Over two years ago, I sat, with a dozen or so of my classmates, in the office of my headmaster. A pile of letters stood on the desk in front of us.
We were the students who had applied for exchange. We were the students that had been chosen to represent our school on other continents. Those letters held the exciting part, however; where we were going. When my headmaster appeared, congratulated us, and handed out the letters, I tore into mine voraciously. on a slip of paper, a crest smiled up at me, along with the words "Hilton, South Africa"
I was thrilled. It terrified me. After research, I I was going to a Christian, all-girls school in the small town Hilton, near Durban. I mercilessly stalked their website, Facebook, and Instagram. I spent way too much time on google maps. I researched, prepared and built it up in my head for months. I packed, re-packed and re-re-packed. I messaged my host family, and answered the questions for the girl who would take my place at home.
Before I left, my family threw me a going away party. It was incredible, but it was the first time I really realized that I was leaving, and I wouldn't be on the same continent as the people I loved for a quarter of a year. It hit me, hard, but I was so excited I pushed it down. It wasn't until the night before I left that I had a meltdown. But by the time the sun came up, I had put myself back together and rolled my suitcase out the door and up the driveway. We went to the airport, and I go onto my plane. Three days later, I touched down in the Johannesburg airport. After a short flight, I arrived in Durban, and it was a windy car ride with a strange lady until I arrived at my home of the next three months.
I can go on forever about my experience in South Africa. It was an experience unlike anything I had ever done before. I had the opportunity to get close with my exchange family, and discovered all the strange pieces of the community. I had never had such an adventure, and it showed me that sometimes adventures aren't always fun, but that doesn't mean they're not worth it. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
I got to see some of the most incredible sights in existence.
Incredible views, strange creatures, people and cultures I never would have known existed otherwise
I went to Lesotho and learned about the little mountain kingdom, I went to the Warwick Markets and learned about the rainbow of cultures the country housed
I pet lions and cheetahs, and I even had my first-ever blog.
I discovered the history of humanity at the cradle of Humankind, where I compared the size of my hands to those before me.
A mongoose at my friend's phone, and my dorm was broken into by a pesky monkey who made off with my box of barbie bandaids, a thumb drive, and one of my prescriptions. Not many can say a monkey stole their drugs
I pet lions and cheetahs, and I even had my first-ever blog
I went in a hot air balloon across a game reserve early one morning, and honestly saw some of the most beautiful sites in the world
And, as terrible as this sounds, I spent a lot of my exchange hating it. You see, where I was was incredibly different from everything I had ever experiences. It was so intensely regulated, and the basic freedoms I had at home I did not have there. My roommate was a kind girl, but believed I needed to be saved, taken in by the church. I spent a lot of my time at the school confused by the rules and the regulations and the expectations. The media was entirely censored by the school, and I had almost no internet access. The privilege system made no sense to me, and I spent a lot of time feeling lost and alone. On weekends, I got to go to my host family's house, which made things easier, but I was isolated during the week.
But being hopelessly lost means you can wander without worry of getting more lost. In those months, I discovered who I was. In a sense, I grew up. I learned to hold my ground, and stand by beliefs. I became okay with myself. I still struggled as high school has continued, but I've discovered that if I can move to a new country, a new continent, at the age of 15 and survive that, I can get through it.
Exchange is not for everyone. There's a reason they're a vetting process, and there's a reason not everyone goes. But there's no experience like it, and I wouldn't give up everything I learned on exchange for anything.