So this is it. It’s 6:27am and I leave at 6:45. I’m packed. My room is still a mess, but I did the best I could with what I had. Somehow our broom has disappeared…. so I used a shoe to try and swat all the trash to one corner. I’m leaving behind my sleeping bag – I got frustrated with trying to roll it up – I could never make it fit in the bag, and I have nowhere to put it. Hopefully another student or someone else will get a lot of use out of it.
So did I meet my goals for this semester? What were my goals?
I came here so broken. After everything that happened last semester – from my bank situation at Wells Fargo to everything that happened with Jacob, to my car breaking down on the side of the road in the wee hours of the morning, to fighting an uphill battle to make studying abroad a reality, I really was broken by the time I came here. My spirit just wasn’t the same as it has been. I came here in part to run, to get away from Lincoln, from Jacob, from everything. And in those ways – my goal, my only goal really, was to figure things back out… to get some perspective and really ‘find myself’ again.
That was the goal when I came, and that goal was met. With flying colors. I did finally move beyond everything that happened last semester, and I am coming away such a happy person. I love life. I haven’t felt this… just… high on life since, well, maybe my first summer at camp. It’s been a while. I’m back to being me, and that is spectacular.
I also lost the weight that I gained last semester, which is exciting. I didn’t lose much extra weight beyond that, which I wanted to do, but I’m content with meeting that first part of the weight goal.
It wasn’t until I got here that I realized that I probably should have had so many other goals… the ones I think most people have when they come abroad: community engagement, changing lives…. you know, that good stuff. I think I focused so hard on the idea that I was finally getting out of the country – finally going somewhere near and different… not to mention that it was AFRICA – that I forgot to really think about all the good I could do over here. I didn’t volunteer much… it was actually really challenging to get involved. I emailed and called several people and organizations – I really wanted to volunteer with an HIV/AIDS organization, but I never found anything near enough to Stellenbosch or in Stellenbosch that I could work with. Kayamundi, the ISOS (International Student Organization of Stellenbosch) township volunteer project – didn’t fit into my schedule. I did do Watergarden (another township tutoring program) a little bit, but that program was done all in Afrikaans, so our presence was pretty much worthless, although it was still rewarding to interact with the kids.
In that way – getting really hands on with the poverty here and engaging with the community – I do wish I could have done more. I didn’t meet that goal. However, I do have a much bigger desire to go back to the States and volunteer, find an HIV organization to work with there. So hopefully that’s something i pursue a result of this experience.
As far as friends…. you know, to be honest, I didn’t have any goals or expectations. I actually came over here saying that this was going to be my “Me Semester.” That I wanted to focus on getting myself back to that happy place. So I’m leaving with a couple of friends that I will definitely keep in contact with, one that I already have plans to see again in the States, but I didn’t really meet anyone that absolutely changed my life or moved me in drastic ways. That’s a little disappointing – I think we all look for that kind of relationship when we’re in new situations. I also wish that I had made better friends with more South Africans. I’ve had that conversation, about how International Students tend to befriend other international students with South Africans, and it’s interesting to hear both sides. For us, even those of us that want to make South African friends, it’s challenging becuase we live so far away from campus, and where we live, we live wiht all international students. They have us kind of blocked away to put us in a “safe zone.” That’s not to say I didn’t make South African friends, I definitely did and had a good time with them all, but there’s no one that I’m devastated to not see again.
Anyway, I think I’m done rambling.
Overall – it’s been an incredible experience that has changed me. It has absolutely opened my mind in ways I never even … knew existed. I already considered myself open-minded, and now I’m just blown away by the broader, more global perspective I have on things. I’m in love with different cultures… how they operate, what’s important in them. I’ve gained so much traveling experience – my Moazambique trip changed me, just those five days alone. I love backpackers – I love their stories and their zeal for life, for adventure.
And really – I love South Africa. I love it with the good – the unbelievable meeting of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, the penguin colony that exists for seemingly no reason, the sunsets that hit the mountain tops and dance off the waves, the wine… and the bad – the crime rates, the racial tensions, the horrible attempts at fast food. I really fell in love with this country, and I have so much hope for its future.
Oh, and 3 words to describe this experience/this place, because it’s a question I’ve already been asked:
Healing. Rejuvenating. Beautiful.
Goodbye, South Africa. For now. Thank you for the past four months. They were beautiful.