Sala kukuhle, South Africa! ‘Stay Well’, South Africa!
Abstract: As my study abroad experience is coming to an end, I hope that I have been an inspiration and a good role model to you all. I hope that you take my study abroad experience and use it as motivation for your future travel goals. Nothing is impossible when you work hard. Do not feel discouraged or afraid to follow your dreams and never give up.
This study abroad opportunity has truly been an amazing experience. I will cherish it forever. Before coming to South Africa, I said to myself, “Akirah, go to South Africa and do meaningful work”. The type of work that you can be proud of and work that will inspire others. I initially thought that my mission while studying abroad would be to “save South Africa” but in return South Africa saved me.
I can still remember the first night I arrived in South Africa. My flight arrived earlier than intended and I had to wait at the airport for the rest of the service learners to arrive. What a way to start off my time here in South Africa! Can you imagine waiting in an unfamiliar airport for 7 hrs?
I did not let that take away from my experience here. It has made for a good story to share with the 26 other girls I have lived with over the past 6 months. I was pretty nervous about living with 26 girls. Besides my mom, I have lived with my two brothers for the majority of my life. I knew that this would be an interesting and yet challenging experience for me but I was hopeful.
To my surprise, it was not as challenging as I imagined. Between the 26 of us, our similarities outweighed our differences. Our similarities enabled us to develop such a strong sense of family. We all share very similar passions in that we genuinely believe in the well being of others and enjoy investing our time, energy and love into service. I think it’s safe to say that those passions were the driving forces that lead us to South Africa in the first place. Reflecting back now, I am confused as to why I was worried to begin with.
What I enjoyed most about my time here in South Africa was my service work with an organization called Young in Prison (YIP). As a volunteer with YIP, I worked at Pollsmor prison teaching life skills workshops to youth. Oddly enough, I felt an immediate connection to that place in such a short period of time. I was amazed at how something as simple as a warm-up activity at the beginning of a workshop evoked so much laughter and joy amongst the participants.
My most rewarding moment happened while working with participants in the single-celled section. I was leading a workshop on the importance of responsibility. Before this workshop, I never really thought about the differences in responsibilities to your family and to society. A participant explained to us that he was incarcerated because of theft. However, he did not think theft was wrong because he was stealing from rich people outside of his community. After a long discussion on the importance of public safety, I asked him, “How would you feel if someone did that to your mother?” He began to rethink the statement he made earlier. Through that conversation, I helped make a difference in the way he thought about decisions and contributed to his rehabilitation process. It felt really good after helping this participant. As a sign of appreciation, he gave me the biggest “Thank You” that I’ve had in a long time!
It’s little moments like these that make it all worthwhile. Throughout my journey here, I have learned that it is okay not to be able to solve every problem that comes your way. What is most important are the memories you make along the way and the lessons you learn from just trying.
I used to think that it took a lot for someone to leave the comforts of their home life and study abroad in foreign country. I no longer feel this way. All it takes is curiosity and courage to step out of your ‘bubble’. There is a whole world outside of the United States and as a future leader, it is my job to explore that world and share my experiences with those around us.
From this experience I have come to realize that it does not take coming to South Africa to realize the social inequalities that people face in the world. Although I am active in my community back home, I have decided to challenge myself a bit more. I want to further explore the poverty that lives right outside my front door at home and not become complacent as I wait for the next person to do something. I want to find an issue in my community that I am really passionate about and get active. I have already proven to myself that I have the capabilities, brains and innovative ideas to make a difference in the lives of others. To my young readers: you are one person you can change the world! Start there, you never know where you’ll end up!