Hi everyone, it’s been a while since my first bog post and since I left the US. In my defense, every last second of these past three weeks has been filled to the brim with learning, exploration, and hanging out with other students. My goal for this blog is to get everybody reading this in the know of what’s up and what went down.
My experience with TBB began Monday night in New York City where we all gathered in the same hotel and got to know each other. While this meeting was brief, everyone seemed to click instantly, which was a great sign. The next morning everyone gathered at the airport, said their farewells, and we were on our way. If I learned anything from the flight down to South Africa, it’s that 16 hours gives you plenty of time to worry and get homesick. Luckily enough, as soon as we landed, my worries left me because the group began chatting away, singing songs, and tossing a Frisbee around. I remembered that these were the people I’d be spending the next half of my year with and that really cheered me up seeing again, how well we got along.
I’ll spare you all the details of the 4 hour drive that followed, but rest assured we ended up at Ingwe (a team building “resort”/lodge), the place we would spend the next week at for TBB’s orientation. I can honestly say my week at Ingwe was one of the most memorable ones of my life (the fact that I began journaling that week certainly helps). The week was filled with a mix of team building exercises, group discussions, and relaxing with friends. Oh and reading as well, lots of reading. I noticed one crazy thing during this week that I came out of my introverted shell and was an extrovert for one of the first times in my life. I feel the reason is that everyone here is so accepting of each other and are overwhelmingly positive. People like that really make you enjoy every second you spend with them. Anyway, because we all got along so well, I quickly found myself staying up late goofing off, or going out in nature to look at the stars and talk about anything and everything. The best thing is that the talks we had as friends transitioned back and forth from goofy topics to ones we discussed in seminars. This trip is teaching me to be open to ideas and to express myself better than I ever have been able to.
When we weren’t in seminars or reading, we were on hikes to spend the afternoon at the ocean, we were cliff diving and zip-lining through a canyon, we were staying up till 2 in the morning playing soccer in the lodge, we were singing in the woods, playing Frisbee, chilling with monkeys, eating ostrich steaks, having giant group hugs, and taking goofy photos. I was exposed to plenty of new things, constantly keeping me on my toes and looking forward to the next day.
When my week at Ingwe finally ended reality hit me that I no longer would be staying in the little slice of paradise outside Plettenberg Bay. Driving by the townships that we would be staying at was definitely a shock. I became more nervous than I should have been now that I look back at it, but the living conditions I was seeing were much different that anything I had previously experienced. The Program Leaders told my homestay partner Benji and I would be staying in a township known as The Crags, one of the three locations all of the students would be placed in. That night all the students met their respective host families during dinner and then left for their new homes. I have to say Benji and I lucked out big time. Everyone in our family has quite a personality and until dark, the house is often bustling with relatives and friends of the family to keep us busy. Sometimes we’d find ourselves sitting around a fire talking about politics or the differences in our cultures, but others we’d be having an impromptu dance party or Benji would bust out the guitar and we’d all sing along. I just feel fortunate to have transitioned so comfortably into such a nice group of people who genuinely wish to learn from us just as much as we wish to learn from them (I’ve already learned a little Afrikaans and the rules of cricket).
Our job in The Crags is working at the local clinic assisting the nurses and carers with whatever may be needed that day. Being honest, the workdays go slowly but I’ve decided that is attributed to the lack of punctuality and organization here. A single doctor comes every Monday to see the locals various needs but only one at a time. I’ve met a few patients who have waited multiple whole days just to be seen by the doctor (each spaced a week apart), which makes me realize how easy it is to for example, have a simple infection spread to something much worse. It’s frustrating to see the lack of efficiency here be one of its largest weaknesses so I feel slightly better when I’m asked to organize files just to make the system slightly speedier. Still, I’m learning how the public health system in South African townships functions and how it relates to the poverty, mass illness, and feeling of hopelessness I’ve seen from many of the patients.
The weekends here are amazing. Various TBB students and I often find ourselves in Plett exploring when we have free time. The coast here is absolutely beautiful, picturesque of a postcard. I often have a reality check when the beach I’m standing on takes me aback. Taking a break from the rigorous schedule TBB has set up for us is necessary for tackling the next full week of new experiences.
I’m incredibly happy with my decision to take a gap year. The sheer amount of new people I’ve met, things I’ve learned, and experiences I’ve had in only 3 weeks is incredible and I can’t express how excited I am to spend the next 6 months with these people. Thank you for taking the time to read this far. Until next time!