Category: Africa (page 1 of 13)

The Untold Stories

Author: Alyssa (Aly) Brewer

Location: Outapi, Namibia

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

I distinctly remember before I left to study abroad in Southern Africa, my friend and I got  lunch together for an informal “see you later.” We talked about our lives, school work, and how  excited I was to travel to Namibia. I showed him a picture of Windhoek, the city I would be  living in. To his surprise, the photo displayed towering buildings, paved roads, and modern cars.  I am not telling this story to criticize his views, but to shed light on this mainstream idea of  “Africa.” Africa is a continent full of rich intertwining cultures. Every country, every area, every  city, is unique from the next. There is no blanket definition. Like in the United States, each family  has their own identity, ethnicity, and language. And all of this became quite apparent to me when I spent a week living with a family in rural Northern Namibia.

Before we left to Outapi, the instructors taught us basic greetings and how to ask for food, water, and the toilet in Oshiwambo, the local language. All of us were jittery with nerves. We stocked up on toilet paper, portable chargers, and exchanged ideas of how to properly bathe from a bucket. 

Surprisingly, the bucket shower became one of my favorite parts of the morning!

To be honest, I was holding in my anxiousness the whole 10 hour ride up there. As soon as we arrived and families started singing for us, my worries melted away. The families were as full of smiles as we were of exhaustion. But despite our heavy bodies, our spirits were up. We gathered around, greeted each other, and learned who we would be staying with for the week. My family welcomed me with open arms. I immediately felt loved by Meme Thusnelde and Tate Fillemon. (*Meme is the Oshiwambo equivalent of “M’am” as is Tate with “Sir”). Their daughter Margareth also welcomed and introduced me to her two year old son, Wofa (I never got the spelling but this is how it sounded). After the initial greeting, we were off! I climbed in the back of their pick-up truck and sighed my first breath of relief since we left Windhoek that morning.

While the instructors warned us countless times how hot it is in Northern Namibia, the heat still surprised us. It’s the kind of heat when you sweat, it evaporates before you can feel it. Hats are a necessity and sunscreen becomes your new best friend. Sleeping became a great challenge because my family’s tin house absorbed all the heat throughout the day. At night, I felt like I was sleeping in a microwave. Another surprising challenge was the food. While it was delicious and well-prepared, my body had a difficult time adjusting to it. But these minor inconveniences were drops in the ocean of this entire experience. My host sister and I laughed and danced with each other every evening. Her son and I chased each other around the farmstead. The stars every night speckled the sky is a brilliant hue. The fat chickens slept on tiny tree branches (which still makes me laugh just thinking about it). My host dad and I ran after a goat one night and planted a tree the next. My host mom hugged me warmly in the way only a mother can. While my body might have rejected the environment, my heart belonged in it.

There were dozens of fruit trees across the property. I was honored to help plant another!

I learned so much in my six days living with them. Greeting culture is the utmost importance. It took me until the end of the stay to fully get the sequence right.

  • “Walalapo Meme” (Good morning M’am)
  • “Walalapo” (Good morning response)
  • “Nawa?” (How are you?)
  • “Nawa, ehh?” (Good, and you?)
  • “Ehh” (Yes, good)

Even then, I do not know if that is completely correct. And the greeting changes depending on who you are speaking to and what time of day it is. It was difficult at first to get out of my American way of thinking. Here, you spend a whole five minutes greeting someone before you can carry on with your day. Back in the States I usually go for the classic Midwestern half-smile or “hey.” Here, you must face the person and acknowledge their presence- it is a form of respect. After practicing the greeting so often, it almost became second nature amongst us students. We even greeted each other that way at times. 

This journey has changed how I view life in multiple ways. For one, time is fluid here. There is never a rush. At first, my American “go go go” attitude became frustrated with the lackadaisical atmosphere. Now, I embrace it. In the States, we value time as money. Even when greeting someone we are short and to the point. Here, time is what you make it. My host family never rushed me to wake up, they never had a set schedule. We awoke when we got fed up with the rooster crowing. We made food when we got hungry. We talked when we wanted to and sat in silence when there was nothing to say. There was no pressure, just peace.

Important side note! The picture above is my host family’s field. Normally it would be towering with mahango plants at this time. Namibia is facing an extreme drought due to no rain in the rainy season causing crops and livestock to die at alarming rates. In a nation where 70% of the population relies on farming to sustain themselves, no rain is a crisis. We might not see climate change’s effects in the US, but here it is undeniable.

