“What’s the worst thing about going on Study Abroad?” – a question asked at my pre-departure workshop, which was over a year ago now. The only answer the returnee could think of was that he wasn’t prepared for how sad he was when it was over and returned back to ‘normal’ life in the UK. I prepared myself for this, as I packed up my room in South Africa and said my goodbyes to the close friends I made out there. Yet what my experience has shown me, since my return from South Africa, is that my life will never be ‘normal’ again: it’ll be better. Luckily, I haven’t experienced reverse culture shock this time around (I had a bad case when I returned from the year I spent in Swaziland on my gap year); this time I’ve been able to really enjoy being reunited with my family and friends, and obviously my dog, since coming home!
Don’t get me wrong, I am gutted to be back from South Africa. There are so many things there that you just can’t beat; the weather, the music, the vibrant culture and, not least, friendly, fun-loving South Africans! I will miss the trips to gorgeous beaches on the garden-route coast, safaris less than two hours away from uni, the night-life of Johannesburg and the stunning views from Table-Top mountain in Cape Town. My key memory will most definitely be the Easter holidays when my cousin who is a dancer on a cruise ship docked in Port Elizabeth and we got to spend time together in this gorgeous city, followed by a week of making friends with complete strangers in backpackers and attending all the local events and South African braiis (bbqs). That’s not to say that there wasn’t hard times too, but I stand by the fact that the beauty of my year abroad was that I experienced a completely different culture to the Western ‘model’ and way of life and now have a huge appreciation of this culture and (already!) a longing to go back.
As well as all the memories and the amazing friends I made, I know there are so many experiences that I will carry with me through to my final year and beyond. These include experiences such as conducting my own research project in Swaziland for York Union, volunteering in the township near the University on a weekly basis, and being at Rhodes during the national #FeesMustFall protests where the students literally shut down the University for a good few days. Most of all I can say that my year abroad has given me loads more confidence- its helped me with internship applications and I’ve even started looking into Masters programmes, which I never imagined for myself at the start of my degree. Though I’m sad it’s over, because now I’m on the other side of the world from some amazing friends (thank God for facetime!), I have so much to be grateful for and I would do it all over again if I could- even the water outages and power cuts!