drink, and be merry!

Friday morning was another early morning where we headed to yet another town for more beautiful sites and hikes. We went to a town called Knaysna where there is a calm lagoon that leads to the rough waters of the Indian Ocean. In Knaysna, there is a nature reserve called Featherbed that we went to where we hiked the hills, enjoying the flora and fauna of the land. The rock formations were beautiful. After this excursion, we went to the water front of the town where we ate lunch and shopped. One of my favorite souvenirs that I have bought for myself is books for my classroom at are unique to this country. I am so excited to use these books in my teaching this coming year to help and share my experiences here with my students. We then went back to the hostel for a relaxing evening. Myself and a friend walked the beach for an hour, resting our feet in the sorts beautiful sand I have ever seen. I called it an early night as again we were up early the next morning.

Saturday was one of my favorite days of the entire trip. Our first excursion was going to a game farm where we had the opportunity to ride elephants. These animals were so massive and majestic. My friend Genel and I were on an elephant named Sam. He was the biggest elephant on the farm. We must have been very exciting riders because halfway through our ride, he stopped traffic to drop a big poop. We joked about it for a bit but the ride seemed so short. Even though we were riding for a half hour, it felt like less than ten minutes. What a great thing to check off my bucket list! From there, we took a three hour safari through the bush and mountains. Here we say zebras, wildebeests, water buck, water buffalo, and lions. These animals live on the reserve so are not technically wild but the reserve is absolutely massive so the animals feel as if they are truly out in the wild. On Saturday we also went to Cango Wildlife Ranch where we saw even more animals. This ranch was home to many animals who were rescued from the wild. For instance, they had a display of vultures who would have died in the wild due to their wing injuries. My favorite animals on this ranch were the lemurs. They were swinging all around the branches and were playing so fun with one another. All I wanted to do was sing “I Like to Move It” like the lemurs dance to in Madagascar (for those of you who haven’t seen that movie, it is a must see). After that, we returned to a new hostel to eat and relax for the night.

On Sunday, we got to sleep in a little bit because we didn’t have to be on he road until nine. Or first stop was the Cango Caves. In the caves, we went through an adventure route where we had to climb and crawl through spaces nicknamed the “Devil’s Chimney” and the “Postbox.” They were named this because of their small spaces. Before entering the caves, there were examples of how large the spaces were so that you could decide for yourself if you would be able to fit. In the Postbox, my chest even got squished on the rocks above me as I was sliding through. This was not an experience that anyone who is claustrophobic would want to have. It was a mental and physical challenge that I really enjoyed. We then ventured to the ostrich farm. There, we got to feed the ostriches from our hands. Some of us also got to ride the ostriches. I hopped on that experience and got to ride an ostrich. Let me break it down for you on how it works: they first put a hood on the bird and lead it over to the edge of the cage. There we get on their backs, wrap our legs around them, and grab onto their wings. They then rip off the hood and off goes the ostrich! Don’t worry, I made sure someone took video of the experience so that I can share it with all of you. After the farm, it was time to get in the car and head back to our host families who were another six hour car ride away.

Skinny Dipping and Sky Gazing

Well hello everyone!  I hope everyone over seas is doing as well as I am!  Another weekend has passed and already we are halfway through our second full week at the school.  After today, I sadly only have five more days with the kiddos and the amazing teachers I have met along the way.  But instead of focusing on the sad times ahead, let me tell you about all the fun I have had over the last few days.  

This past weekend, we went to Langebaan, which is a very relaxing, ocean front town on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean.  We stayed in a beautiful resort called Friday Island where we shared a room with only one other person (what a luxury!).  It was a wonderful getaway from a hectic first week.  En route to Langebaan, we stopped at a Sans village and museum where we learned more about the bushmen of Africa and how they lived.  We got stuck in a rainstorm as we were touring the village and had to run into the huts to take shelter.  What an authentic experience!  They showed us tools, songs, and dances that the Sans people would partake in as a part of their culture.  

From there, we ventured to a local farm that is home to white lions and white tigers.  There are currently about ten white lions in the wild today and there are no white tigers.  These animals were so majestic and beautiful.  The lions were a bit moody but the tigers were incredibly playful.  The guide at the farm said that if someone wanted to run along the cage of the tigers, the tigers would run with them because they were so playful.  Luckily, I had my running shoes on and immediately took him up on his offer and was the first to run with the tigers.  As soon as I would stop, so would the tiger.  We ran back and forth and have now given myself the name “Girl Who Runs With Tiger.”  