Reflecting on the experience so far, I am blessed to have met so many people from different cultural backgrounds in Southern Africa. Each of them has their own story to tell. Some are graduate students studying to be doctors. Some are musicians living off donations from passersby. Some, like my host family, are farmers in rural Namibia struggling to overcome the most devastating drought in their lifetime. Every person I meet paints a more colorful picture of what Africa truly is. It is not a single nationality, race, or language. It is a beautiful blend of people who each have a story to share- a story that needs to be heard.

My family and I took a photo together at the goodbye party. They provided me with a traditional Oshiwambo skirt and Ostrich egg shell necklace to wear. I will miss them dearly! (Right to left) Tate Fillemon, Wofa the baby, myself, the cab driver for the family, Margareth. *Meme Thusnelde was not able to attend the goodbye party due to work.

Part 3 in South Africa: Beaches, Night Life, and Sharks! Oh my!

Author: Alyssa Brewer

Location: Cape Town, Simon’s Town, & Gansbaii Bay, South Africa

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Arriving in Cape Town was a challenge. After a two-hour delay, a nine-hour bus ride, and a Home-Alone like dash through the bus stop, we made it. Once we arrived at the guest house, we collapsed on our beds and relaxed. All the while, I had no idea that the week to come would change my life forever.

So after some much needed rest, we toured the city. It was like Starbursts exploded across the town! The pastel-colored houses lined the streets as tourists took pictures on their doorsteps. At first, I thought of how beautiful it all was, but then I paused. Would I want people to take pictures of my house all day long? Answering my own question, I put down my camera. Instead, I opted for a far-away shot.

When you study abroad, you need to travel with a certain level of cultural sensitivity and respect to local residential spaces. Our professor Lamont instructed us that far-away pictures of the streets are acceptable but close-up ones are not.

Once we got a taste for the city and the food, we headed back to our guest house to sleep off our travels. The next day we visited the old fortress that housed the first slaves in Cape Town. It was a difficult topic to address but it was necessary, nonetheless. We also visited Langa, the oldest Township in Cape Town named after the first president of the political party African National Congress (ANC). The ANC played a pivotal role in ending the oppressive Apartheid regime in the 1990s but not everyone agrees that they should remain in power. In fact, we met one of the political members of the Democratic Alliance and he believes his party should be the ruling one. Of course, politics are complicated in every nation but especially in South Africa where democratic elections only started in the 1990s. The country is young and still figuring  itself out.

After a few more tours to museums, a pre-school, and a few gorgeous gardens that week, we were granted a free weekend. For the first time in what seemed like years, I slept in. Well, until 7am because my body runs on sunlight now. That day, a few of us decided to visit the infamous Bolder Beach where the South African penguins live. Who would have thought that penguins could be chilling in 90-degree weather? While they were so cute, the beach was quite crowded. Afterwards, we travelled down Simon’s Town to this barren beach that seemed to stretch for miles.

Well suited, the name of it was Long Beach.

After a long and beautiful day in the sun and ocean, we headed back to the guest house. It was an hour drive but luckily the journey was through stunning mountains. Yet again, I was reminded of the striking inequality as I passed mansion after mansion. Just the other day we learned about the aftermath of locals forced to leave their homes because the wealthy wanted their land. They rushed away from the bulldozers with only a suitcase in hand. And while apartheid is over, they still lost their homes. So even though the views were gorgeous, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the history behind them.

While everyone was preparing for the legendary hike up Table Mountain the next morning, I was finalizing a trip of a lifetime. For those who do not know me, it has been a dream of mine to go shark diving ever since I was young. And on this very day, I was blessed with the opportunity to do just that.

So Brennen, another Valpo student, and myself woke up at 5am, took a two-hour bus ride to Gansbaii Bay, scarfed down breakfast, squeezed into our wetsuits, and took a 15 minute boat ride to the sea. All the while, I was holding my breath for the moment my dream would come true. After setting up, putting on gear, and calming my nerves, I jumped in the cage. Five others, including Brennen, followed my lead. For the next few hours we got to witness sharks up close and personal. I was blown away by not only their beauty, but their strength as well. One even tail whipped the cage (trying to chase the bait, of course)! The entire time, I felt like a little girl traveling to Disney World for the first time. It. Was. Magical. I know most people would shriek away from the thought of being surrounded by sharks, but I enjoyed every minute of it. I was quite happy and extremely blessed to check #1 off my bucket list at 20 years old. This was the experience of a lifetime!

