A New Normal

Authored by:
Rachel D.

Rachel D.

              As I embarked on my 31-hour flight journey to Gaborone, Botswana, I honestly did not know what to expect. I was nervous, excited, and filled with uncertainty of what the next five months would entail. Now, as I am about a third of the way through the semester, everything is starting to feel normal. It seems bizarre that a place so far and so different from home can feel normal. Seeing monkeys outside of my dorm room during the first few days was a novelty that used up lots of space on my camera. Now, I just hope the resident monkeys don’t snatch food from my hands. At the beginning I was shocked that the bathrooms lacked soap and other necessities. Now, toilet paper and hand sanitizer have a permanent home in my backpack. I have become an expert at time difference math, except I am still struggling with military time for some unknown reason. Most importantly, the group of eight strangers that I met only seven weeks ago has now expanded to include other international and local students and has become family.

            Throughout this experience thus far, I have grown in ways that I did not expect. For one, I have learned how to be a more patient person. I pride myself in being a punctual, efficient, and on-time person. Yet, when I arrived, I learned of a concept called “African time,” referring to the slow paced and more relaxed style this community embraces. At my home university if a professor did not show up in the first 15 minutes of class, I would assume that they were not coming or that something had gone wrong. Here, professors can show up a bit later and keep us well past the scheduled class period to ensure that we grasped all of the material we were supposed to cover. In addition, I have learned to be more flexible when my lecturers can easily change class schedules on a moment’s notice or when things do not go as planned or scheduled. As I intern at Nkaikela Youth Group and volunteer at Botswana-Baylor Children’s Centre of Excellence, I have learned more about how non-profit world functions here and how plans and programs can change quickly and often despite everyone’s best efforts. Moreover, I have grown to appreciate the lack of constant communication, to be present in the moment, and to enjoy all the new experiences and knowledge I have accumulated. 

            The biggest surprise of my experience so far has been the community that has formed so quickly and so naturally. I never expected that a group of nine people from different universities across the United States with little in common could become such a cohesive group. As an arts and sciences student, I was worried that there would be a natural divide between me and the public health students. In fact, it is the contrary. We all share our daily experiences with each other and grow and learn from each other. I often identify aspects of my other communities from back home within this newly formed one. Every community I have been a part of has taken time to feel normal and safe. My “normal” was simply community. It took a few weeks to feel community; but now that I am settled, acclimated, and welcomed, I have found my new normal. 

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