Today was one of the most exhausting, informative, and insightful days of my life.  We woke up at 7AM and I had my usual omelet with bacon and cheese at the Rivonia.  The plans for the day included trips to multiple museums and Soweto, the former black sister city of Johannesburg.  We first went to Nelson Mandela’s old house when he was president.  It was located in a very nice part of town.  Along the way we passed by many signs of luxury including Aston Martin dealerships and enormous gated houses.  Our guide was named Victor and he talked about the current condition of South Africa.  One thing he continuously laughed about was the fact that many leaders of African countries have multiple wives, including the king of Swaziland with 14.  He also talked about how polygamy is allowed in many of these countries and about the overall dim outlook for many women when it comes to marriage.   I find it interesting that many countries that practice polygamy are the same countries that make higher education very inaccessible to women.  This creates this situation in which women become funneled into financial dependency, leading them to subjecting themselves to these less than ideal marital conditions.  I feel like the lack of education opportunity and ultimately the absence of the ability to advance is the catalyst for so many of the problems the world faces today.

The last stop of the day was Nelson Mandela’s first house in Soweto.  This neighborhood was in stark contrast to the earlier neighborhood with gated houses and lush green lawns.  We had dinner tonight at a restaurant by Desmond Tutu’s old house.  The restaurant was buffet style but I did not like most of the food so I didn’t eat much.  One of the most rewarding parts of dinner was getting to sit next to one of the guides from the other bus named Kenny.  He was from the Soweto area and was a kid during the Apartheid struggle.  He helped put the entire fight for freedom into context and it was very eye opening to see that he was not that old but still experienced the full forces of Apartheid.  I asked him during dinner was his favorite place in Africa to visit was.  He surprised me when he replied “Liberia”.  Liberia is objectively one of the worst countries in the world in terms of crime, poverty, and disease.  His answer was that because of these factors, because it is so bad there, all they have is the people.  No superficial distractions, just raw humanity and personal interaction with them.  I don’t know if I share this viewpoint but it was definitely new and refreshing.

That night I tried to reflect on the day and what I had experienced.  I had seen so much inequality and such a distinct difference in opportunities provided to people of differing classes in South Africa.  You could make the argument that any person born in America can achieve financial success if they have the intellectual talent and work hard.  They can go to school, get great grades, win scholarships ect.  However, some of the kids I interacted with at Soweto do not have this chance.  They have next to zero chance to live a prosperous life just because of the situation that they were born into.  They could be just as smart and talented and I am but they can’t live a prosperous life because of their setting and surroundings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: 2016 Trip

Our first stop was Lisbon Falls. There were these huge waterfalls that dropped off into deep canyon. There were beautiful, just like the rest of Africa. There were a couple of little shops that we looked at, but I’m trying to save my money for the Swaziland market. Our next stop was God’s Window. We hiked to the top of this mountain to an amazing viewpoint. It wasn’t really a mountain but it felt like it. There was a beautiful view of Africa at the top. Green mountains that went as far as you could see. It was breathtaking. This place really demonstrated God’s beautiful handy work. After we hiked back down we went into town where we stopped for lunch. I had a banana caramel crepe/pancake sort of thing with a strawberry milkshake. Super healthy. We walked through some of the shops that were by the restaurant, when Ethan was suddenly bombarded by birdman. During lunch this guy holding some wooden birds on a string made eye contact with Ethan and tried to get to him to buy some of the birds while we were eating. He told him maybe later, so when we ran into him on the sidewalk he targeted Ethan. Ethan was not interested, but the guy would not give up. He was giving a hard sales pitch to Ethan, and eventually Ethan caved and bought two of the birds. When he handed him the money the guy smiled so big, it was great.

From here we went to Elephant Whispers to ride African elephants! There were six elephants, three females and three males. The guide there told us that elephants in Northern and Central Africa and dwindling, but in Southern Africa they are nuisances. They’re put down quite often because of the destruction they cause. Elephant Whispers was formed to rescue those elephants that were being put down. The guide showed us how smart the elephants were by having them do commands. They could turn left and right, shake their heads, speak, lift their legs, and they could even tell the females to turn around while the males would stay in place. It was crazy, they were smarter than dogs. The guide told us they had the brain capacity of a 16-year-old human. He brought one of the big males forward to perform some tricks for us. He had him lay down on his side and we were able to touch him from trunk to tail hairs. He was really rough feeling, but the inside of his ear was really smooth. We got to feed the elephant and pet him on the trunk afterwards, which was so neat. Standing in front of him you were just in awe of his size. After this elephant was done they brought out Tembo, the biggest male they had. He was in his 30’s and still growing. He was massive…way bigger than the last elephant. We got to hug Tembo’s leg, which was like hugging a huge tree trunk. My arms wouldn’t even go all the way around his leg. And he just stood there, not moving. Once we were done with our photo ops here, we got to ride the elephants. It’s just like horse back riding in Texas, but here it’s with elephants. Kathryn, Ethan, Spencer and I all got to ride Tembo. He was so much bigger than all the other elephants. We were in the back of the pack when we were riding along the trails, and we looked down on all of the other elephants. The whole time you’re just thinking “I can’t believe I’m riding an elephant right now.” The elephants were definitely one of the best things we did.

