Since arriving back in the States, I have had time to reflect upon the incredible five weeks experience that South Africa had offered me. Whether it’s minor details like learning to navigate international airports on my own or now being educated in the heartbreaking history of the country, I can confidently say that I grew immensely as an individual over that rather short period of time. I don’t believe that I am a different individual coming out of the trip than when I was going in, but instead I feel that I have developed a newfound perspective on everyday life, economics, and what it means to be a global citizen.
For one, I’m humbled and better recognize my privilege. South Africa, as I have written about in previous posts, is plagued with huge economic disparities and vastly unequal wealth distribution. I often questioned my intentions while there due to this. Why was I sometimes so caught up in taking the perfect picture or finding the best restaurant when so many of the people around me had legitimate struggles they were dealing with? Struggles that I can only understand on a superficial level. One struggle, in particular, that I think about often is Cape Town’s water crisis. While there, we all made sure to diligently conserve water in any way possible. This included taking sixty second showers and using the “If it’s yellow, let it mellow” rule when using the restroom. Within a day or two, our efforts soon became habits and our lives seemed completely ineffective by using less water. Though, when I returned back home to the States, I understood how much water Americans truly waste. I was hyperaware of every misuse of water around me due to five weeks of water conservation. Had I been conserving water the way I had been in South Africa for my entire life, how much water could I have saved over the course of my lifetime? It’s something to think about.
Academically and professionally, I found that being a global citizen is not only being educated on worldly topics but also having intentions to help those around you. South Africans take pride in being globally aware. Their country is brand new and, because of that, they study the world news each and every day to be a better citizen when it comes to making change in their nation. Many times, South Africans would ask us our own opinions on world politics and we would be unable to answer. This was especially embarrassing, so I made a promise to myself while there that I would try to stay as updated as possible on news from around the world—not just news that affects me.
In all, my time in South Africa was nothing less than incredible. It definitely goes without saying, but my experience personally, academically, and professionally will be affected for the better in the future because of those wonderful five weeks—and I couldn’t be more grateful. Thank you.