So as I reflected upon the weekend, I realized that I did not want to be anywhere else but present. I felt an overwhelming sense of peace. Even though we were dealing with difficult and emotional topics, it was needed to grow. I would never be exposed to the history and culture of South Africa had I stayed back at Valpo this semester. I would have never met so many influential people who had such a strong impact on their community. I would have never gone shark diving off Gansbaii Bay.

So if you are reading this and you are wondering if you should study abroad or not, as Shia LeBeouf famously put, “just do it.”

And yes, that is a real tattoo.

Part 2 in South Africa: Eludini

Author: Alyssa Brewer

Location: Eludini outside of Eastern Cape, South Africa

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

So today we visited Eludini, a small village tucked between mountains outside of the Eastern Cape. Even though we were only visitors for a day and a half, I learned and loved so much throughout this experience. The city life was exciting and new but there is something enchanting about Eludini. The towering buildings can never compare to the insurmountable beauty of the towering mountains. Grey sidewalks can never feel as comforting as green grass does under your feet. And the night sky takes on a different hue when no other light competes with it.

After breakfast, we embarked on a three-hour bus ride cozied up next to each other, silently sweating all the while. The air blasting through the windows was hot and dry. The drive was bumpy, jolting us left and right. But all these miniature frustrations made the destination worthwhile. Once we arrived, we couldn’t help but just sink into the recycled tire seats and gaze upon nature’s wonders.

There is something absolutely breathtaking about being surrounded by walls of lush green. Even though Johannesburg was amazing, the change of scenery felt like a breath of fresh air- quite literally. For me, the best part of it was the culture. Because Eludini was somewhat isolated in the mountains, everyone knew everyone. There was no urgency. People relied on rainwater, vegetables grown in gardens, and goats and cattle roaming about. The atmosphere was peaceful and inviting. Ours hosts were especially welcoming and prepared a gorgeous feast for us that night. My stomach and my heart were quite happy.

So, after we let the food settle in, we decided to carry on the program’s tradition of trekking up the mountain to watch the sunset. It was hot and sticky on the way up but the beauty washed away our discomfort. The view was…breathtaking to say the least- there is nothing like a multitude of colors painted across the sky.

 

The middle picture depicts Clare (left), Ava (center), and myself (right) laying down partly due to exhaustion but also to appreciate the sky above. We couldn’t help but reflect on all that we witnessed. This was one of the first times throughout the program when we could just sit back and enjoy the moment. At the beginning, we were overwhelmed with information and always on the move- there were so many sights to see and so little time to do so. However, at this present moment, we didn’t have to be anywhere or do anything- we could just be.

After the sun died down, we headed back down to prepare for the night in our grass-roofed cabins. We relied on kerosene lamps for sight which was a first for me. While it might have seemed inconvenient to not have cellar data or electricity, it felt like a great relief. We were completely off the grid- we were just present. So after one of the best night sleeps of my life, we got up early to start our day. It was barely 9am and I was already sweating buckets- I guess I picked the wrong day to wear grey. After what seemed like hours of walking in the heat (it was probably 30 minutes to be honest), we met up with a wonderful woman full of life and laughter. She took us into her kitchen to teach us how to  make bread from scratch. We followed her instructions, kneaded the dough, and waited for it to rise. But our task wasn’t over yet- we needed to gather firewood to cook the bread. All of us sighed when we saw how far down the forest was. The heat weighed down on our spirits but none of us gave up. We picked up as many sticks/branches as we could, attempted to place them on our heads, and carefully wobbled back up the mountain. It was a challenge, but I am proud that I accomplished it!

Next, we molded our dough into little biscuits and marked which ones were ours. Mine had a snowflake like design to it. With the coals created from the fire we started with firewood, we were able to bake our bread. It might have taken us half a day for the whole process, but it was so worth it in the end. Not only did we get to eat our delicious creations, we learned a valuable skill to carry on after this program. The woman full of smiles asked me if I enjoyed the experience- I couldn’t help but reciprocate her smile as well. I explained that while it was a bit challenging, I thoroughly enjoyed the day with her. I even bragged that when I return home, I can’t wait to show my family what I learned. She was so patient and accommodating with our group the whole day. I appreciated her welcoming energy and strong personality- she has and will continue to be an inspiration for me. Sadly, I never caught her name but her smiling face will be forever engrained in my memory. Even though visiting Eludini was a short-lived experience, it had an impact on me nonetheless. Thank you for following me along this journey. Part 3 in South Africa coming soon!

