Going to South Africa is the most incredible thing I’ve ever done and has had an impact on my life in many ways! This trip can be really transformational if you give it your all! It’s a ton of fun, but to make sure you have the most enjoyable time here are some general do’s and don’ts to follow:


  • try everything! you never know when you’ll get to try food like crocodile or impala again so just try it! a good portion of our meals were buffets and I always just got one of everything to try and most of it was really good! you’ll regret not trying new things!
  • start taking the stairs now – it will be really helpful for the Mt. Emlembe hike
  • reach out to new people and make friends! sit with new people at dinner! get to know everyone! I made some incredible friends on this trip so make sure you talk to everyone~
  • take pictures!!!! it’s nice to go back and look at my camera roll and see pictures of things I forgot about!
    • but not too many pictures because you should also just really take in the sights and not spend the whole time taking pics
  • have a good attitude!
  • THE BIG SWING! DO IT! it’s terrifying but so fun and worth it.
  • bring your passport everywhere
  • wear sunscreen and a good hat
  • download lots of songs!! you spend a lot of time in the vans so have a variety of music downloaded for the long rides! this is coming from me who downloaded a TON of songs and was straight fire on the aux the whole time
  • go on a grilled chicken and french fry cleanse before you leave. you’ll eat a lot of it.
  • go with the flow! things will go wrong and the schedule will change but don’t stress. “It’s Africa”
  • get to know Sifiso and Wawa (the van drivers and guides)! they are really cool and if you get the chance, sit in the very front of the van and talk to them! and tell Sifiso I miss him
  • go to the waterfall in Bulembu and swim in it
  • if you get motion sick ride in the front of the van. there are some really windy roads and it will be rough for you if you’re in the back. bring some motion sickness medicine too, you’ll need it!
  • look at the stars in Shewula
  • bring games like bananagrams or cards to play with everyone
  • always negotiate in the markets
  • buy some matching shirts while you’re there with some friends and all match one day it’s really fun
  • be prepared to sweat! you will be sweaty all day every day so just get used to it
  • buy bottled water everywhere you go – you don’t know the next time you’ll be able to get more
  • have an open mind!!! Africa is the most amazing experience so just have an open mind and put in all your effort to have a good time!


  • don’t eat the fruit or vegetables if they have been washed in regular water
  • don’t lose your passport
    • but if you do tell Dr. Pace immediately! you may just get to tag along to the US embassy for a day to get a new one. definitely go to the Portuguese restaurant for lunch and try the prawn pasta, it’s SO good.
  • don’t go alone anywhere – it is a foreign country and there are some not so safe areas that you do not want to be alone in
  • don’t let emotions cause drama. yes it’s hot and you’re tired but don’t let that cause you to not control emotions and cause any tension
  • don’t forget to set alarms! there are some early mornings and you don’t want to be the one responsible for making the group get behind schedule
  • don’t sleep every time you get in the vans – naps are ok but make sure you look outside at all the sights
  • don’t wait to do your journal until you get back to the states. it’s way harder doing it all in a few days when you get back so just try and keep up with it
  • don’t fall asleep on the beach in Mozambique while not wearing sunscreen, the sunburns are brutal

I’m sure there are more to add to these lists but these are the main things to keep in your mind before you go and while you are there!! Africa is a BEAUTIFUL place and you can have the most amazing time if you stick to the rules and have a good attitude! Yebo!

-Addison Nelson

Categories: 2020 Trip

During the Southern Africa Study abroad, I got to do a lot of things that I would have never thought to do. Over the course of the trip I was able to pet a lion, eat exotic foods, and even befriend an elephant. But the Big Swing was in a category all of its own.

The Big Swing is truly something I’d never think to do. For starters, I am not a fan of heights. Furthermore, the concept of falling the equivalent of 19 stories off a cliff with a rope attached to me just didn’t seem like the best idea. But “it’s Africa” and when would I have the chance to do something like this again. The Big Swing may even help me learn to like heights… or so I thought.

When we got to the Big Swing my heart immediately started beating faster and my legs trembled a little bit. The nerves were setting in. I checked my apple watch and my heart rate had increased to over 120 bpm. But we were already in line. The waiver had been signed. And most importantly…the rand had been collected. A sign clearly stated “no refunds” and to me that meant NO BACKING OUT.

Next thing I knew, the harness was on and I was next in line to go. The workers pulling up a rope jokingly exclaimed “oops!” as I walked out onto the deck. I quickly glanced over at them and they laughed. At the time, I was not amused. I made sure not to look down as I was hooked up and approached the edge.

