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4 posts from April 2013

04/22/2013

My experience studying abroad

Bungee helen - CopyPost by Helen Goelet from Middlebury College

There is no right or wrong way to study abroad.  For some, it’s a semester for letting loose and exploring a part of the world with their closest friends.  For others, it’s a time to push every boundary of their comfort zone and become fully immersed in a different culture.  For all, however, studying abroad will be a time of self-discovery and exploration. 

Looking back on the time I’ve spent in Gaborone, Botswana, it is hard to understand and digest my experience.  The incredible highs and lows the past three months are impossible to explain.  The highlights, however, have without a doubt been my host family and my internship at Mokolodi.  Coming home every day, exhausted and in need of a rest, my house in Phase 2 has truly become my home.  When I walk through the door to the smell of a home cooked meal, my whole body relaxes.  Even better are the days I get to cook dinner for the family as it serves as a therapeutic and comforting part of my day.  My sister had a baby in February.  As a result, our evenings are spent in her room, chatting or watching tv until bedtime.  When the power is out, which happens regularly, we sit by candlelight and relax, sometimes saying nothing at all.  Having such a warm and loving family has provided me with a stronger support system than I could have hoped for, and for that I am extremely grateful.  P1000208

I cannot pretend that my transition into home life here was smooth and easy going.  Going to university in the States means that I’ve been living my own, independent life for a few years now.  My parents have viewed and treated me as an adult for a long time, and I therefore have experienced a large amount of freedom.  Here, that type of freedom was taken away.  Suddenly, I had to adjust to curfews, house rules and chores that I had not dealt with since high school.  This transition was very hard.  Nevertheless, once I grew accustomed to the cultural differences and understood the expectations of my family, I could not have been happier.  The other challenge was diet.  I have been a vegetarian for three years.  Upon my arrival, I realized how hard it would be to sustain my vegetarian life style as meat is such a staple.  I started eating meat the first week, and it took over a month for me to get used to it again.  

As for my internship at Mokolodi, I couldn’t have been luckier in securing a position from the start.  Three days a week, and sometimes four, I get to spend my afternoon in the middle of a nature reserve, surrounded by the incredible southern African wildlife.  I grew up on a farm 45 minutes outside of Baltimore City and go to Middlebury College.  In both cases, the closest neighbors are fellow farmers and cows.  Getting out of Gaborone and into nature has therefore been essential to keeping my sanity here.  When I get to work, I jump in the back of a truck and head into the park for the days work.  Some days are spent clearing bush, while the reptile park and feeding birds or monkeys occupy other days.

Baby giraffeAttending to a baby Giraffe

The hardest part of my study abroad experience has definitely been my time at UB.  For the first time in my life, I am a minority in the education system.  In every class, I am the legowa, and feel on constant display.  I either feel resented and judged as a pretentious exchange student, or I feel the weight of expectation pressed upon me by both my peers and professors.  Never before have I felt uncomfortable participating in a classroom, nor have I felt that my opinions are invalid or unappreciated.  The first week of classes, I raised my hand and participated in each class.  However, the murmurs and giggles that rippled through the room each time I spoke have discouraged me to raise my hand at all.  Of course, a certain amount of my hesitance is self-inflicted insecurity.  However, it is an educational experience I have never had before, and, as a white girl from America, has been essential. 

Image003There are easier places to study abroad, and experiences that would no doubt have been more “fun” both socially and educationally.  However, as an overall experience, deciding to study in Botswana for my semester abroad was the best decision for me.  I am extremely grateful for the opportunities I’ve had here and the wonderful people I have met.

