When I decided to go abroad for an entire summer, I truly had no idea what was ahead of me. I knew I would miss home, but not to the extent that I did. I knew I would make new friends, but I never thought they would be some of the most amazing people I have ever met. I knew I would learn new things, but not that I would completely change as a person; and most importantly, I knew that I would love South Africa, but I wasn’t prepared for the hole that would grow in my heart when I had to leave, and the longing I would have to go back.
I had been on a plane for more than thirty hours when I realized what I had gotten myself into, and just real how far away from home I was (8,600 miles to be exact). If this was not overwhelming enough, I arrived at the campus that I would be studying at and found that I had to share a house (and three bathrooms) with fifteen other people, seven of which were complete strangers and the other eight who I barely knew from home. I sat down on my twin-sized bed, looked around my room at the white and peeling walls, and thought, “This is the moment that will define me.” I could sit in my room and mourn over my central AC and American wattage, or I could get up, and enjoy it, because I have found that it doesn’t get much better than waking up and being in Africa.
My first few weeks in South Africa were an adjustment from every aspect. Everyone I talked to on a daily basis at home was seven hours behind me, and on a completely different schedule. I had to adjust to a different school schedule, a different meal style, different shower and sleeping arrangements, and hardest of all, I had to adapt to the people around me. Aside from the eight Americans from Auburn, the friends I made in South Africa were Dutch, who were there also studying abroad. All of a sudden, I became surrounded by people who had grown up completely different from me, who had different backgrounds, different beliefs, and different lifestyles than I did. They did not just come from a different hometown; they came from an entirely different country on the opposite side of the world. I never thought in a million years that I could have so much in common with them, and that, at the end of nine weeks, they would be some of my best friends. Aside from making new friends, I also got the opportunity to work at a children’s after school center and a nursery that was part of the community surrounding my university. The work I did here was so fulfilling; not anything fancy, but simply spending time and the resources that I had on these kids and with the women that worked at the centers. These kids, even though most did not speak English, taught me so much patience and compassion, and how pure love and friendship can be. Because of my study abroad, I was able to make deep connections with these people that I truly treasure.
My study abroad was an all-encompassing experience of every emotion I could imagine. I missed home, but never wanted to leave Africa. I missed my friends, but was making new memories with new ones. I had days where I did not leave the house and days full of adventure. However, no matter what I was doing, each day was fun and exciting, because, no matter what, I was doing something new and living somewhere that I had never been before. I like to refer to this mindset as “African me”. Normal me is easily bogged down with stress of everyday life, the expectations of others, and the uncertainty of where life will take me….but “African me” was captivated by this. Never knowing what a day would bring and being excited about even the most mundane activities. In my opinion, that is what a study abroad does. It reminds you that everyday can be exciting if you let it.
Since getting back, I have tried to live more this way. I remind myself to take advantage of opportunities while I can, like I did when I was in South Africa. I learned how to be independent, in my studies, and in my life. I look back on this summer amazed at the experiences I had, grateful for the connections I made and beside myself with excitement and anticipation to go back to South Africa. I learned how to go after things that I want and to never settle, knowing I have only gotten a small taste of the confounding things the world has to offer.
AU Human Sciences in South Africa – Summer 2017