Then I was swinging. Eyes closed,  body tensed,  flying through the air. It was not until I had swung back and forth twice and the rope went taut that I finally opened my eyes and was able to take in the view. It had been a long way down, but the view was nice.

Looking back on my experience with the Big Swing. My fear of heights was definitely reasonable. That fall was absolutely terrifying. The guy asked me at the bottom if I wanted to go again and I QUICKLY declined, but it was quite an experience. I had done it and there was a video to prove it.

And most importantly, if I ever go back, I think I’d convince myself to do it again! “It’s Africa!”

Categories: 2020 Trip

“The great thing about taking big chance when you’re younger is you have less to lose and you don’t know as much. So you take big swings.” – Amy Poehler. Oh how coincidental that quote is! The Big Swing was absolutely my favorite part of the trip. However, I’m not as scared of heights as your average Joe. I was exhilarated and ready to take the leap…. I still expected to scream though. However, I didn’t scream at all. I barely even blinked. But, how could I? If I closed my eyes I could’ve missed the most beautiful view I have ever seen in my life. It’s like when you y’all an opportunity and it turns out to be ten times better than you thought it would. Take chances, swings, leaps… whatever it is you want to call these opportunities… because they can turn out a lot better than you could’ve ever imagined! (This is an extreme case) But in everyday life, take chances and be courageous in everything you do. I learned to be bold in the face of discomfort, from this experience. Note: I am definitely going skydiving for my birthday now. To my readers, fully embrace life!

Categories: 2020 Trip

Elephant Whispers was my favorite thing we got to do on the entire trip. It was so crazy to be that close to an elephant, it seemed like they weren’t real. Tembo was the biggest one and the one we got to feed, take pictures with and touch. I ended up getting to ride him which was really cool. I got picked to do a special trick with Tembo where I threw a hat on the ground and told Tembo to pick it up and give it to me. He actually did it and my mind was blown. It’s a lot harder to get on an elephant than you think it would be, they’re so wide so it’s hard to swing your leg over. It also feels like your going to fall off the elephant anytime you are going downhill or uphill but you won’t.

Being up close and personal with elephants and all the other animal encounters we had was such a rewarding experience. It is something I will remember for the rest of my life. I am so glad I got to share these amazing experiences with fellow aggies.

Categories: 2020 Trip

January 2nd was my favorite day of the entire trip. It was an eventful day filled with elephants, the big swing, Bourke’s Luck Potholes, beautiful scenery, and dinner at the Shangaan River Club. 

The day started with the big swing which I was slightly terrified about but knew it was something I wanted to do. I tried not to think about the drop, did not look down once I was on the platform and just leaned back off the platform when instructed to. It was a 19 story free fall that caught you and swung out, and yes I screamed with my eyes shut the whole drop. Once I felt the rope catch and we were swinging I opened my eyes to a beautiful waterfall and greenery that I wish I had a picture of, it was the best part of the swing. After we were let down and unattached from the ropes and harness I was still a little shaken up from the drop but it was well worth it. 

After all of the group finished risking our lives on the big swing, we headed to Bourke’s Luck Potholes. It was a bit of a drive, but the scenery on the way was so pretty for the part I was awake. The water erosion created this neat pothole like formations and sculptures, and the coloring of the rocks was so pretty. We had fun taking pictures and worrying Sifiso by climbing on the rocks. 

Next was lunch at the pancake place which was so good, some souvenir shopping, then on to the elephants. 

Elephant Whispers was amazing. Getting the opportunity to be so close and stand right next to these massive creatures who were so gentle and trusting of humans was incredible. Timbo was the elephant we interacted with and took pictures with. He was so calm and obedient throughout the whole process of showing us the commands he knew and having a large group of strangers feel his tusks, skin, tail and take so many pictures with him. Elephants are so intelligent and I have heard this before but getting to see first hand all the commands they knew and how they responded and obeyed so well was fascinating. I got the privilege of riding Timbo, and I’m not going to lie it was kind of scary and a bumpy ride, but I enjoyed every minute of it and would no doubt do it again. Elephants truly are gentle giants and that was such an amazing experience.

We were treated to dinner and a show at the Shangaan River Club. A South African tribe performed several traditional ceremonial dances for us and getting to experience their culture was so neat. They had a huge buffet set up with a ton of different foods, and we also got to try the traditional cuisine of the tribe that performed. Dinner was really good, and this is where I tried impala which I was pleasantly surprised by how good it was. 

