My name’s Lizz, and I’m a student in the Faculty of Kinesiology bordering somewhere in the shady grey area between being a 3rd or 4th year student. This is actually my second study abroad, though granted, it hasn’t really started yet… I’m going to be working with the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation in Cape Town, South Africa starting October 26th. Till then, here’s just a bit about me and about how I spent my summer on another Study Abroad course in Windhoek, Namibia.
I have always wanted to travel. It’s been something that I grew up wanting and dreaming about. Granted, I got really lucky; I come from a family of travelers and adventurers. My Grandma Teresa was one those people. She traveled all across the globe teaching English and worked for a variety of NGOS throughout her 50s, 60s, and some of her 70s. She spent years in Ghana, Indonensia, Micronesia, Prague, and Mongolia to name a few.
Throughout my childhood, she’d be gone for months to years and come back with stories, and musical instruments that we, her grandchildren, would run around playing with utter enthusiasm (and no technical skill at all–we probably sounded most closely like what campers attempting to scare away bears from their coolers with pots and wooden spoons sounded like). I have to believe she’s inspired all of her family to travel more, and I’ve learned more about different cultures from her then I would have ever learned from books.
My Dad was also an avid traveler and spent much of my late elementary school years flying between Japan, China, and Italy. I have a postcard collection from all over the world thanks to his frequent business trips, and was once again exposed to the idea of a tofu-only restaurant, and how proper Italians eat dinner.
So this early exposure and desire to travel translated into my life and my choices—like my choice to go to the University of Toronto. Part of why I choose this university is because, despite being related to travelers, I really hadn’t gotten a chance to travel outside of the United States and Canada.
I’ve gone on road trips, and bike trips across different parts of Canada and America, but I’d never flown across an ocean before. I’d never gotten to experience a place where I couldn’t speak the language, or where I was completely foreign to the culture. I wanted to have a chance to get to learn outside of my comfort zone.
And I finally got the opportunity to do that this past summer. This is going to be my second adventure to Southern Africa. The first started in May 2012, and ended in August 2012. I was chosen to go abroad with the University of Toronto Namibia work study program. For any students at all interested in studying abroad, or getting an opportunity to immerse yourself in a new community, I can not recommend this program enough. I spent 11 weeks working with the organization Physically Active Youth in Namibia which works with children from Katutura an area outside of Windhoek.
It was challenging and sometimes I struggled with the cultural differences and the disparity between the wealthy populations and the children we worked with at the center. The PAY kids are amazing, talented, and brilliantly funny and they face challenges getting access to the basic education we often take for granted in Canada.
The other thing I loved about this program however, was getting to be inspired daily by the girls (and Jordan) whom I lived with. I got to watch how you could take students from half-a-world away take the initiative to jump in and slot themselves into where they were needed. I worked with an amazing group, and if you are interested in the program I strongly suggest you check out my friend’s blog: http://namibiapharmacy2012.wordpress.com.
And while there were too many great moments from this summer for me to really do the program any justice, here’s a couple of the ones that stood out the most.
1. World Cup Qualifier: Namibia vs. Kenya
Soccer and Rugby are Namibia’s sports, and while we didn’t get to see a rugby game, we did get lucky enough to go to the Namibia vs. Kenya World Cup Qualifier in Windhoek. We got jerseys, invited friends, drank beer, and had a chance to celebrate Namibian style as they won the first world cup qualifier in years! (score: 1:0 ) For anyone intending to go to Africa or Namibia, I totally recommend going to a sports game. I’ve got my fingers crossed to get to some more in South Africa in a couple weeks!
2. Swakopmund: Sand-boarding and Quads
Swakopmund is one of the adventure capitals of the world, and we got a chance to see why! The desert dunes are spectacular and sand-boarding was definitely the highlight of this excursion for me. I recommend stand-up boarding for anyone who has previous experience snowboarding. –Don’t feel like you need to be an expert, some of the members of our group tried it despite little to no-snowboarding experience and managed fine! It’s a lot nicer when you bail on sand then on snow, so the learning curve isn’t too steep. We also tried lie-down boarding, which was terrifying. I clocked 75 km an hour (the second fastest of the day) on what was essentially a glorified piece of cardboard. Trick is apparently to keep your elbows in and steer with your toes, but it didn’t help me the first time and I bailed hard–it was crazy and exhilarating, and takes the idea of Canadian sledding to a whole new level of intense.
After sand-boarding we went and rented some quads and got a chance to explore the desert some more. The jury is still out trying to decide what was more fun. ( I liked sand-boarding best, but other members of our group preferred quadding). It was kind of like extreme mario kart with the giant helmets and small vehicles, everyone resembled Toad.
3. Sossusvlei –I dare you to find me somewhere more beautiful.
This is my friend Rachel and me! (I’m the short one.) Our group had the unfortunate luck of missing the sunrise the first day we went out to try and see it, and though the view was still spectacular, sans sun-having-risen. Rachel, my supervisor Aaron, and I were not satisfied and were determined to head out again in order to catch the whole show. And it was possibly the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in my life. We woke up at 5 am in order to get in line behind the gate of Sesriem campground and then drive out to Dune 45, racing to beat the sun there. Then its a long climb up the side of the sand dune in order to try and get a good seat at the very top. Namibia taught me that most things are worth missing out on sleep for.
4. Etosha National Park
The best part of this trip was frankly, the companionship of the four other girls I lived with. It’s hard to find a better way to bond then a road trip and the long 8 hour drive north to Ongwediva, a tiny town in Northern Namibia by the Angolan border provided for a fairly epic adventure. We met up with the ‘northerner’s and then headed to Etosha National Park in search of the big five. We found the ‘big five’ we cared about, Elephants, Rhinos, Cheetah, Lions, and Zebras, and a lot of other animals (Giraffes –my favourite, Gemsbok, Kudu, Impala, and Springbok).
5. Waterburg National Park
This is my friend Amber, from pharmacy. We on a sort of haphazard decision decided to stop at Waterburg National Park on our way home from Etosha to try and break up the drive. And I can say confidently, that we are very very glad we did. The boulders and hiking and baboons sort of created the perfect amount of nature vs. excitement we needed for the culminating point of our trip. My only warning is that while camping here I gained a very healthy fear (absolute terror) of baboons and make sure if you go to keep your food locked up. TIGHT. Trash included.
6. The PEOPLE, the community, Physically Active Youth, and our awesome neighbours.
Anyone who tells you that anything BUT the people you meet when you’re traveling and working abroad are the best part of being abroad are lying. They are. They 100% completely are and here are just a couple pictures from some of my favourite memories at work and from being out and about in the community getting to interact with different people. The kids at PAY where amazing, I miss them all a lot and hope to get back to visit them, and the whole Namibian experience would not be the same if it weren’t for all the people who selflessly welcomed us into their homes and whom we welcomed into our hearts. The thing I’m most excited for in terms of going on another Study Abroad program are the people I know and hope to get to meet along the way.