Monday, February 6, 2012

Thoughts Become Things

I was planning on writing about my first couple weeks in South Africa in my next post, but it looks like I will officially fall behind, because today was the best day yet.  I’ve been living in Stellenbosch, one of the wealthiest municipalities in the country, I’ve traveled to Cape Town, the Cape of Good Hope, and Cape Point, I’ve seen penguins on a gorgeous beach, wild baboons and ostriches, I’ve spent an evening on a wine farm surrounded by beautiful friends; but today was the first day of classes, spent in a dusty township outside of Stellenbosch, during a heat wave.  It may not sound like the setting for my best day yet, but it was the day that I finally experienced the South Africa that I’ve been hoping for.  Don’t get me wrong – I’ve been having the time of my life here …but something was missing.  As I sat in Lynedoch Primary School today, listening to my new professor Grant Demas tell us what the next semester holds for us students in the LSCE course – Learning for Sustainable Community Engagement, I found the missing piece that will completes my heart and my passion for this incredible country. 

We will be at Lynedoch two days a week.  One day is for discussing theory; the other is for applying what we have learned, and teaching in our assigned classrooms.  I’m in Grade 3!  Perfect age group, same as my mentee Taylor in Vermont – old enough that they understand what you’re communicating, but young enough that they’re still super cute!  Each grade has one teacher and three LSCE teachers.  The other two in grade 3 are Tiffany, one of my AIFS friends, and Helga, who’s from Norway!  Grant told us that one of the children once said that they may not get to see the world, but they get to have the world come to them!  It’s things like this that make Lynedoch children so special.  They truly want to be at school, and they’re so interested in their new teachers!  I sat with a group of girls aged 10 – 13, and they were so sweet and welcoming – quite unlike how a typical American “tween” girl would act, sadly.  They shared what they knew about American culture, and they told us a little bit about what to expect from their school. 

When most people look at Lynedoch, they see poverty.  But what I have already learned today is that in its place I should see HOPE.  While these kids may have little material wealth, we learned that they feel lucky to live in South Africa, which despite all of its downfalls, is at least not a warzone.  They don’t take their school or teachers for granted.  They don’t oversleep or want to skip school.  As someone that loves children, and loves empowering children, it is such a blessing to find kids that so look forward to education and personal growth.  As for my own personal growth, I can already tell that I am quite lucky to have a professor like Grant Demas.  Grant is overflowing with knowledge and positive energy.  After just about any comment, he has a bit of insight that speaks to the very soul.  The quote from Grant that struck me most today was “thoughts become things.”  I’ve always been a dreamer, and so this quote is perfect for me.  I’ve dreamt of doing service abroad, particularly in Africa, for years, and look where I am now.  My dream became a reality.  Grant’s example however, was particularly touching.  He said that there used to be a world map in the very classroom we were sitting in today.  He asked one little boy where he wanted to go, and the little boy pointed to Norway.  Grant asked him what on earth he would do in Norway, and the little boy replied that he’d go see the king and queen!  An adorable story already, right?  Well the next year, that little boy was on a plane with Grant and a few other children, heading to Norway, at the invitation of the king and queen.  Thoughts become things. 

Friday, February 3, 2012


Soon I will write a longer post about the highlights of my time here so far (sneak peek- our first braai, dinner at Moyo on Spier Wine Farm, going to Cape Town, exploring Stellenbosch, and our first Stellenbosch University event!) but for now I’m just going to make a list of things I love most about Stellenbosch and South Africa so far.

·         Everyone is so happy and laid-back.  When a South African says they’ll do something “now-now,” that can mean right now, in an hour, tonight, tomorrow, maybe next week.  I fit right into this pace of life!

·         Everyone is SO NICE.  I’ve had more conversations with strangers in the past week than I’ve had in my whole life at home.  Sometimes it starts with someone hearing our accents and coming over because pretty much everyone here loves Americans, which is really cool!  When you ask for directions, people tend to walk you most of the way there until you have a straight shot and no possibility of getting lost. 

·         Everyone loves Americans!  American accents, music, movies, television, stereotypes.  It’s so interesting to learn what other people think about the country I’ve lived in all my life.  It’s also bizarre to hear American music every place I go.  Once when I told a South African I was from New York, his response was, “Like Blair Waldorf!!”  (Blair’s a character in Gossip Girl, for those of you who spend your time productively.)

·         South Africans are extremely proud of their country.  They are not proud of its history in regard to human rights and politics, but South Africans are fiercely South African.  They constantly gush about the country, and tell us all of their favorite places to go.

·         This place is BEAUTIFUL.  I’ve never seen so much beauty everywhere I look.  The mountains, the architecture, even the people! 

·         Shoes are optional!  It’s amazing.  It’s completely normal to see barefoot adults and children alike strolling through a mall, the street, or a bar.  To deem the dress code of an event or venue, one is told whether or not shoes are required.  So far I’ve only been one place where I needed shoes!

·         Stellenbosch is the perfect college town.  It’s like a bigger, more diverse and cultural Burlington.  There’s always something going on!

·         Of course I have to mention the weather.  It’s beautiful, and although I have a terrible sunburn right now, I’d take that over snow any day.  It’s hot but breezy, not too humid, and cool in the shade – perfect!

·         Finally, I’m in AFRICA.  (I know, common theme in my posts).  I’m on the continent that I’ve wanted to travel to ever since I can remember.  And it’s my home for the next five months!  It’s better than I ever imagined.  South Africa is both a first and third world country, which is terribly sad, but also very interesting from a sociological perspective.  I am definitely going to learn a lot here, both from my classes and just from living in this amazing country.
right outside my building!

Ginny, me, and Corie having a snack in Stellenbosch

Flatmates - Shana, me, Brooke, and Hallie in Cape Town!

masks in a market near school