Reflections Upon Returning Home by Guest Blogger Julian Reyes

Authored by:
Alexis Savas

Alexis Savas

Our 3 weeks in South Africa have truly been the trip of a lifetime. From our lessons on South African historical events to building a garden for a primary school, we have learned what it takes to start a movement for change and impact the world. En route back to the States, I’d like to reflect on a few moments that made this trip so special.


We started off in Johannesburg with 40°F temperatures and a group of students yet to form connections. Through icebreakers, family dinner conversations, and a nighttime game of hide and seek, we grew to know each other better and better. While in Joburg, we began our studies on Nelson Mandela and his grand impact on South Africa. Visiting Constitution Hill, formerly the site of an inhumane jail where Mandela was imprisoned and currently the home of South Africa’s Constitutional Court, we learned how South Africa went from violating human rights to protecting them. The visit was inspirational and helped us think of ways that the US could follow South Africa’s example in the judicial system. We continued to learn about Mandela’s impact and South Africa’s strength by visiting Soweto, a township that is home to people of incredible strength, grit, and compassion. While in Soweto, we visited Mandela’s former home and saw where critical moments in his lifetime took place. The Soweto excursion sparked an interesting nightly debrief. We ended our time in Joburg with an exciting visit to Sterkfontein Caves, where we wore hard hats and ventured into centuries-old caves. Johannesburg was a great place to begin our adventure in South Africa.

We soon arrived in Cape Town, greeted by warmer weather and stunning views of the ocean and mountains. Being in the Mother City granted us more freedom to walk around our neighborhood during free time and get to know our new home first hand. We grew to love our quirky hostel, with Monkey the house cat, the yoga studio frequented by Global Navigator Sophie and her yoga students, and the communal kitchen that housed our family dinners. The restaurant below our hostel was home to our Xhosa classes with our teacher Mama D. Xhosa, the native language of the Xhosa tribe of South Africa, is filled with tongue clicks that one must make to speak the language correctly. While the clicks were challenging at some points, we enjoyed learning a new language and culture, and getting to know and love the amazing Mama D. In Cape Town, we started our leadership classes with our teacher Papa Q, who taught us about the qualities of a successful leader — hardworking, justice-oriented, persistent, and energetic, to name a few. Over the trip, we had the opportunity to visit amazing sites like Table Mountain, Lion’s Head, Seal Island, Penguin Beach, the Cape of Good Hope, and the V&A waterfront. After visiting these places, I understand why Cape Town is known as the most beautiful city on the planet.

I have most enjoyed getting to know my peers by going out to dinner, surfing, sharing a room, and staying up late and laughing with them. We have formed a strong and close group.

Over these past 3 weeks, I have grown into a stronger leader, a more charismatic person, and a better student and thinker. I have made meaningful connections with my fellow Global Navigators and with the people of South Africa. And I have completed a deep dive into intercultural similarities and differences. I am confident that we will take our lessons learned in South Africa with us for a lifetime and that we will use them for the betterment of our communities and the greater world. Thank you, South Africa!

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