Settling into the academic life at the University of Botswana (UB) has been an experience on its own, one that stands separately from settling into social or cultural life in Botswana. It has taken longer than I had expected but has also taught me a lot. If I had to pick one word to describe the academic culture here at UB I would have to go with: different.
The adjustment process started right at the beginning. Out of the 5 classes I was registered for, only 2 professors arrived to our first class. I was surprised to find that for 2 of my classes no other students showed up either. It made me uncertain about the time and location of the class and I quickly became paranoid about my being in the wrong location when the same thing happened early in week 2. But I was determined not to panic and calmly waited some more. By mid week I decided that something was going on and the class had probably been changed. And thus began my game of hide and seek with my classes. I would get a new location and time and show up to find yet another empty classroom. For me the game of find-your-class took three weeks. Although predictably frustrating at times, it taught me a lot about being patient and trusting that things will work themselves out in the end. It was very rewarding to finally find all of my classes and have a set schedule. I also understood a lot about the more relaxed attitude I have noticed in Batswana: it is a way to adapt to how many things here work.
Changes in the schedule are something that I am not used to but it is common at UB for people to register in courses that happen simultaneously. As a result, the first week most classes go through an interesting process of changing the times. As I sat there astounded, people around me began suggesting times for the class and if anyone had a conflict they would loudly protest. In my mind this was crazy because we were never going to find a time that worked for every person in class. But it really impressed me how hard the students were working to find suitable times to accommodate everyone and even agreed to settle for Friday 7 am class, which I don’t think would ever have happened at my university.
Other adjustments to the academic life at UB include in-class experiences. I am learning what it is like to stick out all the time, to feel noticed and to be constantly self aware. In class we get called on a lot, our professors asking us questions when they are talking about the West or wealth as if we represented all of it. We usually get asked to participate more because we are perceived as different and although it may make us feel uncomfortable we are being challenged to be better informed and more prepared to talk about our cultures.
The fact that final grades rely so heavily on one big exam or assignment at the end and have so few smaller assignments throughout the semester is also something that has been difficult to adjust to due to its contrast to the work load we are used to having at home. Similarly, the incidence of long lectures with little discussion or interaction between the professor and the students is also another example of ways in which I have had to adapt my learning style to fit UB.
It is still early in the semester and hard to tell how well I have adapted. I have been frustrated, confused, surprised and excited by different aspects of the academics and the academic culture here. All of these different reactions have led to my appreciation of many of the things that I took for granted back at my university and also to the appreciation of many of the factors that make UB such an interesting institution.
This blog entry will be about last weekend’s trip to the Mokolodi Game Reserve just outside of Gaborone. This excursion was planned by UB’s Office of International Programs and was a wonderful experience! In the course of the weekend, I saw my first giraffe, hung out with friends from my program and made new friends in the other exchange program. Mokolodi was my first ever safari, and it was awesome.
It was an entirely new experience not only to see giraffes, hippos, zebras, warthogs, antelope etc. but also to see these animals in their natural habitats (unequivocally cooler than at the zoo.) We travelled around the Game Reserve in small groups in these trucks and had a guide who stopped the vehicle every time he spotted a new animal to tell us about it. We did not see lions or elephants yet, but will definitely see those when we go to Okavango at the end of the semester!
We began our safari experience at Mokolodi with a welcome drink and then were on our way. During the rainy season, it is generally more difficult to see the animals, because they do not have to search for water, so they steer clear of the main roads that wind through the reserve and instead retreat farther away from people and unfortunately the safari tours.
We were really lucky though. It rained a little bit when we first arrived but then the sun came out, and so did the animals. It was fantastic to observe these animals in their natural habitat from such a close proximity. The only animal that was at all enclosed that we saw was a hyena- which was more than fine by me.
After the safari, the whole group had lunch together and even saw two hippos in the river by which we ate our lunch. They weren’t nearly as cute as I imagined. They were huge, with really intense teeth and are apparently pretty vicious animals. There was even a warning sign by the water about hippos and crocodiles!
The food at Mokolodi was some of the best we’ve had so far in this program. The food here generally consists of beef, chicken, rice and mashed corn. Vegetables are not as easy to find, however I do have some vegetarian friends here who are making it work. It just requires a little extra effort but is totally possible.
We wrapped up the day and headed home- me to my home stay in Phase 2 of Gaborone, where I live with my mom Mma Tibone and my brother Otsile. After an amazing weekend excursion, it was so wonderful to have a home to go back to.
Post by Keely Vedanayagam from the University of Southern California
This is Vegas. As an international student, I live in the “Las Vegas” dorms – the nicest housing on campus. Typically, 4th year students live here. Vegas is comprised of around 10 brick buildings (girls’ buildings are on one half and the boys’ buildings are on the other side). Each building has four floors and each floor has two common rooms. Each common room has seven rooms and each room has two students. Okay, sorry for all the numbers – I am a math major, after all. My common room has four international students and the rest locals. Here is a picture of my room – it’s divided by a wall that runs more than half the length of the room, so my roommate is on the other side. Notice from this picture: the mosquito net, the clothes line, the curtain (they painted it with paint instead of dying the fabric), the giant pad lock on my closet door, the star stickers which I used to decorate.
The mosquito net: It’s one of the best things I could have brought with me on this trip. I don’t have to sleep in deet. I get to keep my window open at night (it drops into the 80’s at night and the cool breeze is awesome) without fear of being eaten by all the bugs. Also, when I found a cockroach in my room the other night, I was still able to sleep peacefully thanks to the protective net.