As always, keep on keepin’ on,
-Aly

Time in Windhoek

Author: Maddie Morehead

Location: Windhoek, Namibia

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

It has now been a little over a month since setting foot into our home here in Windhoek, Namibia, and two months since our journey in Southern Africa began back in August. As I reflect on everything I have experienced already, I am amazed at all the ways I have been challenged and changed; from meeting so many amazing people, to learning new ideas and unlearning programmed ideologies, to settling into the lifestyle of the people of Windhoek. I think the moment I realized that I had become settled into the community is when I was able to give directions to someone looking for the Roman Catholic Hospital, or maybe when I was able to tell the taxi driver where my destination was when he had no idea where to go, or maybe when local Namibians joined me and my friend on stage while we belted “Crazy in Love” by Beyonce at karaoke night. However it may look, over the past month, Windhoek has become home.

With each passing week new people, new opportunities and new experiences are presented to us, and I have learned throughout my time here to keep an open mind, say yes more times than no, and to be ever present with every experience. This past week, these experiences included attending Mr. Gay Namibia, a prestigious pageant show held for Windhoek’s gay community; live music at an ice cream shop downtown; and a tour of my friend’s township just outside Windhoek.

On Tuesday, my history class headed to Out-Right Namibia, a human rights based organization that works towards equality for the LGBTIQ community in Namibia. Namibia has a history of discrimination towards the LGBTIQ communiy. The first president of Namibia, Sam Nujoma who was president from 1990 to 2005, often gave hate speeches about this community, stating that lesbians and gays have no place in his country. There is also a current law in Namibia that prohibits men from having sex with other men and therefore denoting that gay activity is not welcome in Namibia. At Out-Right, we talked to the most gentle and kind-spirited human who is an advocate for the LGBTIQ community in Namibia and spends his time providing a welcoming environment and spreading awareness of sexual health for the community’s members. It was here that we heard about the annual pageant show that was happening later that week, Mr. Gay Namibia. After our trip to Out-Right, we were able to speak to the first ever Mr. Gay Namibia of 2012 who shared his experience of coming out to his family and continuing to represent the LGBTIQ community in Namibia. It was incredible to see such a welcoming and supportive environment on Friday night for the men in Namibia who were brave enough to fully express themselves through fashion and their own sexual identity. It was also an amazing experience to be able to support this community at a local level.

I was able to make many comparisons with the U.S. when talking to others about attending Mr. Gay Namibia. Some were supportive, but said that they themselves would not attend while others thought the idea of the pageant show to be funny. Although I was somewhat surprised, when thinking about it, these reactions do not seem too far off from some reactions I would receive back home. As an ally for this community I was able to support and have conversations with others that really opened my mind to the importance of supporting and defending a community that I, myself may not identify with and confront any misinformed ideologies that I myself may hold about that community.

At Mr. Gay Namibia, my friend talked to one of the performers who invited us to one of her shows later that weekend at Cramer’s, a local ice cream shop in downtown Windhoek. The arts have been such a huge part of our experience since arriving in Windhoek. Almost everyone that we have met participates in some form of expression through art, whether it be through instruments, painting, sculpture, or song. As a musician myself I am able to really connect with people through their artistic expression. Music thrives in the young city of Windhoek, Namibia and it truly brings people together.

On Saturday, one of the friends I have made since coming to Windhoek invited me to his home in Katutura where he showed me his everyday life. Katutura is a large township of Windhoek with an interesting history behind it that might not be talked about in daily life. Katutura itself literally means ‘the place where people do not want to live’ in Herero, one of the native languages. In class we learned that many black people were forced out of their homes during the colonization period and placed in an underdeveloped, inaccessible part of Windhoek, further away from the center of the city. My classmates and I have heard many things about this specific township from the local people. People in Windhoek repeat a stereotype that Katutura is dangerous and that we should not go there. I have even heard people derogatorily refer to it as the ‘ghetto’, but as I spent time there with my friend I felt very safe and met many friendly people as he showed me around the town. We even stopped to buy hotdogs at a local hotdog place and I later got to meet the owner. Through my experiences, I have been able to establish my own perspective by spending time with local people and seeing how they live, and to me that is much more important than listening to another person’s interpretation of a place. If I had listened to others’ interpretations of specific places, such as many peoples’ interpretation of Africa from the United States perspective, I may not have decided to study abroad in Namibia and I would have missed out on an amazing opportunity. I have loved every second of my time here.