Once we were done riding the elephants we went to Hippo Hollow, which was actually right across the river from Elephant Whispers. We could see the hotel when we were riding the elephants. We had a buffet style dinner that was pretty good- there wasn’t really anything new or drastic that we ate which was kind of nice. After dinner I walked out to the edge of the restaurant which overlooked the river, and a young South African boy pointed out a momma and baby hippo just walking along the edge of river maybe a 100 yards from us. There’s a night guard there who’s supposed to keep people away from the river’s edge so they don’t get attacked by hippos or crocodiles. He said sometimes the hippos would walk all the way up to the restaurant’s edge, but that they can’t get into the restaurant since they can’t climb stairs. He said the crocodiles usually don’t go too far from the riverbank. It was just crazy to be eating dinner and you look out and there are some hippos just grazing in the field. Or you may just get to see a crocodile sunbathing along the bank. Wild animals in Africa are a whole other ball game compared to our wild animals in Texas.

Categories: 2016 Trip

I don’t even know how to describe how perfect today was. I’ve never had so much fun. We woke up kind of early to some monkeys on our front porch. One was eating a sugar packet he had obviously stolen from somewhere. There were more out in front of our house just playing in the yard. After breakfast we packed up our stuff and headed to The Potholes. There were these huge red-ish colored rocks with waterfalls and little streams running through them. They were absolutely gorgeous. Everywhere you looked there was something unique. From there we travelled to The Big Swing. I don’t think you can accurately describe just how big it is until you see it in person. The drop from the canyon is insanely high. Kathryn and I somehow managed to pull off going first on the swing. From some reason we really weren’t that scared to go, it just seemed exciting. I guess it was probably because I didn’t really get a good shot of someone doing it before me. After getting our harnesses on we tried to figure out a way to strap the GoPro on to our bodies to capture the fall. I ended up using Christy’s head strap to attach it to my chest over the harness. As we got out on the platform to go we were tethered together, and we had to hold on to each other as well. We ended up having to turn around backwards and inch our way out to the edge so that our heels were off the platform. That was the hardest part. Inching our way out to the edge so that our heels were hanging off over this enormous canyon. You’re just standing there waiting to fall backwards, hoping that this rope doesn’t break. We had to count down from three and then just lean off the platform in the scariest trust fall of your life.

We were completely upside freefalling for what felt like ten seconds. In reality it was like three seconds but if felt like so much longer. All I can remember about that freefall was looking at Kathryn’s feet and blue sky. It was terrifying until the rope caught. There was definitely a moment of “Oh my gosh am I going to die?!” But then the rope caught and we started we swinging across the canyon. For some reason we both just started laughing. I think it was a mixture of ‘I can’t believe I just did that’ and ‘I’m so excited we aren’t dead’ laughter. The canyon was gorgeous. There was a huge waterfall that you weren’t able to really see until you fell in the canyon. Everything was green with huge mountains off in the distance. Once we started to slow down on the swing, a man on a platform had us grab a rope so we could get lowered down. By that point I was ready to get down because the harness was squeezing so tight around my legs. It took me a while to find my footing once we were actually on the bottom platform. We decided to stay on the platform until the next group went so we could video their fall. The drop looked a lot farther from down below. You could barely even see the people on the top platform waiting to fall.

