Hometown: Albuquerque, NM
The school year is beginning and I am excited to see my professors and classmates again. It is hard to believe that it has been almost a year since I saw them. They appear happy to see me also and the question, “How was Africa?” has come up several times. I sincerely appreciate the interest but I still have not found an adequate way to articulate the incredible experiences that composed my semester abroad in Botswana.
Botswana is a landlocked country directly north of South Africa. Like most countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, it is a place of great natural beauty and dynamic culture. In the early 1990’s the country was greatly impacted by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Although the HIV infection rate is still high, the Botswana government developed an incredible system that provides psychosocial and medical support to families impacted by the epidemic. Botswana seemed like a great adventure and a chance to see if global health would be a good potential career choice. After a year of preparation, help from our fantastic International Programs Office, and being successfully admitted as an ISEP exchange student, I left in January 2013 with no expectations or idea of African life beyond “The Lion King”!
Probably the biggest aspect I miss about Botswana life are the connections I made with other people. Since the University of Botswana did not have an organized leadership center like we do at the Fort, I initially struggled to connect with the locals. However for two months I practiced volleyball with the University Men’s team for fun, and started to volunteer at the Health and Wellness Centre. The Centre was able to connect me to the University’s peer educators in SAHA (Society Against HIV/AIDS), and eventually I was able to volunteer with the Baylor Clinic and experience psychosocial work with HIV positive children. I also participated in the University’s Psychology Club for a while. Interacting with the locals provided great Setswana (the official Bantu language of Botswana) practice! I also made an incredible group of friends with my fellow exchange students, especially my fantastic Australian roommate! Together we navigated African culture and traveled to South Africa (twice!), Lesotho, the natural wonders of Botswana, and the incredible Victoria Falls. May, my departure month, came way too quickly.
Most importantly my time in Botswana eliminated a lot of stereotypes about Africa. The children with HIV are not hopeless: they are so vivacious. Africa is not one entity and each country has its own culture and influences. Also during the frequent power outages and hand washing my clothes, I have found that I enjoy a simpler lifestyle than one overwhelmed with technology. However I am even more in love with the open-minded concept of a liberal arts education.
If you told me as a high school senior that in college I would be living in Africa for four months, I would have thought you were crazy. However, the answer to the question, “why did you choose Africa?” is Fort Lewis College. If I hadn’t had the chance to volunteer with Engineers without Borders in rural Ecuador for two projects, I probably would not think I was capable of an authentic African experience or interested in global health. Now I am even more passionate about a career in global health and I am applying for the Peace Corps. I miss Africa and I definitely plan on returning to the continent in the future because, “Ke rata Africa thata.” I love Africa very much!