This summer I was lucky enough to experience a two month public health program in Botswana, a small country directly above South Africa, well known for its unique cuisine, wildlife, and very kind people. It was, without a doubt, the best experience of my entire life- but it certainly didn’t start that way!
I said a gut-wrenching goodbye to my parents at the airport as my two packed bags, my best friend, and myself prepared for the two day journey it took to arrive in Gaborone, Botswana. And, damn, when I arrived…I was absolutely terrified. It was a dusty city of bright trash and red dirt. That first day, as I tearfully and shakily hooked a padlock onto the grimy little door of the room I would call home for the next two months, I said aloud, “What am I doing here?”. I truly had no idea. I didn’t belong, I had very little interest in learning how to belong, and I began a mental clock that counted down the days, hours, minutes until I would board the return plane home.
But gradually, I warmed up to Africa. The people were nice, the sun intense, the campus monkeys numerous and mischievous. I toured local clinics and hospitals, learned rudimentary Setswana, rode camels, saw a Namibian sunset, a Botswana sunrise; I toured Zambia in a helicopter, saw Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, bribed corrupt immigration officers, ate caterpillars and goat, and made friends from across the world. That mental clock was used less, and less, and less, and then…not at all.
Linked through CIEE, the program itself was wonderful. I took three classes during my time in Africa, two in health related subjects and one focused entirely on giving us a much-needed crash course in Setswana (the local language). Two days a week myself and one fellow student from the program would tour a local clinic in areas as diverse as orthodontia, sexual and reproductive health, HIV prevention and treatment, and infant wellness; the rest of the week was devoted to classes and travel. Although stationed primarily in Gaborone, Botswana, I was also able to travel to Kanye, Kasane, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Zambia!
The most important advice I could give is that it is okay to be afraid, to experience culture shock, or to not immediately feel at home. It is also important to note that people often go into “crisis mode” (a term used commonly by the administration of my program while in Botswana) at very different times. For me, I was in crisis mode the second I stepped off the plane, and that lasted for about four or five days. For several of my friends, crisis mode came swiftly and unexpectedly in the middle or near the end of the trip; this is characterized by homesickness, anxiety, and a deep frustration at small inconveniences that you normally do not have to experience at home (such as not having access to your mom’s cooking, or not
having the ability to drive your car to the store at your leisure). Just remember: it will pass! Try to stay positive and keep looking around you at all the incredible (or at least different) sights.
Grace Vincent is majoring in Nursing and studied abroad in Summer 2019 in Gaborone, Botswana with CIEE (Grace did the Summer Community Public Health program). Grace had the following to say about studying abroad, “Do it, do it, do it. Even if you’re shy or you’re not sure it’ll be ‘your thing’, it’s an opportunity that should not be missed to see some really unique parts of the world.
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