Just as a prelude, it’s not helpful to ask someone “How was [X country]?” if they spent an extended time abroad. How on earth am I supposed to tell you how my 6 weeks in South Africa were in a way that encompasses everything important and isn’t too long that you’ll get bored by my answer? Not that it’s a bad question, but some better questions that people have asked me were, “What were your favorite and least favorite things you did there?” “What were your living arrangements like and your opinions of those?” “When were you most afraid?” My personal favorite question (asked by the lovely and insightful Marianna) was “what did you learn while you were abroad?” So, I will answer that question in blog format because it does encompass a lot of the big things I did ther.
- I learned that I adapt well to new situations. I mostly knew that already, but I could see it very clearly while abroad. I would say things like, “Well everyone here speaks English, so I don’t feel like it’s that different from home,” which is actually kind of comical, now that I think about it. South Africa isn’t ridiculously different from the US, but there is much more nuance to it than I was giving it credit for. But beyond that, I learned that because I make a home quickly, I became uncomfortable by the same things that would make me uncomfortable here at home. I have a whole post about this coming soon, so that’s all I’ll say about it for now.
- I learned ways that I have contributed to making people of color feel uncomfortable in spaces, things that I now can change to go against that. Like, even if I do not verbalize (to others or even just to myself) judgments against something important to people of color (a style of music, for example), my face can show judgment, making me unapproachable. But the goal is not just to make myself approachable for people of color but to humbly approach them, relinquishing the power I hold in white-majority spaces to become a true ally. Obviously, there’s a whole lot more than that, but that piece stood out to me the most.
- I learned that I respond very strongly to natural beauty. I really enjoyed our rural homestay (pictured above), even though we had to kill cockroaches, we had to use long-drop toilets, and bathing was a major struggle. But for me, the natural beauty of our surroundings made that all worthwhile.
- I don’t really want to teach. I saw the future teachers around me light up in classrooms and dream about the day when they would be in charge of their own classrooms. But that didn’t happen to me. More often than not, I felt uncomfortable with the learners. But hey, it’s helpful to know what I don’t want to do!
- On the flip side, I really loved being able to talk with adults about anything and everything. One of the most impactful experiences I had was a 2-day initiative we did with a prison rehabilitation program in an actual prison. I saw life there, I saw humanity there, I saw regret and redemption there. Those robust conversations were incredible, and I’m going to look for ways to do something similar when I go back for my last year at university. (more about this experience will come, don’t worry!)
- I learned a new reason to have hope in God and the gospel. I had my closest moment with God not in a big church or among “impressive” people; I saw God most clearly in the face of poverty on a day that I had lamented not understanding how I could have hope in God. This is also a really big, complicated story (that may one day grace this blog—we’ll see!). Feel free to ask me about it.
That’s it for now, friends! More will be coming soon!