After filming their jump and leaving the camera behind for them to film the next people, we started our hike back up. Honestly the stairs back up were way sketchier than the actual fall. They were all tilted forwards, and some were broken. You could see broken planks that had fallen below from past people stepping on them and then breaking, and some parts were pretty much straight up. There were wobbly handrails on some parts, and on other parts there were no rails at all. It took forever to get back up, but it really scenic. You felt like you were climbing through the jungle. After we finally made it to the top we walked back over to the platform to see other people go. We got back in time to see Tori conquer her fear, hear Hightower scream “America”, and watch Kyle who was absolutely terrified yell out some explicit words before he fell. It was much scarier watching people go, so I’m really glad we went first. While watching them fall I just kept thinking, “Why did I do that?” It was such an adrenaline rush, though. Totally worth doing it, and as I think it about more I would definitely do it again. If ever in South Africa, make sure you stop to do this. And if you don’t have the guts to do the fall, at least go watch someone else do it.

 

Categories: 2016 Trip

I had always wanted to study abroad since my time at Texas A&M, but I never knew which one to go on. I chose South Africa as my study abroad because it was a foreign country to me, and somewhere I had desired to go. This decision turned out to be great, because I had the time of my life on this trip, and learned so many things about the culture, food, and history of the country. South Africa was one of the greenest countries I have ever been to, with giant trees everywhere.

My favorite thing about this trip was getting to interact with animals, especially lion cubs and elephants. We got to play with cubs at the Lion Park and saw full grown ones as well. Later on in the trip, we had a close up interaction and then got to ride elephants. Also, being able to ride through Kruger National Park was an experience that I will keep with me as life moves on in Texas. We rode in a jeep with no windows out in the open, and saw safari animals in the wild.

Studying abroad for nearly three weeks with complete strangers was one of the best things I have done throughout my life. You learn so much about each other in such a short amount of time that you are not strangers for long. The memories you make with these friends are ones that you will never forget.

Categories: 2016 Trip

I will admit, when I was accepted to go on this trip I was very apprehensive at first. I was scared to visit a continent for three weeks with 32 people I did not know. I remember driving to Houston the day before we left and being so nervous that I wouldn’t make new friends or that the trip would not live up to my expectations. Looking back, I couldn’t have been more wrong. I had the time of my life in Africa and every expectation I had was blown out of the water! I gained so many close friendships through this study abroad experience. I also learned so much about Africa and its rich history that I never knew.

If I could give any advice to others considering a study abroad program (specifically the South Africa study abroad), this is what I would say:

-Don’t be afraid to apply, even if you don’t know a soul. I didn’t know a single person when I came to Texas A&M as a freshman & I didn’t know a single person who applied for the South Africa study abroad. I have been able to meet some incredible people. I’ve gained some lifelong relationships through this experience. There is a unique bond formed between people when you are forced into unknown territory together. If you just step out of your comfort zone to meet knew people, it definitely pays off!

-Soak up every minute while you are abroad! Whether it be conversations you have with your bus driver or swinging/free-falling into a canyon, appreciate every minute spent on the trip. Make the most of every opportunity and take lots of pictures so you won’t forget the small things. Some of the small conversations I had on the trip are honestly some of the memories I treasure the most!

Categories: 2016 Trip

Before going on this trip, I honestly never would have imagined going to Africa. But I’m so glad I did.

This  trip has been an exciting and very eye-opening experience. It has taught me that people all over the world have so many similarities,  and at the end of the day, when you peel back all the outer layers, we’re all the same. The kids we met were all immediately engrossed by our iPhones, which I found sad and funny simultaneously. I would encourage anyone thinking about traveling to seriously consider this study abroad. We spent the first part of the trip in the very modernized city of Johannesburg, learning about the colorful history of South Africa. I was honestly amazed by how developed it was, because I had a very limited and somewhat stereotypical view of Africa before this trip. There were skyscrapers, nice buildings, and a huge mall. After our stay in Johannesburg, we moved along to less developed areas such as Shewula, and Swaziland. It was interesting to see both ends of the spectrum. Overall, I would highly encourage people to step out of their comfort zones and travel somewhere exciting, it will make the world feel a lot smaller and less intimidating.

Categories: 2016 Trip

Going to South Africa has been one of the most rewarding and exciting things that I have ever done. If anyone is thinking about studying abroad I would definitely put South Africa at the top of your considerations. South Africa was nothing like I had thought it would be, this beautiful country turned out to be more than a zoo with no fences or cages. The history and rich culture that embody this country was so fascinating to me. I also saw some of the most beautiful buildings and infrastructure during my visit to South Africa. I will never forget this opportunity that I got to travel half way around the world and see a different way of life other than my own. One of my favorite parts of the whole trip was meeting new people. Our drivers for the whole trip quickly became our best friends. We quickly became attached to many of our tour guide’s we had just met. Everyone in South Africa showed us an enormous amount of kindness and love. I would like to return to South Africa one day and maybe see some of the people that I have met during my study abroad.