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04/09/2013

Easter break in Nambia

100_0752Post by Rachel Mitchener from George Washington University

For Easter break, a few girls from CIEE and I decided to visit neighboring Namibia- where massive sand dunes meet the Atlantic Ocean.  We flew into Windhoek, the capital of Namibia, and were greeted by cold and rain.  This was something we didn’t expect and were certainly not prepared for because of the rainless, 90 degree Gaborone weather- but being in the cold weather was a bit of a relief. DSCN0661Despite the rain, we were able to take in the beautiful sights of the Namibian countryside that led us into Windhoek.  Windhoek is a city much like Gabs- sprawling with very few tall buildings. The main difference between these cities is that Windhoek is built on hills like Johannesburg, and Gabs is flat. In Windhoek, they also speak different languages than the ones in Gabs- Afrikaans, German, English, and clicking languages that I did not recognize.  We were under the impression that German would be the most spoken of the languages here, but Namibia is more like a piece of South Africa and most people speak Afrikaans. That night we went to Joe's, an outdoor restaurant much like Gabs’ very own Bull and Bush Restaurant, and had a great dinner (thankfully shielded from the pouring rain by straw umbrellas) before getting a good night's rest before our trip to Swakopmund in the morning. 

IMG_1776The five hour trip to Swakopmund was definitely worth the travel.  Swakopmund is a mishmash of the cuter part of the Jersey Shore mixed with German and Dutch architecture, with the slightest hint of Africa.  If you were blindfolded and released there, I'm almost certain you would have no idea where you were (reality television show about being blindfolded and released at an undisclosed area is in the works with my fellow CIEE students). Since Swakopmund has so many cute cafes we decided to get coffee at one resembling Starbucks and held off for dinner later that night with the rest of the CIEE students that also went to Swakopmund.  DSCN0710

The next day was Easter, and we decided to celebrate in an extremely unconventional way- quad biking and sand boarding on the belt of sand dunes that stretch from Swakopmund to the neighboring port city of Walvis Bay. 

DSCN0690The scenery was breathtaking as we rode over dune after dune.  Eventually, we stopped at the tallest of the dunes where we went sand boarding and on the ride back we stopped by Walvis Bay, where the dunes meet the ocean, for a great photo opportunity. IMG_1801  That night we ended our trip with Easter dinner in a restaurant made out of half of a ship, and watched yet another unforgettable African sunset. IMG_1808

When we arrived back in Gabrone, I couldn’t help but to think for the first time that I was home.  Although it took three months, I realize I have finally accepted Gaborone as my temporary home and in that instant I knew that I would miss Gabs when I return to New Jersey.

Gone Fishing....

Image001Post by Brittney Pietro from Clark University

After coming back from a week in Cape Town, I had assumed the coming week would be pretty low key. As some of the other girls in the program headed off to Victoria Falls for the weekend, a trip I had already conquered, I remained in Gaborone for what I thought would be a pretty uneventful weekend. Friday, morning I woke up early to a phone call from a local friend saying he was out searching for worms so we could go fishing and would be at UB soon to get me. When he picked me up we drove out past the Mokolodi Game Reserve to the Notwane Dam. We entered through the private side and paid the man watering the lawn there to drive down to the water. My friend, who had not been to the damn in at least a year, was astounded at how low the water was. I found it interesting to see in a year’s time how much a place can change as he described to me what it used to look like.

Image003Nonetheless, we drove down to where the two rivers met, a good spot to fish as recommended by the grounds keeper. We balled up this stuff called moruku, which is a byproduct of the beer brewed by locals called Chibuku. We threw it in the water to attract the fish.  We were getting so many bites and my friend even caught a few small fish. I became so discouraged because I hadn’t caught anything after his many attempts to teach me how to properly hook a fish. Finally I felt a tug on my line and yanked the pole up and started reeling, it felt so heavy my friend was convinced my line was snagged on something, but I could feel it moving and continued reeling. When we finally saw its white belly show we started celebrating. It was the biggest fish we had caught all day, never expecting to catch anything upon arrival. My friend also caught another big fish, both of which we took home to his family. As the animals started rustling and a storm started rolling in we headed home to beat the rain.