I believe that one of the most important things to do when studying abroad is establishing a home by building a community in the place where you will be staying for the next four months, and that is exactly what I have attempted to do during my time in Windhoek. Making friends with local people, spending time with them, and attending events held in town has really helped me to feel at home and gain a better understanding of what life in Windhoek, Namibia is like. It has also allowed me to expand my learning of what we have been discussing in the classroom and gain a ground view of Windhoek, and how the history of colonization and political progress from independence are still evident and having effect today. With a little over a month left of my study abroad experience, I am excited to continue to build relationships with people and experience new opportunities that will broaden my horizons even more and expand my interpretation of life as a part of the Windhoek community.

The Road to a Decolonized Mind

Author: Rae Erickson

Location: Namibia

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

When I decided to go to Namibia for my study abroad experience, I really did not have a full understanding of what “Globalization, Nation Building, and Decolonizing the Mind” actually meant. All I can say after going through this program is that I have been changed forever, and I could not be more grateful that I was lead to the Center for Global Education and Experience,  and to the unbelievable people that I have been able to meet here. From going to buy a suitcase under a rainbow, to preparing for my flight home under another, I have transformed in ways I couldn’t have imagined I would.

My cohort traveled to the Namib desert this past weekend, which is the oldest desert on Earth and was the place we stayed at the longest. Driving through the dry terrain with mountains on the horizon and oryx roaming the land beside the truck made me feel like I was inside National Geographic, or a virtual reality. The beauty of the land took my breath away, and brought me back to God in a way I had forgotten about amidst all of the stress and chaos of the end of a semester.

I would be lying if I said that being in another country has not been very, very difficult at times. I am so excited to go back home, experience the cold weather again, and see my family, but I know I am not the same person that left to go to Southern Africa in August. The four months have flown by, but they have taught me more about myself and standing up for what is right than I have learned possibly in my entire life. Along with all of the lessons I received, I also was able to go white water rafting on the Zambezi river, visit Swakopmund, Lüderitz, Cape Town, and many other places, and make some lifelong friends.

If you can choose to go anywhere to study abroad, I recommend you come to Namibia, because it has helped me solidify my values just as much as it enhanced my education!

Riding the Homesick Falls

Author: Rae Erickson

Location: Windhoek, Namibia 

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

This morning, three letters from my friends arrived in my mail slot. While I knew that one was hopefully coming, I wasn’t sure if it would make it, so seeing three waiting for me was an absolutely beautiful surprise. Being abroad for the past few months has changed me significantly, but it also has brought me even closer to my roots of who I know that I am. Dealing with mental health struggles in another country is intimidating to say the least, and missing my friends and family has been extremely difficult, but amidst these struggles, I am forced to remember why I am here, everything I am learning, and how important the people are to me that I hold close to my heart when they cannot be close to me physically. My time here has transformed me so much that I have begun going by a new nickname, Rae, that suits me in a million different ways! Without being on another continent, and meeting the people I have, I can’t say I would be the person I feel myself becoming today. This past week was fall break in Windhoek, but it was also a kind of spring break, because of the reverse seasons!! A few friends and I journeyed to Victoria Falls in Zambia, where we swam next to beautiful rainbows and saw little pockets of God. Even though the waves of homesickness have been as great as the crashing rapids of the Zambezi River, I know that this is where I am meant to be. Being in this other worldly place was truly a wild contrast to the experience of the week prior, when we stayed in northern Namibia for our rural homestay! Being in Outapi was one of the hardest things that I have ever done, but it was also one of the most rewarding. Throughout my whole time in this country, I have realized over and over again how strong and lucky that I really am. Prior to my departure in August, I was terrified of what was to come. Every day that I am here, I know that my little vial of bravery is inching upwards. Every day that I am here, I become more educated about how the injustices of the world are often covered up, how much I really have, and where my passions are leading me.

In Outapi, my homestay family had five loving children and two welcoming parents. The father of the family was the Vice Head of the village, and we talked at length about his responsibilities, as well as the accessibility of healthcare in his village. Because health services are so available in the US, it was heartbreaking but also incredibly eye opening to see firsthand how not everywhere on the planet has this luxury at their fingertips. I will always remember the hugs and company of the two little girls in particular, Alina and Monika, when reflecting on this time of my journey here. Even though the littlest one did not speak a lot of English, she squeaked out the cutest “THANK YOU!” once I gave her the necklace I made her on my final day in their home. Sitting around the campfire and singing songs in Oshiwambo and English will be something I will hold with me throughout the rest of my life, forever and ever.