We then made our way to the relaxing resort of Friday Island.  For dinner, we went to a buffet where I ate more food then I ever needed to, but it was totally worth it.  After dinner, we went back to the resort to have a couple of drinks and hang out for a bit.  This was a great time for the close-knit group to catch up on what had happened the week before.  At about one in the morning, we had made the decision to go for a dip in the Atlantic.  As I went to go to my room and change in my bathing suit (or swimming costume as they call it here), I found my room was locked and my roommate was nowhere to be found.  Would this stop me from a midnight swim in the Atlantic?  Absolutely not!  I have to say though, I did not go fully skinny dipping in the ocean, but rather left all the “important parts” covered by my undergarments (so no worries Mom, Dad, Grandma, Adam, Mark, aunts, and uncles).  I still felt pretty rebellious though and can say that I went 1/2 skinny dipping in the Atlantic Ocean.  

We made our way home on Sunday to prepare for another week at the schools.  Then on Tuesday night, many of us decided to take the adventure of climbing Lion’s Head, a peak of the Table Mountain Range.  We arrived at the base of the mountain about an hour and half before sunset so that we could reach the top as the sun was setting.  It only took us about an hour to reach the top, which considering the rocks, chains, and ladders that we had to climb was pretty impressive.  There were two routes that we could take up the mountain.  One was the suggested route and the other was labeled as “Climb at Your Own Risk.”  We obviously chose to take the latter.  There were points where the climb was completely vertical with metal foot holes to stand and grab onto with absolutely no connection to the mountain.  Basically, if you let go and fell off, there was a good chance your next move would be tumbling down the side of the cliff.  As much as I’m not a thrill seeker, this was pretty fun and was a good adrenalin rush.  Once at the top, the view was absolutely spectacular.  We watched as the sun sank below the ocean horizon.  Then as we turned around, we saw the entire city of Cape Town light up in front of our eyes.  We waited on top of the mountain for about a half and hour to see the city come to life and then began our descent.  Imagine this:  descending the same route as we had climbed up (remember “Climb at Your Own Risk”) but in the dark with extremely limited view of where to place your feet and your hands.  Again, what an adrenalin rush!  As we were climbing down, I had to keep reminding myself to look at the city ahead and up above at the stars.  What a view!  

Thank you readers for your support and love!  I wish I could share all of these moments with you here at my side.  Love you!

Ta ta for now!

-Ashley

First Full Week Frenzy

This past week was my first full week both at the school and with my host family.  Lots of interesting things have happened in the past week, including pulling apart fights, teaching my first lesson, and endless pizza.  First, let me reassure you that the fights I pulled apart did not happen at my host home.  I am indeed very safe, comfortable, and cared for in this wonderful environment.  This week with my host family, I was invited to attend church with them on Wednesday evening.  On Wednesday evenings at their church, they have speakers discuss different topics in a sermon-type setting.  This week’s speaker preached about the pursuit of holiness.  This sermon seemed to connect with me in the fact that while I am on this adventure, it is very important that I am still pursuing holiness, and giving everything I do a bigger, more significant purpose.  Even when I’m missing home or school is stressful, I was given the opportunity to be on this trip for a reason and I need to make my mark in the most positive way I can. 

Just so you all know, although school can be a bit stressful at times, I have made a wonderful connection with the students at the school.  I already have a “fan club” who come to visit me at every break, even though I am not their teacher.  My students are always excited with each new activity I bring to the classroom.  They are open to my ideas as well as the mistakes that I have made along the way.  I have been able to unwind and become quite goofy with them, teaching them many silly songs and even breaking out singing R-E-S-P-E-C-T with them on Thursday.  I can say from the bottom of my heart that I will deeply miss these children when I leave.  I see so much potential that is often stifled by the limited resources and large class sizes.  As a teacher, I will always remember this experience and be so thankful for the resources that I am given, as they are sure to be more than this school, where not all students have a pencil and eraser, the floors have holes, no library or gymnasium, etc.  The students are all such positive beings and have inspired me in that sense to see the light in all situations. 

