Monday, 4 February 2013

Don't Fall Asleep!

Photo of the 2013 Ubuntu group, courtesy of Mike Rezin.

That was the first challenge we faced in South Africa: stay awake against our internal clock set to Eastern Standard Time until it was night-time here in South African Standard Time. We arrived at the airport in Johannesburg at half past eight in the morning, which meant we had a whole day ahead of us to zombie through. A lucky few slept on the plane, but spending sixteen hours uncomfortably curled up against a hard arm rest didn't make for sound sleep. And this was after months of preparation which included obtaining police clearance, fulfilling a 14-item check-list in order to apply for a study permit, figuring out how to pack efficiently for a five month move, and saying goodbye to all we love.

Just who are we? We are a group of students from Fordham University in New York City who chose to study abroad in Pretoria, South Africa from the beginning of February until the end of June. We will be studying at the University of Pretoria through the Ubuntu Program. Yet this isn't any ordinary study abroad trip; it's specifically a service learning program through which we will volunteer within a nearby community and offer our help where it is needed at various sites. I, Julie Goetz, an Anthropology and Creative Writing student, will be blogging about our adventures.

Not falling asleep was far from easy, but our leaders and mentors kept us active with a long walk around the nearby athletic fields and gym where we'll be running, exercising, and playing football (known as soccer in the States). When the evening came around, we gathered in a local square to watch a football game between South Africa and Mali. The energy of the crowd kept me well awake until midnight - after the game had ended and we had walked back to the village.

The next day, Sunday, we explored the nearby Hatfield Plaza and Market and bought a few necessities. Then we had our first Themeli Boot Camp experience: running, exercises, and stretches - all to prepare us for football and to help us get in shape (or keep in shape for the athletes of the group). The altitude made breathing a difficulty even for the experienced runners of the group, but we should get used to it with time. After a trying workout, we were rewarded with a "braai," a barbecue, held to officially welcome us. Both food and conversation were great.

On Monday we had orientation for our study abroad trip. Jesuit leaders led us in some ice breakers and reflection exercises, plus handed out journals to each of us. Part way through the orientation, we went on a tour of the surrounding areas. We visited the Union Buildings, featured behind us in the group picture at the beginning of this entry. It is the official seat оf the South African government and аlsо houses the offices оf the President оf South Africa. Afterwards, we stopped at a huge mall to exchange money, buy adapters for our electronics, and eat lunch. Upon returning we finished orientation, then went to the nearby fields to play football. Unfortunately, rain kept us from playing , but we had an impromptu ab workout once we got back to the village. Then after dinner we took a long stroll as a group to walk one of our mentors to her home.

Tomorrow we have academic orientation, but we won't start classes until Monday - thank goodness! The rest of the week looks like a promising opportunity to settle into South Africa before having to deal with the craziness of school. I'm excited about taking classes with South African students, but it's nice to first have a chance to explore South Africa and learn about what it has to offer.

The best part of the trip so far happened within the first thirty minutes. On the way from the airport to the village we are staying in, I saw giraffes! I hadn't expected such a spectacular moment so soon, but I feel it is a sign of many more great animal moments and phenomenal moments in general to come in the next five months.

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