Categories: 2016 Trip

Our next and final stop was elephant whispers. I had an idea of what to expect because I had previously ridden elephants before at the Renaissance festival. But this place was incredible in the way that they treated the elephants and operated their educational business. I can DEFINITELY say now that I know probably 5 times more about elephants than the average human being. The instructor started us off by letting us know that the way in which they train their elephants is much different than the Asian elephant trainers. The Asians tie up the elephants and basically beat them into submission, whereas the Africans train based on a reward system. The elephants are very intelligent and can learn up to 80-90 verbal commands within 18 months and 2 years of age. So basically they are a much better and larger version of a pet dog. They recognize their name and gender and are able to speak, sit, lay, right turn, left turn, respond with a yes nod, return to their position and salute. Leanne and I got to ride Shamari, which means “friend,” through the wilderness and that was an incredible experience. They move a lot faster than I imagined, especially going downhill. We got to see the Hippo Hollow Country Estate where we are staying for the first time while riding the elephants. Tonight, dinner was good and I really love this place and the atmosphere.

Categories: 2016 Trip

This morning we gathered at 7am to listen to Werni Grünenfelder speak about his experience working with Credit Swisse for 30 years and now branching off into his own smaller version of it. He spoke a lot about his background, being born in South Africa to a Swiss man and an Africaan woman. He lived a privileged lifestyle and his truth was one that made sense, until he enlisted in the army and served two years for his country. He described the vast disconnect he felt as he realized that the false pretenses he had lived under for his entire life weren’t necessarily the reality of many of his fellow countrymen. He began to understand the difference among other people’s truths and realities and this completely changed his life. He no longer had a one-sided view of things. With his new, comprehensive outlook, he moved to Europe on a whim and landed a job with Credit Swisse the very same day while casually drinking beer with a stranger at a bar. He described his journey with credit Swisse as a self-induced roller coaster because although there were many times in his career where he could have stayed content and very successful with his current clients’ portfolios, he chose the unconventional track of following his gut and The Lord’s guidance without hesitation. For example, although he was managing several East Asian countries with a lofty $3 billion portfolio, he chose to leave and start over with three of the poorest European countries. Although many people thought he was crazy, he never looked back and it always paid off. In one of his normal occurrences, he suddenly got the urge to move his family back to his home country about 5 years ago and start his own company providing identical services as credit Swisse at a much cheaper rate to assist the South Africans with moving their money out of the country due to the high inflation in the rand. He described a lot of the cultural background of South Africa and which tribes inhabited the area during which centuries, but what stuck out the most in my mind was his unwavering loyalty to following God’s plan for his life and abandoning all rational and conventional means of making a life that seems appealing to others. He let go of all worldly restrictions of what a “good” life is supposed to look like, and completely followed the Lord’s will, and that is something that is very courageous and admirable in my eyes. I hope to have that same instinct and understanding of what life is really all about as I grow.

Categories: 2016 Trip

The skies were looming with grey clouds, and the air was misty. Chilly enough to wear a jacket, but warm enough to wear chacos. Waking up to this weather, I assumed that meant we would not be going on the big hike today. However, around lunch time the weather began to change. The skies were turning blue, but there were still some clouds looming around the mountains. Dr. Flint decided that today was the day we would hike. I was hoping for a more clear day, but hey, what’s complaining going to earn you when you have a huge hike in front of you? So I decided to put a smile on my face and get trekking!

I was nervous about the hike because I usually fall the the back of the line. My friends have always been more athletic than me, so hiking and running etc. are things I usually shy away from. However, I did not have an option that day. I decided I would challenge myself and try to keep up with the people in the front. Well……. I did. Until we got to the base of the mountain, that is. It took a few hills to get to the base of the mountain, and I was already tired. At this point, I was afraid I would fall to the back and just have to make my way up the mountain, but that wasn’t the case! I found that I was keeping up with the crew in the middle! My friend Leanne and I decided that we would be each other’s buddies, and not let either one fall behind. We stuck to our commitment, and we had a great hike! Don’t let me fool you, it was one of the more difficult things I’ve done, but I made it! I was even close enough to the front that I could hear Jac’s speakers playing music.

When we got to the top, I was slightly disappointed because it was so foggy. We couldn’t see much, but I will hold onto those memories forever. The mutual accomplishment we all felt was unlike any other feeling. High fives and hugs were being given all around. Everyone, no matter how slow or fast, was so happy to have made it up that mountain.

Categories: 2016 Trip