Student reflects on back to back experiences in Africa

4 March 2020

2019 was a year of many plane rides for me. In addition to the usual back-and-forths between Seattle and Minneapolis, I crossed the Atlantic on four separate occasions and accumulated a total of 40,000 miles on Delta to get to my Global Edge Internship in South Africa and my study abroad program in Morocco, a fact that my mom bragged about in our annual Christmas newsletter. But more than the miles under my belt, the two consecutive abroad experiences offered some truly enlightening experiences, revealing strengths I didn’t know I had and self-truths that I hadn’t had to reckon with before.

My time in Cape Town, South Africa was almost a vacation. Don’t get me wrong; I was working 40 hours a week, but my deep interest in the work I was doing through my internship placement and the welcoming workplace environment made the days fly by. My nights and weekends were characterized by a remarkable freedom that I could use to explore the city, develop hobbies, and reflect on my personal and professional growth. My DSLR camera, never before used with such frequency, accompanied me on all journeys to capture the moments which I know I could only get while on this international internship experience. Lionesses with their hungry eyes set on our jeep. A sunset with Table Mountain in the foreground. A smiling portrait of another Global Edge participant as the southernwestern most tip of Africa stretches behind her. With fond memories and newfound confidence, I consider Cape Town to be an easy and engaging city in which to live, and I am glad it was my first extended stay in an urban environment. Nevertheless, the end of the eight week experience left me yearning for the warm embrace of home and the comforts of familiarity.

Between my stints at the respective poles of Africa, I slingshotted home long enough to truly appreciate my small town for the first time in my life and regret my naïve decision to participate in two abroad programs essentially back to back. My parents had only reluctantly agreed to my participation in the consecutive programs, having spent most of their lives working overseas and personally aware of the fatigue that follows any experience outside of your comfort zone. Only too late did I see where they were coming from. It was with utmost reluctance that I boarded my plane first to Minneapolis, then Paris, then Rabat and crossed my fingers that the next three and a half months would fly.

While Cape Town wasn’t always easy, Morocco was a test in patience, self-worth, and strength. My arrival in the Rabat airport seemed like an ominous suggestion of the course that this semester abroad would take as the driver who was meant to shuttle us to Fez was more than half an hour late. My two suitcases by my side and a backpack weighing heavily upon my shoulders, the heat was already suffocating, and my stomach turned with anxiety. But I survived the multi-day orientation, a whirlwind of information, warnings, suggestions, and schedules. By the time I got a chance to breathe, to reflect on my time thus far and its effects on my sensitive mental state, I had already moved in with my host family and dived into an intensive schedule that left little time to dwell on the possibilities.In a way that I didn’t engage with South Africa as a country, I used my open weekends in Morocco to visit every corner of the country. Name a famous Moroccan city, and I almost surely spent some time there. My first excursion, alongside a small group of other college-aged girls on my program, was to Tangier. Here, we also had our first interaction with the great strengths and weaknesses of the Moroccan train system which proved not to be our last as we then travelled to Chefchaouen, Casablanca, Rabat, and Merzouga (a town right inside the Sahara Desert). After seeing so much of the country, I can confidently say that my best memories were from Fez: watching Morocco’s version of The Voice with my host family, drinking tea at my favorite cafe, and walking through the narrow alleys of the Old Medina and feeling like I was part of history. I can confidently say, however, that I don’t miss the constant cat-calling or the laughably deep chill that defined the latter half of my time there. Still, I wouldn’t trade the experiences for anything, though I would pack heavier clothes if I were ever to visit Morocco in December again. My time in Fez wasn’t always easy, but the adventures were even more precious and my growth more extensive.

I’ve always dreamt of travel, and have been called by the allure of foreign cultures and paradisiacal locations. “Wanderlust” wasn’t just a phrase to save to my Pinterest board; it was a lifestyle, one that I hadn’t yet had the chance to pursue but would jump at when the opportunity arose. After a year abroad, though, I know that living in another country isn’t always a vacation nor would I want it to be. It often comes with struggling to overcome language barriers, feeling lost in a culture so different from my own, and desperately wishing to snuggle up with my pets back home. I am now looking forward to my future, whether it involves a career overseas like I’ve always imagined or one that situates me in one of the many cool cities we have here in the United States, but I know what the realities of living abroad entail and am ready to tackle it with better preparation. In a way that I wasn’t before, I am equipped with skills to make meaning out of whatever future I pursue after Carleton wherever on the globe it may be.

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