After dinner, I was completely exhausted and wanted to go straight to bed. It was such an eventful day of getting to interact with such massive but gentle elephants, testing my courage at the big swing, seeing such beautiful rock formations from water erosion and getting to experience more of South Africa’s culture. It was by far my favorite day of the trip. I am thankful to have experienced all of these amazing things that day.

-Amber Hester

Categories: 2020 Trip

The experience from this Southern Africa study abroad is unlike anything else you will experience. None of the expectations you have will prepare you for this trip, as Dr. Pace told us many times during the meetings. But don’t get me wrong, it is a good thing that the trip will differ from your expectations. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, so make the most of it and allow yourself to be open to new things. If you are open-minded going into the trip and push yourself to go out of your comfort zone you will get so much out of this trip, and appreciate it so much more. Some specific things to be open to: 


  • The big swing is intimidating and slightly terrifying but it was a lot of fun, and not something you get the opportunity to do every day.


  • Some of the food is strange but some of the food is really good and you won’t know until you try it, so go ahead and fill your plate (with consideration). 


  • The hike is not easy, but it is so worth it and you will be happy you did it.


  • Get to know all the people you’re on the trip with, everyone is so unique and you are on this journey together. You will make so many new friends and bond through the experience. 


There will be some bumps in the road, both literally and figuratively and following these bumps you will hear the term “It’s Africa” quite a bit. At first when you hear the term “It’s Africa” you won’t get what it means, but by the end of the trip it becomes a part of the experience, so get used to it and embrace it. 


You will look back on this trip and think about how incredible it was. You will do things that you might never do again, and the memories made are unbeatable. You will realize that this trip was nothing like you expected, but you will definitely appreciate it. There are so many amazing experiences and lessons learned on this trip. I encourage you to go into it with arms wide open to embrace new things and you will forever be glad you did. 

-Amber Hester

Categories: 2020 Trip

Oh baby, this morning started off with a 4:25 am wake up call. When I answered the door he popped in with a “Morninggggggg,” and then scurried off to knock on the next door. Honestly, that was the best wake up call that I have ever gotten. We all loaded our luggage into the trailers and piled onto the buses. Krueger National Park was a pretty chilly morning. We started off all bundled up trying to hide from the cold wind, but by the end of the day we were hiding from the blistering sun. We spent the entire day riding around in the open Jeeps searching for the big five. This day was just as much exciting as it was relaxing. We would doze off as our driver searched for the next sighting, and before we knew it we were being woken up to the excitement of seeing a new animal. What I found truly amazing was how we got to observe the animals in their natural habitat. Whether it was a herd of elephants cooling off in a mud puddle or two hyenas feasting on a fresh catch, there was never a dull moment in the day. I really appreciated this experience because seeing these animals in an enclosure like a zoo does not even compare to viewing them as they roam freely. It was definitely a once in a lifetime experience that I will never forget.

Categories: 2020 Trip

During the Southern Africa study abroad, I had the opportunity to meet and interact with so many different African natives. Kosi (our tour guide) in Johannesburg, the children in the Bulembu orphanage, and Mama CoCo (the Shewula elder) and her family were all so joyful. Their energy and their smiles were contagious.

Hearing Kosi’s excitement as she led us through the different museums and showed us Soweto. I could tell the amount of pride she felt towards her community and the joy she had as she led our tour while still making sure to greet people of the Soweto community as we walked around. It was invigorating. She talked with us, took pictures with us, and even sang to us. She chased down a celebrity just so our group could get a picture, laughed with us as we all threw up the Gig’em and did the horns down in pictures. She even taught us an African song and sang it with us.

The children of the Bulembu orphanage made a lasting impact on me. I got to sit with a group of boys who were so interested in American pop culture. He told me how he really enjoyed the Fast & Furious movies. He was a big fan of The Rock, but a huge fan of Jason Statham. He talked to me about his dreams of coming to school in America and how he really enjoyed playing soccer. There was a storm the night before that seemed to shake the entire country and when I asked him if it had scared him, he told me know but he did wake up to take care of his younger brother. He also took the time to hype up all of his brother telling me of all of their accomplishments. It was incredible!

Mama Coco was the village elder of Shewula. She came out to share some words of wisdom with us, but went even further by taking the time to learn the pronunciation of each of our names and then same them aloud herself. She also did a celebratory dance and talked of how proud she was of her family or community. She also taught us the excited exclamatory phrase “lelelele!”

