I left home ten months ago full of curiosity and wonder. I think that’s the only way to be when traveling abroad, especially for the first time, and especially alone. I had planned, hoped, dreamed, and thought-out what might happen over the next year, but nothing I could have done would have actually prepared me for the experiences I encountered. The incredible highs of seeing the Eiffel tower in person, lit up and sparkling, or spotting Big Ben for the first time in a scavenger hunt through the lion statues in Trafalgar square, or taking a walk with an elephant just close enough to touch, or experiencing the incredible fear of jumping off the highest bungee bridge in the world. Nothing could have prepared me for the horrible loss of a fellow Roehampton student in London on Thanksgiving. Or being so overwhelmed in one of the largest cities in the world that I felt like I had completely lost my way on the journey so early on. Or traveling thousands of miles away to my first non-westernized country and sitting in class and feeling completely isolated like I couldn’t relate to the culture or people. Or walking through the poverty stricken townships and feeling my heart sink for people in such terrible conditions with such high spirits.
Nothing could have prepared me for the incredible people I have met throughout this journey; for my London travel companion who quickly became a best friend sharing secrets over gelato and muffinskis. Or my other half, that simply resided on the other side of the country as we spilled our views on Candyland, life, religion, families and friendships. Or the third amigo, our wannabe London native with the singing voice only dogs can hear and fashion that should be on a runway (minus any of that Hollister in the closet). Or my other two incredible flat mates, one always with the right answers and guiding us home safely, and that crazy Greek boy forever yelling at my all too frequent use of the microwave. Or the Norwegian boy, the dedicated footballer, with crazy dance moves and who was always down for a best friend date. And of course one of my favorites that I spent all my Friday’s with, lingering over museums, galleries, Oxford Street and too many roman meals.
They were a family I found that I was sure South Africa wouldn’t be able to top, until I met one of the only people who always wants to dance with me, loves Moulin Rouge as much as I do, and is forever down for Tuesday dance nights out and Wednesday cinnamon bun afternoons in. Or the culinary master who somehow has a solution for everything and is always available for a cooking/dancing evening ending with tea, rusks and cards. Or the fabulous German telling crazy stories of her tutorial students and never denying a trip to our local café for carrot cake. Or the beautiful Korean model we lived with constantly cooking at all hours and shoving incredible recipes of quiches, sushi and local fresh fruits down our throats. Or the third member of my family and a local that was always willing to take us to Nandos or out for ice cream or give us a “true African experience” of elephants, giraffes and zebras. Or the boy that I spent the end of my trip with, breaking the homeschooled stereotype, making fun of for picky eating habits, constantly using too many SAT words, fighting over Twix bars, and sharing our stories together. Then there were the girls that were always down to lay by the pool and tell recent stories of African adventures and the boys who were always looking to venture to the casino or share a laugh with over a beer.
It was the year of a lifetime. One I still can’t believe I’ve lived, survived, and gained so much from. Without the undying support from home, from my parents, my sister, and my best back in Wilmington and Asheville and of course from Ultimate, I can’t imagine how I would have gotten through it. With a solid support system from my local ice cream shop and weekly visitors, I received a gift right before I started the journey from a couple whom I had met through the shop and become very close with over the years as I was college searching, beginning school and eventually going abroad. The gift was a bookmark; one they didn’t realized how often I would use as I go through books like I go through candy bars here. It has a picture of an antique world map, and on the bottom a quote, “Wherever you go, go with all your heart.” – Confucius. They are words I chose to live by this year, words that live in my heart, and words that guide my life.
Thank you, to everyone who has made this year what it has been. Truly, deeply, I thank you, for sharing your stories with me, and becoming a part of mine.
“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” – e. e. cummings.
With so much love,