WHAT A RELIEF! After spending 6 weeks in the polluted and stressful environment of India, we were all beyond excited to be by the beach for the rest of the trip. South Africa was definitely my favorite place we went not only because of where we were staying, but also because of our work project. To begin our stay in South Africa we stayed a few days in cabins and explored the incredible scenery and nature. We took multiple hikes and were able to hang out by the pool.
Since we were already in Plettenberg Bay, we moved in with our host families in the townships almost immediately. I absolutely LOVED the family. From the moment we moved in, we were part of the family. The family had a sister a few years older than us, a brother our age and a sister a couple years younger. It was so nice to feel at home especially when we had been away from our own for so long. One of the main reasons I took a gap year was to try to focus my passions and figure out what I wanted to possibly study in college. Working with the HIV/AIDS hospice nurses and clinics really encouraged me to pursue a career in Public Health in the future. Working along side nurses and meeting with patients taught me to look at people as individuals instead of a medical statistic. We met some inspiring people, both patients and caregivers who worked for the Organization. In seminars we discussed global public health issues and the HIV/AIDS epidemic as a whole. Since we were in South Africa, we also discussed racial problems the country still faces after the apartheid and looked at our own American history with racism. On the weekends we had the freedom to plan activities so I was able to jump the highest bungee-jump in the world, go Great White Shark diving and take various hikes around the area.
For our independent student travel weekend we all decided to visit Cape Town. The first day we visited Robin Island and saw Nelson Mandela’s famous prison cell. The next day we hiked to the top of Table Mountain to see the overlook of the entire city. That night a few of us went to the Ultra Music Festival, where we dressed up like fairies and were able to make it to the front for Skrillex. It was definitely a very successful and adventurous weekend! For the rest of our time in Plettenberg bay we helped out at the clinics and basically went to the beach everyday. It was the best way to end the year abroad.
For our last enrichment week we stayed in Addo National Park in a reserve camp. Everyday we visited a new animal sanctuary which included: birds, monkeys, and other exotic species. My favorite day of the week was when we took a boat trip to these giant sand dunes. They gave us snowboards and sleds to slide down the massive dunes. One of the days we canoed down a river to explore all the native wildlife around the area and then took a hike through a rocky mountain. Of course the most amazing part of the week was the safari through the park. We were able to see a few of South Africa’s famous Big 5, including lions, elephants, buffalo and leopards. We were all sad to end our amazing trip abroad but we were thrilled to be going home and seeing our families after several months away.