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Memories of Namibia and South Africa

This reflection was sent to us by Maria Marzullo, a student from Valparaiso University that went on CGEE’s spring 2020 semester program to Namibia and South Africa. Thank you, Maria, for the wonderful reflection and photos you have shared with us!

Memories with CGEE in Namibia & South Africa

I knew I wanted to study abroad since before I even applied to college. I knew I wanted to travel to a place most of my peers would not. I wanted to be challenged and pushed out of my comfort zone. While in Namibia and South Africa, I met some of the greatest people and had experiences I will never forget. 

three women stand on a large rock with the blue ocean behind them
Spring 2020 Students in South Africa

Landing in Johannesburg was a relief. My journey to South Africa had not been smooth. A blizzard canceled my flight in Chicago and I was on the phone with multiple airlines trying to get on the next flight to Johannesburg. At the moment I was extremely stressed out and filled with self-doubt since I was completely alone in an airport for the first time in my life. All my previous travels I had been with friends or family. But now, I look back and smile. It made stepping off that plane at OR Tambo Airport so much sweeter.

I did not really know what to expect at the airport, but it was a feeling of excitement and anticipation. Not nervousness or apprehension. I had ended up on the same flight as my classmate, Imani, so we were able to experience our first moments in Johannesburg together. I remember meeting Sarah and Alex for the first time, and we greeted each other like we had already met. While Namibia and South Africa are amazing places in themselves, I believe the people I spent my time with there made the experience so much more meaningful. Everyone at CGEE are incredible. All my classmates and I really clicked from the beginning. Especially my two amazing roommates, Tiffani and Sienna, and I got along super well. Every Tuesday and Thursday was hot breakfast day so the three of us would grab our breakfast and sit our on the balcony and enjoy the morning.

Something I did not expect to learn in Namibia was how to relax and enjoy life. I have always been so focused on what is next and so uptight about everything I do being perfect that I realize I have not taken the time to enjoy the present. While in Soweto, my host sister, Zama, took myself and my classmates who were staying with her family on a walk around Pimville. I remember I kept walking too fast and she kept telling me to slow down and enjoy where we were walking. We would get to our destination. As someone who is not accustomed to mentally

four people stand on a balcony with tall buildings in the background
While in Soweto, our host sister, Zama, took us to the Neighborhood Market and taught us how to use a taxi in Joburg. This is pictured on the balcony of the market.

slowing down for anything, it was a little difficult. It might sound strange but learning to slow down was a big step for me. I do not think Zama even knows the effect her words had on me, but I believe I got more out of this study abroad experience because of her lesson.

I knew this program was based on experiential learning and less on conventional education methods, but what I did not know is quickly and freely learning would come. Almost every class involved talking to a speaker who was an expert on the topic of the class or traveling on a field trip. One development class stands out to me. My teacher, Freddy, casually tells the class of four that we will be going to the United Nations Development Program. I thought I misheard him because there is no way that we are going to the actual United Nations! We went to the United Nations! It is one thing to read about the UN Sustainable Development Goals online; read news articles about clean energy in Southern Africa or something. But it is completely different to sit down at the UNDP and learn exactly how the UN and Namibian government are working together to implement the SDGs from the Deputy Representative in Namibia. To experience is to learn in the most absolute way because you attach memory and emotions to facts, at least that’s how I look at it.

The experience of studying abroad is like nothing I have ever felt. I think what I will remember most about Namibia will be the little things. The feel of the sun in the morning or the smell of the ocean at Diaz Point in Lüderitz. The movie nights with my friends, yoga with Suzi and the kittens on Fridays, and the conversations in the car home with my host dad in Windhoek. Studying abroad was exciting but it was also peaceful. I felt completely at home being so far away from the US and in a constant state of change. I had no idea what the next day would bring, but it was the unknown that I earned to embrace and be comfortable with. I learned to go with the flow and enjoy the process. Relax and enjoy the little moments in life as well as the big picture.

Having to leave Namibia sooner than intended was heartbreaking. I feel I have unfinished business there. But I believe I will return because of this incomplete feeling. I made so many memories during the time I spent there with some of the greatest people and I fell in love with the country. I would not change any of it for the world!

six people wearing lanyards stand in front of a UNDP mural
Students on a class trip to the United Nations Development Program