 

The last thing I want to touch on for this blog is my experience in Etosha National Park. We drove into the park and immediately saw thousands of zebras! Passat, the driver for CGEE, has a passion for game drives, and senses creatures coming out of the darkness like no one I have ever met. On our first night in the park, we stayed in a chalet, and visited a watering hole. There were tons of friends that came to visit, emerging timidly out of the night to drink while we all watched as quietly as possible. A giraffe, two rhinos, three zebras, and an entire herd of elephants joined the site, creating a moment charged with power, spirituality, and grace. The next night, we camped before embarking on our long journey back to Windhoek. The calm presence of the animals was exactly what we needed before returning back to CGEE’s home base!

Roots

Author: Grace Erickson
Location: Windhoek, Namibia

 

In my colonized mind, I saw Africa as a whole continent. In my colonized mind, I saw everyone in Africa as totally different from me since they were coming from another culture. In my colonized mind, in my colonized mind, in my colonized mind… Traveling from South Africa, to Eastern Cape, to Cape Town, to (finally) Namibia has already changed who I am forever. While it has been difficult at times to realize how much growth I still have ahead of me, my experience thus far has also prompted me to better the world in ways that I had never even considered before. It is painful to have a greater awareness of the fact that not everyone on our lovely Earth is always being heard equally, but I now know that learning about the injustices of the world is the first step to changing them. The very best lessons and memories I have, have come from being pushed beyond my comfort zone. Amidst the challenging intellectual and emotional times here, there are sprinkled moments of beautiful serenity and friendship. One of my favorite moments from the cohort’s fieldtrips was Freedom Park in South Africa where there was a spiritual reflection space. It was a location that was meant to help you find your headspace to reflect on our ancestors whom had sacrificed everything during their tireless work to fight oppression. Sitting barefoot on the ground in front of the monument, I found myself sinking into my meditative state. I lost track of time as I was hugged by the whisper of spirits around me.

I found myself feeling exceptionally whole during my time in the mountains at Elundini. The fog drifted over the side of the mountain as dogs, chickens, cows, sheep, pigs, and goats galloped around us. I looked through the window while making homemade bread and felt one with the foggy froth of fog above us. To actually make your own bread, gather firewood from the forest, then actually bake it over a fire, is something I never would have made the time for in the US. The lack of any rush in daily life has been dreamlike after living somewhere that emphasizes the importance of making use of every moment.

During my homestay in Pimville, Soweto, my sweet friends Zama and Faith reiterated this by chiding us for walking too fast on the way to the grocery store, not packing a million activities into one day, and encouraging us to relax. Their spirit and friendship, both with each other and us, lives with me to this day. Our memory of simply going to the park is one that makes me glow with joy.

The last moment I would like to share from my first leg of this journey is from appreciating art. Once again, I found myself surprised at my own surprise that there were so many similarities to my own art, and that which I saw in a museum that is thousands of miles away from my home. While speaking with an art director at an art center in Katutura, he emphasized again and again the importance of knowing your roots. We may all come from different places, but we are the same material. The beauty and depth of many of the pieces empowered me to continue to look within myself for what I was meant to create in order to make my impact, both here, and eventually back where I came from.

The Long Road Home

Author: Keith Nagel
Location: Windhoek, Namibia

As I close out this semester with one final blog, I thought it would be an opportune time to talk about my long journey home. Today I will travel to three different continents, pass over great deserts and wide open oceans, and end up in my back yard playing fetch with my dog. From Windhoek Namibia, to Amsterdam, and finally across the United States to my home will take a full day of travel. Even though the travel seems rigorous, it was certainly not the hardest part about my trip home. For me, and many other people that study abroad, the hardest thing about leaving is saying goodbye to new friends and your home away from home. The final week is most likely going to be stressful with final projects and last minute souvenir shopping, so my advice is to try and get as much done in advance as you can.