Along with these positive experiences come some that bring about a bit of stress.  One thing that has surprised me probably the most about the school that I am in is the number of fights that occur throughout the day.  In my first grade classroom alone, I have already had to break up roughly ten fights.  Unfortunately, when the children are outside, there is very limited adult supervision so fights occur without being stopped.  There is no resources to support staff to take watch over these children during breaks, before school, and after school.  This mean that this behavior often continues into the classroom during learning time.  Although it has been a challenge which I was initially unprepared for, I now feel equipped to handle many more behavior situations for my student teaching year than I would have had I not come on this life-changing trip. 

This week, I have been teaching math every day.  I have kept the teacher’s same routine, but have had the chance to put my own twist on the day.  Each day, we have been playing a new math game.  The children have been so excited to play these games.  I have had so much more practice now thoroughly explaining directions which will be very beneficial for next year as well.  Along with math, I have also been responsible for their reading experience during the day.  I have read them stories about America and Michigan and am not reading James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl from my iPad.  Even just bringing out this new tool that many of them have never seen grabs their attention in a way that I’ve never seen happen to students before.  I’m hoping this experience helps them to see the enjoyment in reading even more and they can become invested and excited in reading this book with me. 

Aside, from school, we have still been experiencing the joys of South African culture.  On Thursday, my roommate, Sunny, our friends Phil and Andrew, and I went to a pizza joint called Panarottis.  On Thursday nights, they run an insane special where for just under the equivalent of $6, you get unlimited pizza.  You don’t even have to leave your booth!  The waiting staff carries trays of specialty pizzas and offers you slices.  The biggest problem is they don’t stop offering you pizza.  Even after I had eight, yes eight, slices of pizza and I could barely move, I was still constantly being offered more and more pizza.  Even after the two beers that I had, my bill was still less than $10.  The insanely low food prices is probably one of the things I will miss most about South Africa.  I will have to eat up in these last few weeks to make sure I fully enjoy the prices of food here! 

I just want to take a moment to thank all of you who have been following my posts.  I have had such a wonderful time here and it has not been easy to not be able to pick up the phone, hear your voices, and excitedly tell you about everything that is happening.  This is a great way for me to feel connected to you all when I am thousands of miles from you.  Thank you all and I love you all so much!

Ta ta for now!

-Ashley

New week, new adventures

This past week was the first week that I spent with my host family and at my new school and let me tell you what, I have already learned and experienced so much. Just to give you all a heads up, I will only be able to make blog posts on the weekends, as that is the only opportunity I will have to access the Internet. And so, my last post left off right before I had met my host family. On Tuesday night, all members of the study abroad group and all the host families gathered to meet for the first time. From the moment I met them, my host family has been nothing but kind and welcoming. My host family consists of a mother, Myrtle, a father, Willie, a 23 year old son, Brett, and a 14 year old daughter, Carla. I am also living with another member of our study abroad group, Sunny. We share room but each get our own bed. Myrtle is so wonderful and lays out an arrangement of breakfast foods everyday before we leave for school. It has also been so wonderful talking to all members of the family and learning even more about life in South Africa.

On Friday night, Sunny and I attended youth group with Carla at their church. Then last night, Carla and Brett took Sunny and I ice skating. Yes, I can now say that I have been ice skating in Africa, something which not many people can say. After showing my moves on the rink, we went to a roadhouse called Wembley. On our way their, Brett showed us where cars go each Saturday night to race. The cars line up all down the side of the road and wait until the road has cleared a bit and no cops are in sight. Once the coast is clear, the engines start revving and the cars start racing. The roadhouse is somewhere that a lot of the racers gather to get a bite to eat. At a roadhouse, you park your car, go up to the window to get a menu and order, and then bring the food back to your car to eat. This is something that many young people in this community do on weekend nights and I was so glad I got to experience it. I ordered a chip roll which was a hot dog bun with French fries in it smothered in tomato sauce. This is something that I have really enjoyed about spending time with a host family. We have had the opportunity to experience ways of life that are not experienced by people who are simply tourists. We are really delving into the culture and lifestyle of South Africa.

Not only was I able to learn more about life in South Africa this week, but I also started attending my elementary school, Silverlea Primary School. I am with a grade one class where there is me, the teacher, and forty students. Yes, forty students. Having this many students has been one of the most challenging aspects of entering and teaching in this school. Another challenge has been learning all of the students names. Learning forty names in general is not always easy, but many of these students have Xhosa names. The Xhosa people are an African tribe that has lived in South Africa for a very long time. Also challenging is the fact that uniforms are worn at the school so all of the children are wearing the same clothes. In order to conquer these difficulties, I dedicated a lot of time the first two days of school saying each child’s name and writing them down in my notebook to also help me remember. We will see when tomorrow comes how well I have done!

