The Trip of a Lifetime

My experience traveling to Durban, South Africa opened my eyes and changed my life.

As one of the lucky few applicants selected to go on the foreign exchange trip to Durban, South Africa, the exchange was a trip of a lifetime. While learning about the cultural differences of the country as a whole, I also got to indulge in the lifestyle of South African students my age. I was given the opportunity to open my eyes to a completely different world and make memories that I will never forget. 

Seven other students and I were selected as American delegates to embark on the trip and stay with host families. Being hosted by a family that comes from a predominantly different ethnic culture was so incredible, as I got to try their cuisine, partake in their religion, and shift to their expectations in the household. It was such a life changing experience of being able to fully dive into a new culture, as the classroom back at home would have never been able to provide me with those insights. 

On the second day of the trip, the US delegation was expected to present a slide presentation of American culture. Our delegation presented a rundown of our lives in front of the entire high school grades. 

Aside from getting stares for being one of the only girls on the campus of an all boys school, the Clifton School housed some of the brightest and most disciplined young men that welcomed us with open arms. The school is a K-12 (or R-12 in South African terms) private school, it was exciting to see the prep school kids on campus and be integrated with students of all ages. Our group “shadowed” our host brothers in all their classes that ran for 50 minutes and allowed for two breaks during the school day. 

Outside of school, our days consisted of exploring the city and seeing different parts of it. Whether it was going to the beach in the southern part of Durban in comparison to one up on the north side, or trying different restaurants in opposite parts of the city, the culture was completely different. The northern side was much more developed and housed the upper class of South Africa while the south side was more native to the locals and locally owned businesses. 

Our final days were spent on the safari which took place in Saint Lucia, South Africa, about two hours away from Durban. The safari was an experience that will stick with me for the rest of my life. The days consisted of three different tours where we got to see every wild animal from elephants, to lions, to rhinoceros.. Some of the boys in my group also participated in tasting a live African worm as part of their personal experience, which was definitely something I did not want to take part in. 

While seeing wild animals native to Africa was the most surreal experience on its own, seeing the difference in lifestyle was the biggest eye-opener to me. On our way back to the hotel from the safari, one of my friends and I sat looking out the side of the trolley waving to kids going home from school in the more poverty stricken town. The smiles and waves we got back as kids jumped up and down just to show we got their attention was the most heartwarming thing I have ever experienced.

Seeing individuals that come from much different backgrounds that are less fortunate than what I have experienced in my lifetime really puts things into perspective. It was so incredible to see the divide in lifestyles from a country across the world and see a life I could have never imagined on my own. Getting the chance to embark on this exchange trip allowed me to see the different stories everyone has to tell and connect with more of humanity, an opportunity I will never take for granted.