This morning I was closing tabs on my computer and discovered that I never posted my wrap-up blog! Whoops! Here it is, over a month after I got back from Botswana. Enjoy!
Well, the semester is over, and I am finally back in the U.S. starting off my internship for the summer. It has only been a few days, and already my time in Botswana feels so far away. It is strange to describe things to people here that felt so commonplace at the time, but are especially surprising to people here, and to talk about things that felt very exciting and interesting that people at home don’t quite understand enough to see the significance. I guess it is a bit of reverse culture shock, but it hasn’t been very difficult at all so far.
My semester in Botswana was definitely one for the books. I was pushed harder than I ever have been pushed before, had a lot of really neat and interesting experiences, but also had some really tough times when the semester just seemed to drag on forever. I think the general consensus in our group by the end was that we were all very thankful to have done this program, but it’s not a choice for the weak at heart. I don’t say that to scare anyone off, but to realistically say that Botswana isn’t the easiest place to live for four months, and you need to be ready for that. I wanted a study abroad experience unlike anything I could get anywhere else in the world, something that would force me to be brave and strong even in difficult times, and something that would leave me on the other end with an experience I would never forget and likely could never have again. This program was that for me and I am thankful.
Below is a video I made of some of our experiences from throughout the semester. It offers just a tiny glimpse of the adventures that we had, but hopefully it does a little justice for what a semester it was.
And finally, my last gift to any of you thinking about studying abroad in Gaborone, here is a little list of things I wish I knew before I came for the semester. I wrote this as the semester went by, so each statement represents a different emotional state I was in at different points in the past four months:
- 1. I should have brought more athletic type shirts in my luggage. They dry a lot easier and don’t get stiff when you wash them with hand wash soap.
- You can probably still watch Netflix once you get your Ethernet to work, but some of the good stuff is missing from Netflix in Botswana. What I wouldn’t give for a few episodes of Parks and Rec or the Office. Also you can’t watch SNL here. Which is terrible. So when you see stuff on twitter about a really good SNL sketch you make your friends at home watch it on youtube and film it and send it to you. Studying abroad in Botswana will teach you to be resourceful in a lot of ways. This is one of the more petty examples of that.
- (From March 13)- Put at least one of the blankets on your bed right away, even if that seems totally strange cause it’s ridiculously hot out. I was sleeping with just my sheets until last night, when I got a little chilly towards morning so I got out one of the many blankets they gave me during orientation and added it to my bed. All day now when I have been in my room it has felt so much more homey because my bed is covered with a pretty green blanket green instead of just plain white sheets. You don’t have to actually sleep with the blanket (I won’t tonight) but it makes your room feel a lot less like sad to see some color.
- If you like to run (or do any kind of exercise), figure out how to do it here early on. I was afraid to go running by myself for a while cause I didn’t know if it was safe, and I was afraid to ask the other ACM students if they would go running with me cause I was embarrassed about what a bad runner I am and I didn’t want people to think I was weird. Just this week (halfway through the semester) did I finally start running consistently in the evenings and it is such a game changer. If you run right around 6pm the sunset is gorgeous and I have always felt really safe running on campus. Plus, in the evenings more people are out and about running and walking, so you feel less conspicuous (when I first got here and I ran I felt like everyone stared at me like I was a weirdo. Just go with it.) Also, the gym offers a couple different zumba and yoga-type classes for free with your membership (which is only like $5 a month), and those can be super fun.
- It is easy to find peanut butter here, but the Black Cat brand one isn’t that great. It is the most common, so I bought a huge jar of it early on and now I’m suffering through that. The brand with a personified peanut on it tastes way better.
- You can Google “Gaborone combi routes” to find a pretty basic map of some of the minibus routes. It’s not completely accurate, and misses a lot of them, so definitely talk to people and make sure you are getting on the right busses, but it is helpful to give you a sense of where you might be able to find transportation and where you’ll need to take a cab.
- There are a lot of cool events happening around Gabs that will be primarily advertised on Facebook, as most places don’t have much of a website. Thapong Visual Arts Center has a lot of things you can find on the No. 1 Ladies Coffee House Facebook page. Chillstep Sundays and Redd’s Sunday Sessions are two things you can find on Facebook that have monthly music festival type things that are a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Talk to your local friends about stuff that is going on, cause these things mostly get spread by word of mouth.
- Read some books by Bessie Head before you come. She is a super awesome author who was born in South Africa, but lived in Botswana most of her life and her books are well worth the read. I read A Question of Power during the semester, and it was good, but heavy, and I also read Serowe, Village of the Rain Wind, which was cool since we visited Serowe during the semester. From what I have heard, When Rain Clouds Gather is really awesome, and might be a better one to start off with.
- Speaking of Serowe, when you visit there and go on the game drive through the rhino sanctuary, bring a sweatshirt. We went out super early in the morning, and even though it was pretty warm out the rest of the day, it was very chilly that morning and we were all freezing.