The clothes line: Though school started in mid-January, the laundry room does not open until February. We don’t know why. Also we don’t’ know when exactly in February. I’ve been hand-washing all of my clothes so far and that clothes line has come in handy. If you use the clothes lines outside, you have to sit and watch them dry for 6 hours to make sure they don’t get stolen.
The curtain: It’s just a curtain… that they painted with paint. Classic Botswana--where things are often done in a way that you would not expect -- sometimes in a way that is less efficient.
The pad lock: Botswana is not a violent place. In fact, this country has never even been in a war. But petty crimes are common. Especially as international students, we are targets for getting robbed. I keep all of my valuables locked in my closet and also lock my room every time I leave.
The star stickers: I did not bring enough decorations or pictures from home, so I bought those sticky stars for 15 pula (less than $2) to make my room look less jail-cell-esque.
This is another picture of my room, facing the entrance.
In my common room, we all share two bathrooms which works out pretty perfectly. Every time I shower, it’s like an insect excursion. I don’t mind showering with a few six-legged friends, as long as they are vegetarian. I am not a fan of the ones with pinchers or the ones that can sting me. This one has been my favorite so far.
With happy memories, we say goodbye to the students from our Fall 2013 semester. They got up to so much -- making it through the heat, living in urban and rural Botswana, and traveling all around Africa! After all of their learning in and out of the classroom, this group can truly claim they experienced southern Africa.
In their entertaining blogs this semester, the students overwhelmingly sought to convey their appreciation of their new surroundings. If you are curious about the depth and diversity of student experiences in Gaborone and missed these blog posts, check them out!
ADJUSTING TO LIFE IN BOTSWANA
There are many adaptations one must make when beginning to live in a different culture. Fortunately, these provide great opportunities for growth and increased understanding.
Dorm students also must adapt to living at the University of Botswana. In “The Load on the Laundromat”, Marisol Montano gave us some tips on how to survive and thrive on campus.
GETTING OUT INTO THE COMMUNITY
The students this semester were active in the university and local community. They joined campus groups and spent hours volunteering and interning.
Constance Ge painted a beautiful picture of her time volunteering with kids in Old Naledi in “New Rhythms to Old Beats.” Nora Camstra spent a couple afternoons every week at her amazing internship at Mokolodi Nature Reserve. In “Making the Most Out of Our Experience”, read about how she learned how to manage a game reserve with some of the most sought-after animals in southern Africa!
The Community Public Health students were also busy. They observed in Gaborone clinics weekly, visited numerous environmental health sites and even spent a week in Kanye, a village outside of Gaborone.
Finally, Sara Berkowitz listed the life lessons she will never forget in “Looking Back.”
Many students are apprehensive before studying abroad. Two common questions are: what will I eat in Botswana and what will I do during my free time? To help answer some of these questions, our students this semester made videos. Informative and entertaining, these are a must-see!
DIJO IN BOTSWANA (FOOD)
COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT: GIRL RISING
A high point of the semester was collaborating with the University of Botswana and other community partners to host a screening of “Girl Rising.” We invited a panel of distinguished Batswana to elucidate the larger theme of the film, the importance of young girls across the world to have access to education.
Some of the esteemed panelists (L to R):Dr. Gloria Maseko, Dr. Mpho Gilika, Ms. Manikiza, and Lebogang Maruapula
The audience left with a greater understanding of the challenges facing women and girls. The panelists made it clear that these issues—rape, forced labour, poverty— are prevalent in Botswana and are problems that we must stand up together and fight against.
After watching the film, one CIEE student said, “Although all women in the film are different and special in their own way, the film made me thankful to be what I am.”
CIEE Gaborone would like to thank the University of Botswana’s Office of International Education and Partnerships, Stepping Stones International, the African Women Leadership Academy, Botswana Department of Gender Affairs and the Goddess Foundation for their support in making this event a success.
EXCURSION ARTICLE: CIEE TRIP TO GHANZI
One of the CIEE scheduled trips this semester was far west to Ghanzi, in the Kalahari Desert. The students got the opportunity to learn about the culture of the Basarwa tribe, also known as the San or bushmen. It also provided much-needed rest and relaxation after working hard on classes at the university.
The students left at 6 am on Friday and traveled 10 hours on the bus to reach Ghanzi Trailblazers. There, they chose a traditional grass hut to sleep in and settled down for a great dinner of lasagna, vegetables and salad.
After dinner, the students were treated to a traditional dance performance by the Basarwa, who sang, clapped and stomped to create the music. It was very special to experience the dances that the Basarwa use to celebrate a successful day hunting, or to call for rain.
The next morning started with 7 am breakfast and mid-morning walk in the bush.
The Basarwa said that knowledge of their traditional practices is fading as fewer of them are living off the land as they used to decades ago.
They shared their use of roots and plants to do everything from curing constipation and headaches to assisting women with conceiving children.
At about 11 am the students headed out to the Ghanzi gorge to swim and relax. They ate a great braai and spent hours near the beautiful, clear water.
The students returned to the Trailblazers to eat dinner and get a good night’s sleep for the long bus ride back on Sunday.The Ghanzi trip was a perfect combination of learning about culture and enjoying the breathtaking surroundings.
On that note, we come to the end of the third 2013 issue of our CIEE Gaborone newsletter.After the new year, check the CIEE Gaborone blogs and facebook for more news on what we have been up to.