Until next time, South Africa

It’s been one week since I left the beautiful country of South Africa, and I’m still processing the fact that my semester abroad has come to a close. Over three and a half months, or 104 days as per my visa, I visited 4 major cities, stayed with 5 local families, and slept in a total of 15 different places.

It all went by impossibly fast and I feel as if it was just yesterday that I was arriving in Cape Town and meeting the group of 12 strangers who would soon become my family.

South Africa has blessed me with so many gifts over the past few months. It has given me the gift of friendships, of family, of maturity and of personal reflection. I feel I am indebted to this beautiful country for all it has done for me, and all that it will continue to do. My experiences and learnings do not conclude with my flight back home; I refuse to let this trip become a memory.

I know that my experiences and time in South Africa will continue to shape my thoughts and opinions each and every day.

I feel that there is no better way to reflect on my time abroad than to give thanks to all of those who made it such an invaluable and unforgettable experience.

A sunrise game drive in Kruger National Park on our of our last days in South Africa

My SIT family

Exploring the Cape of Good Hope on our first day in Cape Town, back in January!

In retrospect, I was particularly lucky to be in one of the smallest groups that an SIT program in Durban has ever had. With only 13 of us, it was impossible not to become family. I couldn’t have picked a better group of people to spend every hour of every day with. Through all of the ups and downs of the program, countless nights spent in different hostels, and exploring new communities, these 12 were my constants. While everything around me was shifting and changing, I was able to count on them for support.

I often think about how lucky we were that we all got along and that there was never any rifts within the group. My theory is that this is because of our mutual interest in community health and medicine. At times when I was amazed that we were all accepting and high spirited, I reflected on our similar career paths. To pursue a career in any area of health, one must be patient, compassionate, and open minded. I believe that each and every person on the program possessed these traits.This only reassures my passion for pursuing a career in community health.

Now, returning back to the US, I have a network of friends all over the country. I know that my bond with everyone on the program is unique and unbreakable; we experienced things together that only we can understand. From climbing Table Mountain in Cape Town to writing our Independent Study Projects, these 12 beautiful individuals have supported me in every way at each step along this incredible journey. They are irrevocably the central pillars to my time in South Africa.

My host families

Me with my two host brothers from Cato
Sarah and I with our host family in Chatsworth, KZN.
Alex and I with our host Mama in Nzinga.

I was privileged to live with not just one, but five different host families while in South Africa. Each of my experiences with each family was wonderful and challenging in its own unique way — and I am grateful for every single one.

I have talked endlessly about my love for my family in Cato. This was the longest amount of time I spent with a host family, lasting 5 weeks. I visited my family one last time before leaving Durban last week, and immediately felt at home once again. I know that no matter how much time passes, I will always have a home in Cato with Mama Ruby. As I have mentioned in previous posts, home is not a place — but a sense of security and belonging. Similarly, family is not determined by blood, but by your connection to another human.

As I said my goodbyes to my brothers and sister, my oldest brother Lungelo handed me a South African flag. As I unfolded the flag and held it up, I realized that each member of my family and friends from Cato had signed the flag with some of the most heartfelt messages I have every read. As I brushed away tears and thanked Lungelo for such a thoughtful gift, I once again realized how genuine the relationships I had formed were. One of the greatest gifts that South Africa has given me is the gift of valuing others and forming meaningful relationships. I will cherish the flag and the messages written on it forever.

A community of friends

Out with our host brother’s and friends at our favorite shabeen.
Me with some of the sweetest young girls I’ve ever met. Doli, the oldest, couldn’t stop braiding my hair.

From our local cab driver, to the Biker Club we volunteered with, to friends of host family members, I leave behind a community of friendships in South Africa. Each and every place that we visited was full of people who wanted to get to know us and who showed us nothing but hospitality.

I am still astonished by the spirit of humanity I experienced in South Africa — commonly referred to as ubuntu. As I left Durban last week, I received messages from these dear friends who wished me to stay well and reassured me that the next time I visit South Africa I will not be without a place to stay or a warm meal.

Even though my friendships were formed in a brief amount of time, it has no impact on their meaning. I value each and every friend as if I have known them for years. Again, I’m reminded of the numerous gifts South Africa has given me. These friendships are not to be overlooked.

Celebrating Freedom Day in Durban

It is all too easy for me to feel as if this was good bye, although I know that it is not. The past three and a half months in South Africa have impacted me in ways that I have still yet to realize. My only hope is that one day I will be able to return to South Africa and give back to the country and people that have given so much to me.

Appropriately, there is no way to say good bye in Zulu. When departing you only share the sentiment of staying well.

Until next time, salani kahle, South Africa.

The South African Flag leaving one of our camps at Kruger National Park
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