I’ve been slacking - I’ve been home for almost a week now, and I haven’t even unpacked, let alone updated my blog. This is always a problem of mine - I’ve written several short stories and travel journals, and I always lose interest right before finishing the ending. I’m only writing now because I really don’t want to go through all my belongings and repack my suitcases.
Alright, let’s rewind about a week. Last Thursday, I woke up early to pack my suitcases, because my plane left at 4:30. It took me about an hour to get everything stuffed in, but I was surprised to feel how light they were, considering how many souvenirs I had acquired over the semester. I was done packing by about 11 a.m., and then I had to take everything out of one suitcase and repack because I forgot that I had stashed my passport in the bottom lining for safekeeping. Well, it was still safe.
On a completely unrelated note,
Pro-tip #9: Don’t expect to get anything done on a public holiday in Botswana, no matter how urgent it is.
I was supposed to bring my sheets to the laundry facility, but it was closed, so I left them in front of the door. I also went to the international office to wrap up any remaining paperwork, but it was closed. I couldn’t even go check the mail one last time. Sorry, grandma, your letter will just have to sit in the office for a few years until someone throws it away, because based on the 5 years of mail buildup that’s already clogging up the mail boxes, it’s not going to be taken care of anytime soon.
I met up with some friends for lunch, because it was the last time I would see many of them. It felt really weird. I didn’t get melancholy or sentimental, like I thought I would. I was just really excited to get home. In fact, all my good-byes in Botswana were a little awkward, because it simply didn’t feel like good-bye. It was time for me to go, and while I had a lovely time with everyone and made some incredible friends, I guess I just didn’t allow myself to feel sad about the inevitable.
Besides, it’s hard to feel sad when you have the incorrigible Shannon and Mimi around! I honestly don’t know what I would have done without them - they helped haul my suitcases down four flights of stairs. They also set their afternoon aside to take me to the airport, which is one of the kindest things anyone’s ever done for me. Thanks, guys! It was a relief to have friends to keep me sane at the airport, especially considering the madness that went down in the two hours before I boarded my flight.
Alright, future study-abroad students, pay attention. This may be the most practical traveling tip I will ever give:
Pro-tip #10: When flying out of Botswana, you are allowed to check 23 kg , regardless of the limits of the airline you actually booked the tickets through.
I found this out the hard way, and instead of letting me transfer the heaviest items to my backpack so that I had a smaller fine, the agent sent my bags through and only then told me about the fine. To make matters worse, she only sent my bags to Johannesburg, even though I produced my flight details, so I had to pay another fine to British Airways once I got to the next airport because they allow one bag per passenger, even though I had booked through American Airlines, which allows two bags. This all would have been nice to know, you know, a day ago, when I checked the bloody airline baggage requirements online. At least the poor guy at the check-in counter was apologetic and knew what he was doing.
The flight back to the states was otherwise very uneventful. I met some lovely people on my flights, including a retired researcher from Finland and a Japanese businesswoman. The most interesting character, though, was a man from Maryland who sat next to me on the way to London. It startled me when he started talking, because he had an American accent! Besides the other international students, I hadn’t heard someone speak in that accent for months.
I made it through customs without incident (even though I may have smuggled illegal insects into the U.S. - does it count if it’s considered food?) and met my parents and grandma at O’Hare. I think that technically concludes my travels - except for the fact that I got Mexican food for dinner.
To be perfectly candid, there are somethings about Botswana that I’m not going to miss - the inefficiency, the sweltering January sun, the lack of variety when it comes to food - but these are all overshadowed by the good times and eye-opening experiences that I had there. I could reflect for days about my experience (and I will be ruminating on my semester abroad for years and years to come), but I won’t bother you all with my thoughts. I think that in the long run, when people ask me what I thought about studying abroad, I will unreservedly say it was TOTALLY worth it.
Perhaps the best way to measure my feelings for Botswana can be summed up in my answer to the oft-asked question, “Will you ever go back?” I would not go back to study at UB, nor would I ever want to settle there permanently. I think that if I had the opportunity to work in/with the government, or in an international NGO, however, I might consider living there for a couple of years. On the similar note, I probably would not go back just to visit, but I could see myself taking my family or good friends there someday and showing them the beautiful country.
To anticipate the other frequent question, the thing that I’m going to miss most is the people. I met some incredible individuals there that are going to make their country proud someday. I don’t think it’s hit me yet that I’ll never see many of them again. Luckily, many of the international students are located around Chicago, and we were planning our reunions even before we left. I’m glad that Shannon’s only 2 hours away from Coe, and that Mimi is only another half hour from her.
Where do I go from here? Well, I’m headed back to Coe for the summer to do research in the econ department. It’ll be difficult to get used to more rigorous academic standards again, but I’m looking forward to the challenge. If you’re looking for the not-so-literal answer to the question, then I guess I’m just going to take it easy for the next few weeks as I get re-acclimated to the states. I don’t think it will take much, because it’s much easier for me to slip back into a faster-paced lifestyle than it was for me to slow down in January. This seems opposite of what I should be feeling, so let me give you an example. I was at Best Buy to get my computer fixed (it was being held together with duct tape in Bots) and the customer service representative apologized profusely when I had to wait ten minutes. I chuckled, and he was baffled that I wasn’t mad at all. I’ve also gotten used to people not answering my emails and/or phone calls, so when people reply promptly here, I get irrationally happy. I guess that four months in Africa wasn’t sufficient to get rid of all my American habits.
I don’t really know what else to say, so I’m going to end it here (until I have some profound thought sometime in the future that necessitates my returning to this blog). All I can say is, if you wanted to hear about my travels in Southern Africa, I hope I did it justice, and if you wanted to learn more about studying abroad, I hope I helped you in some small way. Just don’t forget your sunscreen in the states, and prepare to have your mind blown.