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Saturday I went with my friend as he worked to choreograph a dance for the contestants of Miss Botswana. Miss Botswana is the Batswana version of Miss America. Since I never knew any of the work that went into these types of pageants it was interesting to see the girls train in walking in heels, facial expressions, and finally dancing. The most rewarding thing was to see people doing what they loved. All of the people who were helping to make the show possible were so passionate about what they were doing including my friend. He had so much fun teaching the girls the dance moves and perfecting the choreography. When they finally finished the dance and the girls began to dance to the music, they were so spunky and into it and you can tell they were having a good time. It was interesting to see how pageants operated in another country.
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Sunday evening I went with friends to a place in Broadhurst, away from town, to this long road where people came to hang out and challenge others to race their cars. Though it seems like a simple thing, it was the best of everything. A bunch of people gathered enjoying each others company, a space away from town with only the trees and fields of grasses surrounding, a beautiful sunset, and the thrill of watching two cars speeding down the road and the excitement of the people watching. I got to witness the reunion of a group of friends I had met here, and the happiness they exuded as they enjoyed each other’s company and caught up on each other’s lives. Image009

No I didn’t go to Victoria Falls this weekend. But I think I was still able to see a lot of wonder in the people and landscapes of Gaborone.

04/04/2013

Traveling tips!

Meinzim (1)Post by Alice Lee from The University of Southern California  -  CLAS

Despite how weird this may sound, one of my favorite things about being in Southern Africa is traveling.  Not the being-in-a-different-country part of traveling (although this is obviously quite wonderful as well), but the actual state of being in transit part of traveling.

DSCF3320 Inside of a combi.  My friend and I were squished in the back row between 3 big men which meant she and I took turns leaning back/leaning forward the entire trip.

The bus always breaks down, you are always squished and forced to smell incredibly strong body odor for far too long, and everyone just looks at you and laughs because foreigners typically do not take this kind of public transportation.

DSCF3319Leg room on the same combi as pictured below (3320).  Big backpacks are the best type of luggage for these trips!

If you study abroad in Botswana, you will definitely be traveling often, so here are a few things I’ve learned from my past two trips going to Manzini, Swaziland and Harare, Zimbabwe.

  • Do you know someone who lives where you want to go?  Does someone know someone?  A friend of a friend of a friend?  Don’t be afraid to reach out!  Foreigners are usually quite happy to meet fellow foreigners.  In addition, living in a home rather than a hostel typically provides a much more authentic experience, AND you get automatic tour guides.  In both Swaziland and Zimbabwe, I stayed with expats whom I’d never met before, but knew through a friend of a friend and had a wonderful experience.
  • Calculate the travel time prior to departure.  Then add at least 2 hours to that time.  Again, the bus ALWAYS breaks down.  Maybe I am just cursed.  I always just give a whole day to traveling, since it usually takes about that long to get anywhere anyway.  You always want more time rather than less!  Also, make sure you know what you are doing once you arrive at your location.  Are you taking a taxi, connecting to another bus, or is someone picking you up?  Taking one of the taxis hawking at you around the bus door would be my absolute last option, especially when you’re traveling alone.  When I came back from Harare alone, I was arrive in the Gaborone bus rank at 2:30am and forgot to make transport arrangements back to UB.  Thank God for really a kind cab driver friend who woke up at 2am to pick me up!!
  •  Be friendly and open to fellow passengers.  (But not too open…creeps are still everywhere.)  Don’t be afraid to ask questions!  I’ve met so many cool people on buses.  Most people are very kind and helpful.  I traveled to Harare alone and by the time I arrived in Harare, I had people making sure I knew where I was getting off and had someone picking me up.  They translated the Shona for me without me even asking.  I truly doubt I would have made it to Harare as smoothly had I not made friends on the bus ride along the way!
  • Travel light!  For obvious reasons.  No one cares if you re-wear a shirt once.  Or even twice.  When the bus broke down on the way to Harare, I was able to get on another bus within the hour because I only had a carry-on sized backpack!

DSCF3843Combi at the bus rank in Manzini.

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My travel buddy, Elle.  Early wake up calls (get to the combi early because combis don't leave until they're full!) equal coffee.  But only if you won't have to pee because then everyone would just hate you.

Be open to letting anything happen and you will learn to love traveling days just as much as the exploring days!  One last tip: If you have access to facial wipes, bring them along.  It is ridiculous how dirty these combis and buses are and no one wants their face breaking out for pictures!!

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