It’s taken me a while to write this final post. Mostly because I was unsure on how to put all of my feelings about being abroad onto paper (well, on the internet). But now I finally feel as though I am re-adjusting to the American culture that I hadn’t experienced for over 2 incredible months. I think I might have taken a bit longer to fully process all of my thoughts and experiences in relation to my time abroad, in comparison to my fellow classmates, but I think I’m ready to finally share them.
Ever since I got off the last 16-hour(!) plane ride home from Johannesburg, I’ve gotten non-stop questions about my time abroad and all of the different activities and classes that I experienced while I was there. I was extremely excited to share everything that I did, but I was a little disappointed to find out that most of my family members only asked about the excursions. And yes, of course I was happy to tell them about my week in Kruger and the different animals that we met during our Garden Route trip. I continue to retell those stories with the biggest smile on my face. But, they don’t often ask about the classes that I took or about the reason why I even chose to go to South Africa to study Public Health.
Thankfully, some of my family members and friends asked those kinds of questions, and we were able to have conversations about topics like the current income inequalities, the effects that came from the end of apartheid, and the quadruple burden of disease that afflicts the population. I had hoped to have these conversations upon my return to the US, and I was relieved to find that there were people at home who did want to talk about these things. Especially because I wanted to share all of the things that I had learned and show their importance.
My experience in South Africa definitely changed me for the better. I feel more open to other perceptions of health, culture, and various aspects of life, as I had to be open to a perspective different from my typical westernized-world view. I feel that I can continue to use this newly acquired skill, which still needs to be developed fully (I’m not 100% there yet), not only in the future as a physician, but also in my everyday life to empathize with others and continue to grow as an individual. I know that sounds cliché, but I feel as though I partially completed a goal I had going into this program, so I see this experience as a huge success.
Although I may not have made a huge impact in South Africa, South Africa has definitely left its mark on me, and its one that will continue to be with me as I grow further. For the students who are participating in this program after me, I have some advice. Take it all in. The landscape, the people, the history, the entire country. Open yourself up to everything that is different. Be open to the things that make you uncomfortable. This will make your experience even more worthwhile.
So here’s my final goodbye to South Africa. I hope to see you soon.