It’s not very often that a High School student gets the opportunity to travel into another country with the chance to really be apart of the culture, not just be a visitor watching from the outside. I and nine other of my school mates accompanied by two teachers had a one such adventure into to South Africa. The purpose of the trip was to gain an insight to a different a culture other than our own here in Australia and leave with a greater respect for life and know just how lucky we are to be growing up and living in this modern-day utopia.
The prospect of traveling and understanding another culture first-hand is something that does not come around often in a person’s life. For the majority of people out there the world as we know it is witnessed and experienced through the screen in our living room or our laptops in the comforts of the bedroom. With the major advancements in technology and particularly social media the people can access and learn about the current world affairs as they play out, the news is almost instantaneous with the likes of Twitter and Facebook. However they are essentially powerless from behind the screen or on the couch to do something or express their views for anything significant to happen. They may tweet about it or post something on their Facebook timeline but really the effective audience is limited to their family and friends. In reality people read about all the imperfections and happenings around the world but don’t want to really do anything, because it’s just a part of they’re everyday reading. The trip gave the group a chance to fully immerse themselves into the country and culture. While sometime was reserved for perusing the more tourist friendly parts of the country, there was signs of poverty and suffering everywhere we went. We caught a glimpse of the townships as we drove into Cape Town and then almost immediately we were out and walking about in the main city. The difference in the social standings was the single most outstanding issue that I witnessed. There where families living off scraps and things they foraged from the people lucky enough to afford a living and education. As the other boys and I walked through the township under the protection of a local government party, we could tell that the fruits, sweets and clothes we were handing out was more than these families could afford in a year. Having gone through that town is what made the difference between me wanting to really come back and have a bigger impact on the people who survive day by day on very little, and trying to show that you are able to sympathise by sharing or liking the article on your Facebook timeline.
Despite all this the most memorable and enjoyable part was the South African hospitality and general attitude towards life. As a tourist it’s hard to feel comfortable in another country, that feeling soon leaves as you get to know the people in the markets, shopping centres and various workers in the cities themselves. A spirit of South African pride engulfs you and draws you into their culture, from one local shopping vender who then refers you to a local market a buzz with the sounds of laughter and music. The food is something for the adventurous and those who are willing to put their stomachs to the test, with a plate of Crocodile, Ostrich, Springbok, Kudu, Venison and Warthog. “It all tastes similar to chicken” said the waitress as she brought out this plate of meat larger than my face. The night was then transformed into a cultural milkshake, when the live band that night was treated to ten rowdy Australian teenagers and a dozen locals transforming the restaurant into an exotic dance floor. Another example of the warm and energetic culture of South Africa.
Traveling around Cape Town was a nice, relaxing, enjoyable and very touristy thing to do. However it is something that still needs to be done. A trip to the iconic Robben Island with a guided tour from an old inmate, to shake a mans hand that has gone through the apartheid and lived through the history and legend of Nelson Mandel is a humbling moment. To hear his stories and experiences from the jail and the time is one of the most educational experiences of my life.
Part of our cultural tour of South Africa was to be immersed in the life of a school community for a week. We were separeted into different classes from the lively and energetic Afrikaans language class to the everyday maths class. No matter the class or grade, we were met with interest and nervous laughter which followed a barrage of questions about Australia. Something that South Africa gave all of us, was friendships that will definitely last a life time. I know for a fact that our time spent studying, living and interacting with the student at St Thomas Aquinas School in Witbank had a big impact in our lives. I have planned to travel back there in the next couple of years and one of the boys had such an amazing experience that he plans to move there in a few years. They welcomed us into their homes, lives and into their community and they will forever be a part of our lives.
The following GoPro edit is a short recap that doesn’t even scratch the surface from one of the best trips in my time at high school.