Fall of my senior year at Alabama my best friend Sarah Justus, also a Music Education undergraduate, told me about the COST program (The Consortium for Overseas Student Teaching). The thought of teaching abroad terrified me. I imagined the worst–being alone, different languages, and really bad foreign food; why would I subject myself to that?
After my initial hesitation, I imagined I would get some “sign” if going abroad was written in the cards for me. I got everything BUT that. My parents were not too keen on the idea, and my grandmother was absolutely against it. It goes with out saying that it worked out, because I’m typing this blog 5,366+ miles from home, but for those who are considering–One plus to the long process of applying–it gives everyone who is near and dear time to get acquainted with the idea of letting you go.
The application process began. It wasn’t easy, but it came together by the deadlines. I completed the essays, the interviews, etc. I listed my four countries: Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, and Germany. Months of waiting for my placement went by, and I imagined myself in all four places. I googled every thing interesting I could find to be prepared. SIDENOTE: I am not in one of the four places I listed. I’m in Knysna, South Africa! When I got my confirmation email I thought it was definitely sent to the wrong person. I was told everyone ALWAYS got one of there four choices. Then I vaguely remembered checking the little box in the-longest-application-ever, saying that I would be willing to go to ANY location available. I was excited and confused, I couldn’t pronounce Knysna (ˈnaɪznə, meaning “ferns”), so naturally I pulled up the Lion King soundtrack did a victory dance to the circle of life, called my friends and family, and posted to the world of Facebook/twitter/instagram that I was going to South Africa. It was finally real.
Getting to South Africa consisted of numerous emails, phone calls, goodbyes, and shopping 🙂 How does one pack for 15 weeks, two seasons, and teaching supplies? I managed to fit everything into two suitcases, but they both exceeded the 50 lbs weight limit. The flight was the first concern for me. I don’t like airplanes. One of the coolest things was sitting down on my flight from Atlanta to Johannesburg all by myself. I had the only row in the whole plane and I laid down and slept about half of the 15 hours. Some people watch movies, but my advice is sleep. I had a 15 hour lay over in the Johannesburg airport and that wasn’t the best. I might have slept in a coffee shop, but hey, I got through it, so can you.
I’ve been in South Africa for a month now, and it has flown by faster than I could have ever imagined. This place and these people are enchanting. I’ve learned more about every aspect of life by being immersed into South African culture. Comparing and contrasting language, politics, and geography with what I’ve known my whole existence is mind boggling. We are so small in this huge world. There’s no time to blink, and little time to sleep.
I got placed with a lovely host family of five, and they arranged for me to stay in their garden cottage in their backyard. I’ve hardly had any time to miss home because they have made such a warm place for me here. I also got an international drivers license, and I am learning how to drive on the wrong side of the road, in a stick shift. My host dad says, “I’m really living now.” The school here is lovely, and it overlooks the lagoon that this small town is built around. During my time here I am teaching music to students in grades K-7 for the first six weeks, and 8-12 for the last six weeks. We are already having a wonderful time learning and making music together. I can’t wait to bring African music back to the States.
If you are considering studying abroad you have to do it. Don’t over analyze every particular. Don’t limit yourself–go for it and don’t look back. Open your heart and your mind to a part of the world that will only change you for the better. Let it have its chance.