A couple things that might super annoy you (that it’s better to be mentally prepared for ahead of time):
- At the beginning of the semester especially there were a lot of mosquitos hanging out all over the place. The worst ones were the mosquitos that would wait for you just under the lip of the seat of the toilet. You couldn’t see them, but they were there all the time, just 4 or 5 mosquitos waiting to bite you where you’re most vulnerable. Don’t worry, though. You learn to fight them off. Just this morning (February 12) I killed 12 mosquitos with my bare hands in the shower. Vengeance is mine.
- Bureaucracy stinks. To pay for anything on campus, you have to first go to the cash office in the administration building, wait in a long line there, pay the person at a window that is very hard to hear through, then take your receipt back to the place you need a service from (like the library or the laundry facilities) and show the receipt. It sounds simple enough, but often you get misdirection from several different offices, so you end up having to go back about three times to get everything sorted out. When we all setout to get our ID cards we had to go to the cash office to pay for the card, go to the international office to get a form, take that to a different place where we had our pictures taken, at which point I discovered they had spelled my last name very incorrectly, so I went back to the international office to find someone to help me, who took me to meet with a different person to file forms to change my name in the system, at which point we learned that person was on a tea break and wouldn’t be back for an hour, so I was sent away to finish another day. The next day I went back to the international office, got the name debacle sorted out, returned to the picture-taking place where the woman was mad that I had inconvenienced her, then went across campus to the IT building to have my card activated, and finally finally, had a working student ID card. It gets to be a lot and can be incredibly frustrating, especially at first. After a while, though, you know how the systems work and it is more efficient.
- Sometimes people will laugh at* you, and that is really emotionally difficult, but don’t take it personally. The night I wrote this point I had just returned from the Moghul dining hall (it’s a lot worse than Curry Pot, I don’t recommend it) and the workers there asked me which vegetable I wanted with my meal. When I asked for both carrots and beetroot (which seemed reasonable because I wasn’t getting any meat), three employees simultaneously looked at me and started laughing for no apparent reason. I had no clue what was going on, but I asked “Oh, can I only have one?” and the man scooping my food said “Of course! We can’t give you both of them!” and then served my beetroot while still laughing with his coworkers for the entire time it took me to walk out of the (mostly empty) room. It was pretty horrible and definitely a low point in the semester. Most people are way nicer than that and I’ve never had a similar experience at Curry Pot, but that was a moment when I just felt very low and out of place at UB. I think people often laugh just out of nervousness or awkwardness in culturally tense situations (I might not have helped the situation because at that point I called “beetroot” “beets” and I have since learned that is strange to people in Botswana), so it is best to assume that they aren’t laughing at you in a mean way, but still it can be really hard.
*Like I just said, I don’t think people were ever laughing “at” me in a mean way, but sometimes it feels that way and takes some getting used to.
Things to bring
-cliff bars/ peanut butter for the first week when you’re scared to do anything, but are hungry. I also brought some homemade chocolate chip cookies that were a great comfort the first couple weeks.
-foot of chain for closet: I stopped chaining my closet after a while, but it can be comforting to be able to lock up your closet and comfortably leave your computer even when your roommate’s friends might be in and out. Not that you can’t trust people, it’s just that sometimes Americans with a bunch of electronics can stand out.
-swim cap: A must-have for the pool on campus, which you’ll want to use right away.
-a long Ethernet cord (and check that it works with your computer before you go). Many Macs require an additional Ethernet adapter that is nearly impossible to find in Bots. A long cord means you can watch Netflix and Skype on your bed, which is great.
-adapters for European plugs and South African plugs. The dorms have the three-pronged rectangular European plug like this:
And many places where you travel or do community engagements will have the circular, three-pronged South African one like this:
I found mine on Amazon and they worked great.
-Notebooks/ binders/ school supplies from home: I wanted to save space, so I planned to buy notebooks in Bots, but there will be a pretty limited selection, and most things are wide-ruled, which annoys me, so I wish I had brought more things for organizing.
-Some sunscreen/ bug spray to start off with. I brought three bottles of sunscreen and that was way more than I needed, but most people only brought little travel ones and wished they had more. You can buy sunscreen pretty easily at some of the larger malls, like Airport Junction, but it is hard to get out there at first while you are settling in. Same goes for bug spray, though it is a little easier to find.
Last of all, feel free to reach out if you have questions or want to know more about anything. ACM will have some official channels of contact for you, but you are also welcome to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com (after I’m graduated and don’t have my Grinnell email), and I’d be happy to answer any questions you might have.
Botswana is awesome. Last semester might have been my hardest semester of college in a lot of ways, but I also am so incredibly thankful for the people I met and the things I learned along the way. You can do it! Happy studying abroad!