Each of these interactions stood out to me as these people lived a lifestyle that was very different than mine. At first, I struggled to understand how they were content. And as I reflected on these interactions I realized that joy truly is a mentality. It is not something that comes from material things, but comes from just enjoying every situation. I can choose to look for the joy in everything I do and that is something I hope to do after seeing the joy of the people I interacted with in Africa.

Categories: 2020 Trip

Throughout our time in Africa we took part in many incredible, once in a lifetime experiences. From free falling 19 stories to riding elephants, most of our days were filled with thrilling adventures. However, some days were spent just traveling which may not sound as exciting, but those travel days made for some of the best memories.

This is an edited portion of an entry from my journal from January 1st.
On to the next destination! Rivonia was amazing, but I am ready to get out of the city and see more of the rural areas. Our first stop today was at this huge gas station aka an African Bucees. This place was not just a gas station, it was packed with two restaurants, a gift shop, a playground, and out back there were rhinos along with other grazing animals. We decided to sit down for lunch at the African Chili’s inside. Dr. Pace recommended us a fine meal of grilled chicken covered in a zing sauce with a side of fries. Not the best, but also not the worst so order at your own risk. After eating we decided to check out all of the snack options and I was able to score some pretty good treats. The beef jerky: 10/10, I totally should have gotten more to take home. Little Rascals: 3/10, they were basically ashy sour skittles with a very interesting after taste. Fizzers: 8/10, they have great flavor and hit you with a little razzle-dazzle. Peri peri lady sauce: 10/10, made for a great group present that we gave to Dr. Pace for his birthday. This gas station was packed with so many interesting things. If I could visit again, I would get a to-go lunch so that I could spend more time exploring this unique place!

This is an edited portion of an entry from my journal from January 7th.
Goodbye Bulembu, Hello Shewula! Driving out of Bulembu was a beautiful sight. This was the first time we got to see the forested region of Swaziland. We stopped for lunch at KFC in a small town neighboring Bulembu. Now, this might seem like a pretty lame lunch, but I have to admit it was a one of a kind experience. First of all, KFCs in Southern Africa have a lot better food than the ones in the United States. However, the best part about this lunch was the incredible view that came with it. We ate our fried chicken looking out at the vibrant, green mountains. The next stop for the day was at a little candle shop. These hand-made candles were pretty incredible, and everyone walked away with a bag filled with souvenirs from this shop. However, I think that I took home the best souvenir of the day. Wawa, our bus driver helped me get a hand carved wooden sculpture from an artist that was working outside of the candle shop. It was a sculpture I had been looking for all trip, but had not found yet. Fortunately, Wawa was able to talk to the man and he agreed to make it for me in a quick ten minutes. We all watched in amazement as this man created an incredible piece of art from nothing but a tree branch. For the rest of the trip Wawa joked with me about how I was the first passenger he had ever had that requested such a unique souvenir.

Categories: 2020 Trip

It’s so easy to be quick to assume that people living in a different country are completely different. Not just because of the different environment or culture, but maybe because its seems unreal that I might have anything in common with a 10 year old boy from Swaziland. In Bulembu, on the very last day, we finally got to see the mission of this amazing community by having dinner with the orphans staying there. I was a little nervous, to say the very least, I was afraid I would have nothing to talk about because from a first glance, our lives were completely different. I was so wrong. I got assigned to table #31.  There were four boys sitting at the table, ages ranging from 8 to 13. I sat down and began asking them basic questions like their favorite color, sports, and their favorite subjects. Then I asked what they wanted to be when they grew up, it seemed like another basic question but was actually kind of monumental. All their faces lit up and they went on about becoming biomedical engineers, civil engineers and firefighters. AND THEN, the conversation took a really weird turn that I truly NEVER thought would happen. I asked what their favorite movies were and all of them said, almost in perfect unison, “High School Musical”. We ALL immediately got excited. We then started to sing every song possible and began talking about how super cool Troy Bolton was. It was truly an incredible experience to connect with these kids on such a  genuine level when I never thought that I could. When it was all over, I can’t even begin to explain the joy that I felt. I realized that a lot of people, including myself, tend to look at these kids and their lifestyles, compare it to our own and automatically count our own blessings. Ultimately, this experience taught me that this initial comparison that tends to happen comes from the sole assumption that these kids are suffering, which they’re not. You can naturally sense this just by talking to any one of them. They’re so happy and comfortable with this community that some even come back after they graduate. This experience allowed me to really see the importance of community and how it affects the way we perceive each day. It also reminded me to find peace and hope in everything, because there is essentially no reason why not to. 

Categories: 2020 Trip