My experience in South Africa was AMAZING! In just 12 days, I became so enchanted by the country's culture, food, people and its beautiful scenery that I did not want to board the plane to return. I went to South Africa as a part of the learning abroad course, South Africa: Community Service, Social Change and Knowledge of Place. Along with assignments we civically engaged with communities in Cape Town and Johannesburg through service projects such as painting schools and playing with children; where I became attached to the kids.
Through engaging with the children, while observing at service sites and traveling through townships, my expectations were exceeded as I reflected on the privileges America has that come South Africans may not experience in their lifetime. The level of poverty affected me the most because of how severe and cyclical it was. As soon as we left the airport, I saw a clear racial divide as we rode along a highway, with clouds upon Table Mountain in the distance. There were shantytowns on our left with no electricity, running water or proper infrastructure and beautiful mansions on our right-hand side. Although I attempted to prepare myself for seeing the poverty, I did not expect to feel the mixture of helplessness, guilt of my privileges and fire inside to one day help the country somehow.
Along with the changes in class level, another aspect of the diverse country that I found breathtaking was the variance in its beautiful scenery. In twelve days, I felt as though I traveled the world in one country! We explored landmarks such as Bo Kaap (a historical, colorful township), the Apartheid Museum, Table Mountain (a 3,461 feet mountain which we hiked; starting out discouraged because of how large it was, with encouragement of my peers and adrenaline that built up within me as I gazed over the city, motivation sparked and I was ready to climb!), wine vineyards, Constitutional Hill (a beautiful former prison, current museum showcasing women's history and prison conditions), Kruger National Park (a safari and overnight lodge where we saw animals and had an evening pool party) and much more!
I am so grateful that Rutgers offered the Community Service course and thankful to TRiO's Dr. Ana Rodriguez for encouraging me to embark on the journey because this experience changed my life. At first, I was worried about not knowing people going on the excursion but we grew as a family as we fell in love with South Africa together. The adventure changed my view on my professional goals, inspired me to travel to South Africa again to volunteer or work and provided me with immense global knowledge. The beautiful sunset on Camps Bay beach, Table Mountain hike and smiles of the children will forever be ingrained in my mind and heart.