As you might know, this past Thursday was Nelson Mandela day. In honor of him and all that he has done, I was given the opportunity to read a story about Nelson Mandela over a two day period and teach about what he endured and what he fought for. The children were very attentive during these lessons and responded very well. This week I will begin teaching some math! I look forward to telling you all about how that goes in next weekends blog!

Although I am living with one of the study abroad group members, it has still been hard being away from all of the new friends and family that I have met. During our two weeks together, we become so close, making it very difficult to say goodbye. Thankfully, on Saturday we were all able to get together for a bit of an excursion. We all went to play mini golf and then we went to a botanical garden called Kirstenbosch Gardens. As you might imagine, these gardens were beautiful. The Table Mountain Range was set as the backdrop to unique flowers, wildlife, and greenery. We walked through the gardens and talked all about our experiences over the past week with our family and in our schools.

Today is a new day and this week is a new week full of new experiences and opportunities. We will see where this road takes me and I cannot wait to tell you all about my adventures this coming week.

Ta ta for now!

-Ashley

Hanging out in Hermanus

This past weekend was quite adventuresome! On Saturday morning, we packed our bags and left for the two hour drive to Hermanus, a small town right on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. While there, we stayed in a hostel called Hermanus Backpackers. There were seven to eight of us in a room sleeping on bunk beds. It reminded me of being at summer camp! On the first night there, we shopped around in some of the markets and stores there. We then went to a restaurant called Coco’s. It was cool to see that this restaurant had a rugby special dinner, which I then sent a picture of to my brother.

Later that night, most of us got ready to head out to a club called Shimmis. It was so much fun being with most of the group for the night. The following morning, we made our way out to Cape Agulhas. For those of you who don’t know, which included me up until a couple of days ago, Cape Agulhas is the southern most point of the continent of Africa which is also the dividing point of the Indian and Atlantic oceans. I collected sand from both the Indian and Atlantic Ocean and will be attempting to smuggle it back to the states when I come home! We called it an early night that night because we had to be ready to go at 5:45 the next morning to head out to go shark cage diving!

It was very hard to get up that early, but let me tell you what, it was totally worth it! I popped some Dramamine so that I wouldn’t get sick on the three hour excursion on the boat and felt great the entire day. We took a boat ride to about three to five miles out into the ocean. Once there, we all changed into our full body wet suits to keep us just a bit warmer in the 60 degree water. Mine was so tight it was like a second layer of skin! The chum and bait was then thrown in the water and it was a waiting game until the sharks started to come. Forty five minutes later, the first shark had arrived. As soon as this shark came, the first five people had to jump into the cage. I was in the second group. When we got into the cage we had to put our feet on the back and climb down as if it was a ladder. Then there was a bar on the front of the cage where we put our hands. The staff would look for the sharks to come from the top of the boat and would yell “DOWN DOWN DOWN” when they saw the shark. We would then plunge ourselves down underwater and look for the shark. The second time I went into the cage, the shark was literally inches from my face. The tail fin of the shark hit the cage that we were in. We all split in renting an underwater camera so we were able to get some sweet shots of both us and the sharks.

The cold of the water and the early morning took a lot of energy out of me. I slept the entire car ride back to our guest house and then took a two hour nap in my comfy cozy bed. Afterwards, we had a delicious soup dinner and then a group of us went to see Despicable Me 2. It was a great way to end an adventurous weekend!

Today we meet our host families and move in with our hosts. Tomorrow will be our first day in the schools. Most classrooms have forty or more students in them. I’m so excited for this experience and cannot wait to meet my host family and my first graders! I hope to post soon again but I’m not sure if my host family will have Internet. I’ll talk to you again as soon as I can!

Ta ta for now!

-Ashley

Feeling a Little Sore

I apologize for not having written in quite a few days. We have been so busy doing so many incredible things that I can’t wait to share with you. Currently, I am sitting at the University of Cape Town waiting for another speaker to come and share some wisdom and knowledge regarding the school system in South Africa. As I’m waiting, I figured I’d start writing my post to share with you what I have been doing over the last couple of days.

