Nature is one of God's best gifts to mankind. I can't accurately describe the beauty that I witnessed on this trip. I just remember trying to savor the moments of overlooking mountain tops, sunrises, sunsets and boat rides. All the elements of nature were present in one instance and working together to create such picturesque moments. Not to mention, there were moments where I was less than 5 feet away from uncaged lions, penguins and baboons. It was somewhat overwhelming trying to capture these moments on my camera but also soak in the moments real time. There are many beautiful places in the world, but I would say that Cape Town, South Africa is unique in the fact that nature's views are accessible from almost everywhere in the city (suburbs, cities and townships), whether you are a local commuting to work or a tourist climbing Table Mountain for a particularly nice view of the city.
We have the ability to do more with less. I took this trip with four of my classmates in the MBA program so that we could interview stakeholders in the after school sector for our research project. Our research project focuses on increasing advocacy and resources for the after school sector in South Africa as a solution to solve some of the country's problems surrounding education, crime, teenage pregnancy, unemployment, etc. The idea is that if more youth were involved in after school programs, then it would strengthen their educational performance and broaden their post-educational opporutnities. We visited some of the townships in Johannesburg and Cape Town which are extremely poverty-stricken and overpopulated areas. It was devastating to witness the low quality of life that people who live in these areas endure every day. However, when riding through the townships to visit different NGOs for interviews, I noticed that locals' attitudes towards their situation were not negative ones. I saw merchants making transactions, women washing clothes, children walking home from school, etc. Yes, it may have been a little chaotic in how things operated, but people were pushing forward with their lives. So, this made me think about the misfortunes that we deal with in America and how important it is to look at the glass as half full rather than half empty.
Be accepting but not complacent. From an introspective standpoint, I learned so much about myself on this trip. My comfort zone is usually at home in my own solitude. So, this preference was stripped away for the last two summers being that I participated in international trips that required me to cohabitate with other students for an extended amount of time. I've learned to fully embrace my quirks and be open to sharing my strengths and weaknesses with others. There's strength in being vulnerable about the best and worst parts of yourself because, as quiet as its kept, others also struggle with social acceptance with the key question being: where do I fit in? However, I've learned that my "sweet spot" in social groups has been the areas in which I stand out. There's value in owning the aspects of yourself that don't align or mesh with the popular status quo. This provides the opportunity to give others insight on things that they may have not understood or been exposed to before. It may lead people to approach or deal with problems differently. I choose to lead by setting the example of being myself at all times. Others learn to adapt to you and vice versa based on a natural aggregation of different personalities. This lesson is not only valuable in the context of global and group travel, but in any context where human interaction is necessary. Remember to accept and value who you are (flaws and all) and you will be more likely to build authentic relationships with those around you.
Find meaning and connections to foreign places. I completed an ancestery.com DNA test last summer to find out more details about my ethnicity and the results showed that I am 80% West African by way of Nigeria, Congo, Benin/Togo. So, when I found out I would be taking a trip to South Africa, I was excited to even be on the same continent as my ancestors. Visiting the Lesidi Cultural Museum and learning about the different tribes (i.e. Zulu, Xhosa) made me even more interested in learning about my heritage in Africa. South Africa has a very unique culture and history that is similar, in some respects, to the racial tensions that exist(ed) in America but definitely not the same. I found a new appreciation and respect for the challenges this country has overcome to get to where they are today. As is the case for many countries, there is still room for improvement in terms of politics, education, human rights and equality. This trip has inspired me to take a trip to West Africa and learn more about the history, successes and challenges that are faced in this region.
Overall, I still haven't fully internalized the wealth of information and experience that I've attained on this trip. In fact, it's Day 5 of my return from South Africa and I'm still experiencing jet lag. I do know that this trip has added to my understanding of the world as a whole in that even though we come from different places and experience different ups and downs in life, we are all connected by humanity. We all want the same things like access to education, food and water, love, equality and respect. There's a common thread between all of us and we should spend more of our energy focused on meeting each other's needs there rather than focusing on the differences that exist between us. I look forward to traveling to other places around the globe to do just that.
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