 

Another thing that that is not often thought about is the need for re-integration into your own home culture. It seems odd to think that you need to be reminded about life back home, but it is important so you don’t end up having a culture shock in your own country. Coming from Namibia I anticipate having a bit of a culture shock with the amount of people in the United States, the relative wealth of America, and even driving on the right side of the road again. These societal differences will be different for each study abroad experience but one can expect that it might be hard at first to get back in the swing of things. This includes reconnecting with old friends after spending so much time with new ones you made while away. In these final days it is important to spend time with the people and places you most connect with on your study abroad experience. One day I hope to think of the amazing people I met long ago, and wonder what they will go on to see in worlds that I shall never know. Be conscious of the fact that you experienced a world that many of your friends will never know, and be reassured in that your study abroad friends will continue to experience the world in new ways you never will as well. It is important to look back on the memories you shared with friends, I have included a few memories of my own favorite moments in the images in this blog. A few final remarks: pursue your dreams, take as many pictures as you can, never trade the thrills of living for the security of existence, immerse yourself into what your learning, and never take your experience for granted. Goodbye Namibia, see you soon.

Living Off the Grid

Author: Keith Nagel

Location: Windhoek, Namibia 

 

Living off the grid isn’t just for doomsday preppers and Bond villains. For roughly a quarter of the worlds population living without access to electricity, it is an every day struggle. Although it is usually a novelty or unfortunate economic reality for many, living off the grid can actually be a good thing. This is one of the many realization I had while staying at the NaDEET desert camp in the Namib desert of Namibia. The camp’s focus was to educate us students on sustainable practices in almost every aspects of their lives.

During our stay at the camp, our food was cooked by the sun in solar ovens, our electricity was provided by solar panels, and our water was strictly monitored. The unfortunate reality is that for dry countries like Namibia, these practices may not just be a option but a means of survival in the near future. Developing countries are disproportionately affected by climate change, and Namibia is already struggling to provide enough water to its growing population.

While traveling in new places,​​​​ I have always thought that it is important to learn about the physical land itself. Studying abroad is an amazing opportunity to do so because chances are you’ll be learning in a completely new environment that welcomes some exploring. Living sustainability and off the grid in the Western world should not just be a way of life reserved for people who drive Prius’ and organically source their kale chips. Tech leaders like Elon Musk of Tesla are already planning of a world where a home’s roof tiles will power the family car and the rest of the house fully off any grid. This trip was so influential to me because it motivated me to take an honest reflection on my practices and understanding of global impacts. If we are one day able to realize the dream of tech geniuses and conservationists, the results may be just as magical as the stars in the light free Namibian night sky.

Don’t Forget to Have a Little Fun

Author: Keith Nagel

Location: Windhoek, Namibia

It’s not every day that you get to see flamingos, eat amazing food, take atv’s into the desert with a bunch of your friends, or sand board the tallest dunes in to world all in the same day, so when you get the chance to…you better take it. After the honeymoon phase is over at about 3/4 of the way through your study abroad experience things may start to plateau as you concentrate on essays, tests, and the rest. A little fun is a great way to break the monotony. I know one of the best decisions I have made on my time in Namibia has been to take advantage of every adventurous opportunity I can get my hands on. Because the Namibian program is so structured around travel, it wasn’t hard to find new fun each weekend. If you get the chance, take the long road trip to the coast, climb the tallest thing you can find (unless your studying in Nepal, in which case you should probably train a little before doing so), book a flight to a new country, or just take a walk around your new home. I guarantee it will change your life. It has certainly changed mine.

One of the best places to pursue these carpe diem adventures in Southern Africa is in Swakopmund, Namibia. This historically significant town on the Western coast promises thrill seekers and scenic travelers alike an experience they wont forget. Actress Angelina Jolie loved the town so much that she chose to give birth to her daughter at the local Swakopmund hospital. We had learned about the town in class, but it turned out to be far more than just the small coastal town we read about in books. It’s pointless for a student to paint scenes of a place in their mind when they can go outside and stand in it. We studied the lasting German colonial influence, the first genocide of the 21st century, the rich fishing industry, and the effect that growth has had on the marine populations. This made the extracurricular activities we did even more enriching because we felt like we really knew the town and it’s history far more than any tourist off the street. And we certainly had a good time as well.

Swakopmund sits at the edge of the skeleton coast, where the tallest dunes in the world meet the Atlantic Ocean in splendid fashion. What is even better is we were able to rent ATV’s and explore the dunes in all their glory. I think this trip was the programs best mix of academic and fun activities that we had all semester. It is so important to not forget to have a little fun on your study abroad experience. In a place like Namibia it seems like fun and adventure is around every corner. So get out there and explore as many as you can.

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