As I look back on this trip of a lifetime, I am thankful for the new friendships and unforgettable memories I made. I never thought I would get out as much as I did from this trip. Learning about South Africa in a semester long course before embarking on the trip definitely made me appreciate the people and the culture so much more than expected.
I chose to sign up for this trip because I didn’t have the opportunity to do a semester long study abroad program and traveling to South Africa sounded like a once in a lifetime opportunity. During the semester, we had countless assignments and documentaries to watch on South Africa’s history. During the time, I thought these assignments were tedious and repetitive. However, being on the trip, I think these assignments were essential in understanding and appreciating the country we were visiting. Without the course, I don’t think I would have had the same experience that I did.
The personal highlights of my trip were the bike tour through Soweto, visiting Little Eden, the Lion Park, the service projects, and shark diving. I enjoyed every minute of the trip, but these were the moments that stuck out to me the most.
The bike tour was our first stop and I think it was perfect in opening us up to the ‘reality’ we would encounter in our travels. As we biked around, the children of Soweto waved and smiled with exuberance. I was happy and excited to interact with the children as they ran to our bikes to give us high fives. However, as I looked at the adults faces, I felt uncomfortable and felt as though we were intruding. This first day put things into perspective as I realized not everyone we encountered would be thrilled to see us.
Little Eden was a hard thing to see and I think everyone’s reactions reflected how we were feeling. I enjoyed this part because I have worked with kids with disabilities before and I know I will work with them in the future with my physical therapy major. This was also my first blog post of the trip.
One of the biggest reasons I chose to go on the South Africa trip was because it included a service portion. Throughout the semester, we developed our projects and I was excited that we would finally be able to implement them and work with the communities. Working at Varkplaas, I was surprised that only one of the community members, Cookie, helped us with the garden. I realized that there are certain social issues that we may not understand and the community may not necessarily trust us. I loved working at the Vaaitjie school and watching the kids light up as we handed out stickers and bouncy balls.
The Lion Park and shark diving were two fun experiences I had while on the trip. I was able to feed my favorite animal, the giraffe, and play with lion cubs. While shark diving, we saw Great White Sharks that were about 15 feet long. Both were a great experience.
I learned a lot about South Africa’s history in class, but I also learned a lot about present day South Africa during the trip. I have gone to countries without knowing about them before I went, and I think learning about South Africa opened my eyes and allowed me to appreciate the country even more. I will never forget the friendships and memories I have made in the past two weeks.