Claire Finnerty from Rochester Institute of Technology
You’ve probably seen amazing photos of us in beautiful places. That’s what you see and hear about when you think of study abroad. It’s true, I did drive an ATV on a sand dune in Namibia, cage dive with great white sharks and hike Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa. While I have had those once in a lifetime experiences, I really think it’s the little things that are the most transformative. I came to Botswana because I wanted to immerse myself in a new culture and live in a new city for 5 months. While the highlights of my time here may not be in Gaborone, Botswana, I truly believe that is where I have learned the most important lessons.
The little things I have come to appreciate in Gaborone and at the University of Botswana are numerous. Firstly, practicing conversational use of the native language, Setswana with the locals. While I struggle through it and may get a few laughs, practicing outside of the classroom is the best way to learn. One day a random student saw me studying alone and helped me for almost an hour. Next, squishing into a combi (a van that fits 19 people but 14 comfortably and is the form of public transportation here). Once when I was coming back from a weekend camping trip with my backpack bulging with stuff, I had to sit between an elderly woman and a young girl who were still kind to me even though I squished them. I’ve enjoyed conversations with my roommate about her culture or plain old girl talk. I love the fact that the gym, pool and dining hall are so close to dorms. Especially taking full advantage of the olympic size, outdoor pool. Seriously, I’ll miss that a lot! Every morning on my way to class, I pass by monkeys. It’s become such a normal occurrence. Grabbing a banana and phaphata (bread) from a vendor is always a healthy snack. Walking through the crowded station where you transfer combis, I can confidently know a friendly stranger will help me find my way. I have taken advantage of my free time to read (I’ve already gotten through five books), watch documentaries and listen to podcasts and music I normally would not have time to in my hectic schedule. Also, I have the free time to actually enjoy the reading and research assignments from class. It’s technically fall here but in at least the 80’s every day. Some other little things I’ve come to appreciate is the good food at the dining hall. A meal usually consists of a meat, starch like rice or pasta and a choice of cooked vegetables. I’ve also learned how to get creative and use a kettle to cook in my dorm room. In addition, there is great food at restaurants off campus. There are many malls that are close and we’ve discovered some of our favorite spots. Mine is Simply Asia! The southern hemisphere stars and the moon plus the beautiful sunrises and sunsets are unforgettable. And of course making new local friends!
One of my main goals for studying abroad was to fully immerse myself in public health. Every day I learn something new. I’ve learned a lot in general about public health through our visits to clinics, classes at UB, and through a student run club I joined called the Health Outreach Program. I’ve learned specifically about the Botswana health care system through our CIEE classes. Finally, I have learned about the role I want to play in health care at my internship at the Ministry of Health. Studying abroad goes by quick so I am coming to appreciate the little things. Gaborone has so much to offer and I can’t wait to experience more of the day to day life here.