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!