My time abroad has come to an end. Memories were made, experiences were gained, goodbyes were said, a little hysterical crying happened toward the end. Then I stepped on to a plane and began my 30 hour journey back home. Here’s a few last rambling thoughts and reflections on my experience along with a random assortment of remaining photos of my adventure:
Being the first country I traveled to outside of the US, I experienced so many firsts in this place. I inevitably fell in love with South Africa and everything it holds; it will forever have a little piece of my heart that I’ll always want to revisit.
I apologize for never writing a “25 random facts about South Africa” post. All I can tell you is drink lots of wine, climb lots of mountains, take a crash course in one or more of the 11 official languages there, remember to drive on the opposite side of the road, be smart (its a beautiful place, but you’re not always safe), don’t attempt to continue your vegetarian lifestyle there (you’ll only last about a month, South Africans love their meat), there’s a different name for just about every fruit and herb so no one in the grocery store will know what you’re talking about when you’re trying to find ingredients for guac or looking for passion fruit, dollar slice pizza will no longer be your go to drunk food (grab a samoosa from a nice guy cooking them on the side of the street instead), get used to moving a little slower, leave your comfort zone and be bold (even if this means jumping off a bridge), don’t expect to have ANY plans (you might end up driving a 67 beetle named Sheri, you might end up at the weirdest bar a few hours down the coast and not believe that certain nights happened, you might end up on a quad in the middle of Mozambique… just keep an open mind), MAKE FRIENDS, and don’t drink anything at the bars that is first lit on fire. That’s all I can remember, and its much more fun to go there and learn for yourself!
Its been hard to respond to the question I am so often receiving now that I’m home: “how was Africa?” I could tell you it was great, I had so much fun, its a beautiful country, I drank lots of wine. However, if you really want to know, it was also one of the most challenging and rewarding leaps of faith I have ever taken. Though its an absolutely beautiful place, its often a lot harder to look a little closer. The social and racial stratification is still so extreme and seemingly concrete, but many learn to just turn their heads and look the other way. After living there for five months, I was surprised to find I at times had to remind myself to pay attention to everything around me and not just get carried away by the mountains and oceans and food and friends. I did not consider my time abroad a vacation; I wanted an experience far from that. I wanted to be challenged and engaged while I was there. I wanted to experience all of the country; the good and the bad.
Toward the end of the semester I was asked to summarize my experience and how I felt about my time in the country. I not so eloquently compared my time there to having my brain shoved into a blender. If I felt like I had any grip on who I was or what I was doing before I left, there was not an inkling of that left. So maybe this lack of realization is the kind that prepares me for discovering who I am or maybe its the kind that prepares me for never knowing; for the answers that were never really meant to be found. But it didn’t leave me feeling nervous, just excited for what’s next.
One thing I do know though is that I may have actually learned how to relax during my time abroad. If you ask me what my favorite part was I’ll tell you it was the people and the way of life there. Everyone has such a grasp on living in the now rather than in constant preparation for the future. Above all, my favorite part about being there was simply being happy.
I know I can never have the same experiences I’ve had these last five months. It was just as much about the people there as it was about the place. To have made friends from all over the world and to have done things and ended up in places you never dreamt of can of course leave you feeling nervous to return back home. Every time you go back its going to be different but that’s okay. That’s the beauty of these fleeting moments; they’re endless.
South Africa, it won’t be long until I see you again. Thank you for coming along with me on my crazy ride, get out there and have yourself an adventure too. The world is a huge, confusing, beautiful place.