On Tuesday, we went to the university and watched another documentary. We then had the opportunity to discuss. I have really enjoyed this type of school where we get to talk about real issues going on right outside of our doors. After finishing up our day at the school, we headed to a brewery for a tour. The brewery was called Newland’s Brewery which is affiliated with the South Africa Breweries. We took a tour of their facilities and then we tried three free samples. We then got tokens for two tall beers for free as well. One of the favorites of the group was a beer called Black Label, so if you ever get the opportunity, you should definitely purchase a six pack and try it out!

We then ventured back to the church where we have been tasting home cooked South African meals all week. The food has been amazing and the hospitality has been wonderful. I’m hoping to get some recipes and bring them back with me to cook some dishes for anyone who would like to enjoy. After dinner, we went to a casino complex called Grand West. When I was there, I learned how to pay craps with some of my fellow travelers. It was fun, probably because I was winning, and I ended up 70 Rand ahead (which is really the equivalent of $7).

The next day, Wednesday, was probably one of the most incredible days I have yet experienced while in South Africa. We started the day by heading to Table Mountain. This mountain is in the heart of Cape Town and is distinguished by its absurdly flat top. We took a cable car to the top. The cable car went pretty fast and was very steep which made me feel pretty uncomfortable for the short but anxious ride. Once we made it to the top, the view was beyond what words could explain. We took several group pictures, which of course I can’t wait to share with all of you. We all then got to eat some lunch on top of the mountain, overlooking Cape Town, Robben Island, and the Atlantic Ocean. After finishing our photo shoot and lunch, we made our way to the path to descend down the mountain. This was absolutely a once in a lifetime experience. It took us a grand total of three hours to make the downward climb. On our way down the mountain, we saw little waterfalls, small trickles of water leading to a larger creek, beautiful vegetation, and of course views that revere absolutely breathtaking. It is moments like those that I experienced climbing down the mountain that allow me to believe without absolutely any hesitation that God exists and He has created a beautiful world for us to inhabit.

After the amazing experience of climbing down the mountain, we headed back to Deo-Gratio (the house which we are staying at) to get cleaned up for a huge buffet dinner. Not to brag, but I ate four whole plates of food. It goes without saying that the food was delicious and I was miserably full as I was leaving. It was then back to the house where we worked on presentations and papers that we would be giving the following day to the Vice President of the University of Cape Town.

My partner and I presented on how race and class have effected the school system within South Africa. It is sad to see how much the color of a person’s skin has impacted the education that they receive. The Vice President was very impressed with our presentation and left with no questions or further comments. He complimented us on our firm understanding of what is happening socially and politically in the school environment of South Africa.

After our time at the school, it was back to the church for another spectacular dinner. We then headed back to the house to get reading for our evening activity of learning how to play cricket. I was very skeptical and honestly didn’t think it was going to be much fun. Let me tell you what. I WAS WRONG! I think I laughed more than I have yet on this trip when we were all learning to play this game. We made ridiculous team cheers as our team was scoring runs. Our team, called the polar bears, won the game! My instructor and teammates complimented me on my skills as both a batter and a bowler (or pitcher). After both the mountain climb and the game of cricket, my legs were incredibly sore!

Today we again went to the university and listened to several guest speakers. They spoke to us all about what our experience in the school would be like. I am so excited to meet my first graders this coming Wednesday! After our time at the university, we made our way back to the house where were prepped and got ready for some karaoke. We went to the church where we ate dinner while choosing our songs we would be singing during the night. I helped to start off the karaoke festivities by singing “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” We had a blast and sang the night away! Tomorrow we make our way to Hermanas where we will be for the rest of the weekend and go shark cage diving! Love you all and will talk to you after my adventures is weekend!

Ta ta for now!

-Ashley

Birthday Spent Abroad

What a way to celebrate my 22nd birthday! At midnight of July 6th, a.k.a my birthday, I had several friends come into my room and wish me a happy birthday and started jamming to “22” by Taylor Swift with me. It was such a fun and special way to ring in a new year of my life! At breakfast the next morning, my travel mates and instructor put some candles in an orange and wished me a happy birthday. One of the owners of the bed and breakfast we were staying at then brought in a springbok horn filled with a liquid smelling quite similar liquor. He said to take a sip and then pass it to all of the others celebrating with me. Everyone choked down the liquid to eventually find out it was indeed liquor at 9:30 in the morning. This is apparently a tradition in some families in South Africa that I might just have to bring back with me to the states when celebrating others birthdays!

