Some may believe that change cannot happen in two weeks and that views are not altered by glimpses into the harsh realities of others. As the end of the QU 301 South Africa experience comes to a close I offer challenge to such beliefs.
My struggle to comprehend the daily lives of those in current day South Africa stuck with me throughout the semester. The words in books and pictures in movies did little to affect my outlook. Only so much can be felt when you can remove yourself from those feelings and remain in the comfort of familiarity.
It was not until being physically placed into the center of such topics that I was able to feel the pain, the suffering and also the pride of South Africa.
As I landed safely in the United States, my heart remained firmly within the boundaries of the country I called home for two weeks. I thought of my joy to return to the luxuries of life and then a flash of guilt flooded my thoughts. We had met so many members of the South African community from Pretoria to Varkplaas and I was stung with the feelings of the distance between our lives. I had felt so close to these people and wanted nothing more than to continue to help them.
How can I be of any benefit when I am thousands of miles away?
They had such an effect on me and I wish we had been able to do more for them. Their strength in the face of adversity had taught me so much and I feel that the true benefits were given to me instead of the other way around. The people of the communities have taught me how to be grateful and how to show gratitude in everyday life. Being in the townships, hearing the stories and seeing the filth that surrounded every aspect of life taught me more lessons than any classroom could have.
Each person learns differently and every teacher has their own teaching style, but one thing that is universal is the lesson from pain. We entered South Africa as seemingly naive and ignorant American students. Our lives and our education had molded us to be this way, but enrolling in this course was our way of breaking free from these stereotypes. Jumping into the middle of a world many only see in books put us in the middle of the greatest lesson students could learn. I feel so grateful for the moments of struggle and even joy that I felt through my journey because they acted as reminders of our true aim.
We came to South Africa to bridge the global divide in the communities of the world and left with friends. Each day was a teaching opportunity for ourselves. What each individual put into the day was what they received in turn. Active participation was key to the immersion of American life into the society of the communities we visited.
At the start of this great journey I thought I would skate through two weeks of travel, fun and a little work and return home the same person. I assumed I would have great stories and pictures to show people but weeks would pass and the trip would be a forgotten memory.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
I see the gifts I bought and the nights out with the other members of the class but they are not the gift of the trip. The true value of the experience was found in the memories, in the experiences and in the challenges. This trip is something very special that I will always carry close to me heart because it taught me so much about the global community, and even more about myself.
My faults and shortcomings were magnified daily giving me opportunities to accept these faults and aim to change them. I couldn’t express my appreciation towards all involved in this trip and transformation if I tried. I can only leave others with the knowledge that the best lessons come from putting yourself in situations that scare you and learning to overcome to struggle by replacing it with strength.
One day I will return to South Africa and I will again aim to leave my mark on the country that gave so much to me and made me a better person. I will continue to keep those I met in my thoughts as I know our paths will cross again.