Author: Keith Nagel

Location: Namibia

Childhood dreams are powerful things. From a young age people are encouraged to follow and embrace them, and yet the unfortunate reality is that few of those people ever have an opportunity to do so. Dreams like scaling the great pyramids or the slopes of Everest, catching a glimpse of a rare animal or flying across oceans far above the clouds often get thrown to the wayside. Soon the reality of the world kicks in, and ones realizes that perhaps being a captain of a pirate ship or wielding a sword in a medieval battle isn’t the most practical of occupations. For those lucky enough to live the life a younger self might have imagined, the world can be a wonderfully fulfilling place. I consider myself one of the dreamers lucky enough to pursue some of my childhood ambitions. At Valparaiso University I felt a freedom to pursue these dreams, through studying abroad in Southern Africa.

Growing up I always imagined Africa as a spectacularly beautiful place, full of amazing animals and cultures. And upon landing in South Africa, I knew that the image lived up to my imagination. On an outing to Addo Elephant National Park I saw Kudu, Warthogs, Buffalo, Zebras, Lions, and the amazing African Elephants. When I saw such amazing animals it didn’t even feel real; I was  in a zoo and somehow the animals were as tame as house pets. Luckily, I retained enough common sense to remain in the vehicle. To see these animals in their natural habitat without cages or behind glass was truly an amazing experience and one I will never forget.

It should be noted that there is a much less glamorous side to what I saw as well; gross economic inequality, pockets of extreme poverty, and families torn apart by HIV/AIDS. This is not the utopian image I had crafted as a kid, but never the less it is important that this reality also be shared to understand a true picture of the Southern African region. I’ve learned that to really travel far in Southern Africa you must travel light, and not just in the physical sense either. Especially in Southern Africa you must disregard any preconceived stereotypes, because despite its problems Southern Africa has amazing potential for social and economic growth in the coming decade.

It is truly an honor to begin my studies here in Namibia. I have fallen in love with this program and can’t wait for what adventures will come next.