After finishing up breakfast, we ventured to the mall to pick up some necessities and then we went to a language monument. We took a ton of pictures that I can’t wait to share with my family and friends when I return. The monument overlooked the city of Cape Town and the mountains. It was incredible and I felt like I was on top of a mountain for my birthday! We then went to a vineyard for some wine tasting. Vdere en Lust was located at the base of the mountains and had a massive sliding door and porch with an incredible view of the mountains. The wine was delicious and the staff was incredibly hospitable.

Later in the night upon our return to the house, I was escorted out of the van by my instructor, which I assumed was just a gentlemanly thing to do. It turns out that I was wrong. As he continued to hold onto my arm and then put a scarf around my eyes and everyone else ran inside, I knew I hadn’t escaped my birthday without any tricks or surprised. I had to sit in a chair at the dining room table for about 15 minutes before the surprise was ready. As I was waiting, some of the others from what we call the “A-team” (the others who work with us for transportation and tour guides) began to play tricks on me. Needless to say, I was very ready for my blindfold to come off. My friends had prepared three different cakes and a huge array of drinks for a surprise party to celebrate my birthday. It was so much fun and was such an amazing and unique way to celebrate my birthday. Not everyone can say they celebrated their birthday in South Africa!

As much fun as last night was, it was quite difficult to wake up this morning. Thankfully, we got to sleep in a bit longer which many of us greatly appreciated and probably needed in order to make it through the day. The first thing we did today was to go to a traditional African market in the heart of Cape Town. I was able to get some amazing souvenirs and greatly improve my skills of bartering. My mom was very proud to hear that I had taken after her and got super bargains for everything that I bought! After the market, we ate lunch at a very popular restaurant that served Indian, middle eastern, and Asian food. It has been so much fun trying the new foods like the Indian chicken wrap I had for lunch.

Sightseeing at Lion’s Head was our next destination. Although there was quite a bit of overcast, I was still able to get some beautiful pictures. I really cannot wait to share my experience through pictures when I get back to the states. I apologize for not posting any pictures, but the Internet is not fast enough to be able to upload them online so I will just have to wait to upload them all until I get back. When we were at this mountain, we also got to see a parasailer take off on the side of the mountain. It was pretty scary but still exciting to see.

After this experience, we headed to a church where we had the amazing opportunity to listen to the author of “Knowledge in the Blood” speak about his knowledge in the struggles of the education system in South Africa. Jonathan Jansen was very inspirational and spoke so wisely about the very difficult decisions one has to make as both a leader and an educator. He was very uplifting and made us all feel proud and very respected to be teachers. We were then served a home cooked meal at the church of lamb, chicken, pumpkin, green beans, potatoes, and other wonderful foods. It was incredibly welcoming and all of the people were so loving in this church and were so generous to serve us.

The trip so far is going wonderfully. Tomorrow is our first day at the university so wish us all luck!

Ta ta for now!

-Ashley

Starting Days in South Africa

Wow!  All I can say is South Africa is more than I could ever imagined and I have only been here two days.  We were picked up from the airport late on Tuesday night.  We then proceeded to what our instructor refers to as the “U.S. Embassy,” also known as McDonalds for a late night bite.  After eating, we made our way to the house we would be staying in for the next two weeks.  This home is similar to a Bed and Breakfast.  We are grouped with several others in different rooms.  Our instructor told us that after a few days, we will be moving to different rooms in order to bond with all the members of the group.  A delicious breakfast has been prepared for us each morning.  This home has truly been a home away from home and has made me feel extremely comfortable in entering this new country.

On Wednesday, we took some time to shop around and get any materials that we still needed to purchase.  The fun fact I found out that day was that most bottles of wine at the grocery store cost about 250-300 Rand which is the equivalent of $2.50 to $3.00.  I was very pleased to make this discovery! 

After we explored a South African mall (very similar to those in the U.S. if anyone was wondering), we went to a cheetah preservation farm.  On this excursion, we were able to walk into the cages the cheetahs were in and pet the cheetahs.  I learned that these cats are not naturally aggressive, meaning that this encounter was not all that dangerous, but it was still a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Thursday was our day of learning more of South Africa’s history through the District Six Museum and the Robben Island Museum.  District Six was an area within Cape Town where before Apartheid, people of many different races and religions lived together in peace.  Once Apartheid began, the government forcefully moved everyone out of District Six in order to build homes for whites to live in.  They literally bulldozed the area where so many families grew and lived for years.  The man at the museum was able to share a very personal story of his experience living and being forced out of District Six. 

At Robben Island, the prison where the famous Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years of imprisonment, we were lead through the different buildings of the prison where convicts and political prisoners were held.  Our tour guide was a man who spent seven years at Robben Island, imprisoned for protesting in hopes of gaining rights for education for all races in South Africa.  Having such an authentic tour guide made the experience very moving and incredibly real.  When we were there, we saw the actual cell that Nelson Mandela spent countless hours in, composing his autobiography and spreading hope through his constant positive outlook.  What amazed me most through the experience of both Robben Island Prison and the District Six Museum is the ability of those hurt by Apartheid to forgive and move forward.  These people emphasize the importance of accepting and loving those that are different from them.  I have learned so much from this culture so far and cannot wait to see what the next days and weeks have in store. 

The group that I am with is absolutely amazing!  We have all bonded so quickly which has made this experience even more incredible.  Seeing as my birthday is tomorrow (July 6th), tonight at dinner my instructor, Corvell, secretly told the waitress that my birthday was the next day.  They of course sang and brought ice cream with a sparkler in it.  I was so excited that I got to see a sparkler on a day close to the fourth of July!  

The plan for tomorrow is to climb Table Mountain as long as the weather holds out.  Hopefully it’s clear skies and no rain for our hike!

Ta ta for now!

-Ashley

Adventures in Amsterdam

On Tuesday, July 2nd, I arrived in Amsterdam! With less than two hours of sleep on the overnight plane, I knew it would be a long day of sightseeing and experiencing part of the European culture. After arriving in the airport, we took some time to look at our maps and figure out just where we were and where we needed to go. We then ran (literally) with all our luggage to catch a bus to take us close (or what we thought would be close) to our hotel. When the bus finally dropped us off, we were still a fifteen minute walk from where we would be staying at the Apple Inn. I won’t lie, it was slight torture having to drag nearly 100 pounds of luggage over bumpy sidewalks, avoiding the speedy driving of both cars and bikes who felt no need to slow down as we were passing. Looking back, we must have been quite a sight. Imagine, nine obvious American tourists with their maps fully unfolded in front of them trying to navigate their way through a city they have never been in with well over thirty bags. I’m sure it was quite comical for those passing by!

Once we finally arrived at our hotel, we had a pleasant surprise in finding out that our two rooms which were supposed to fit nine of us had been upgraded to six newly redone rooms. Needless to say, this was extremely great news to hear after we had all been covered in sweat from what one girl said was the equivalent to one days workout of P90X.

Then it was time to explore the city! Our first stop was at the “I AMSTERDAM” sign. From there, we split up into two groups. One of the groups went to shop and see the markets and small streets of the city. The group that I followed went to the Van Gogh museum. In this museum were many original paintings of Van Gogh, but unfortunately no Starry Night. Many of his famous self portraits were shown there and it was amazing to see original paintings, touched and created by one of the world’s most accomplished and treasured artists.

Next, we made our way to meet up with the other group at the Anne Frank house. Of course, when we saw the Ben and Jerry’s shop on our way, we couldn’t help but stop!

The Anne Frank house can best be described as a very humbling experience. It was unreal to think about how so many people lived and hid in fear for years, only to end in all of their fears coming true. What was most heart wrenching was the pictures and interviews taken of Otto Frank, Anne’s father with whom she was very close with and the only survivor of those who stayed in the “Secret Annex.” The experience of seeing this house made me so thankful for my freedoms and for the time I have been able to spend with those closest to me. If you are ever in the Amsterdam area, I would highly recommend going to this historical landmark.

We eventually made it back to our hotel after what felt like hours of walking. We were all so sleep deprived that the walked seemed to never end. We all took some time to relax and then some of us went to get some dinner at a small restaurant about three blocks from our hotel. At that point, I was so tired that I literally started to drift off at the dinner table. I had never been so thankful to have a nice bed to fall asleep in at 8:30 that night. I slept until morning, waking up on occasion feeling so excited that in less than 24 hours I would be in Cape Town.

I am currently writing this post from the plane and will post as soon as I’ve landed and reached wireless Internet. I have already seen the Sahara Desert from my window seat on the plane! Amsterdam was a great success and I cannot wait to see what is in store in Africa!

Ta ta for now!

-Ashley