7 Fun Things to Do in South Africa on the Coast

Going to South Africa was the single most life-changing event that I have ever experienced. As an 18-year-old with only one chaperoned trip abroad under my belt, I had no idea what to expect. The experience was wild, scary, and exciting all at once. 

After spending only a few months along the cape, I can hardly call myself an expert. However, I did experience some of the best things to do in South Africa, including taking in the Garden Route during my stay. 

How did I get to South Africa you ask? Well, a lifelong obsession with Great White Sharks and a few significant life changes led me to apply for a cage diving internship with a company called White Shark Africa. Yes, you read that correctly. 

Though my beloved internship was shut down due to COVID, a friend has created his own program, Go Dive Mossel Bay, and has a deal with the company with which I interned. I invite you to read about his incredible company, which offers 1-3 month-long internships, scuba courses, shark dives, and more.

After my time in the country, I can confidently say that I personally know a couple of the best spots for visitors along South Africa’s southern coastline. Here are 7 fun things to do in South Africa’s coastal areas. 

1. Explore Cape Town

Cape Town is the capital of South Africa. It is a bustling metropolitan area of around 4.6 million people with stunning tourist attractions. You can explore both the city of Cape Town. Plus, check out the accessible natural areas surrounding it, like its two most famous peaks: Lion’s Head and Table Mountain. Table Mountain has been named one of the seven natural wonders of the world (for good reason). Its top is completely flat and offers a beautiful view of the city and surrounding natural areas. 

When I hiked Table Mountain, it took approximately three hours. It progressively gets steeper as you approach the top, but the reward for expending your energy is worth it. On the “table,” there is a lovely cafe, gift shop, and an aerial cableway to take you back down. Lion’s Head is a smaller peak but better for the avid adventurer. There are points where you must hold onto a chain to climb, and the top feels less stable than Table Mountain’s flat head.

After these two great sites, I recommend exploring the Cape of Good Hope and Robben Island. The Cape of Good Hope requires a small drive but has an incredible view of the expansive Atlantic Ocean. It’s a great place to catch the sunset. 

Robben Island is where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 out of 27 years. Previous prisoners conduct tours of the island and offer personal perspectives of the dark history surrounding South Africa’s inequality. 

Finally, you can check out the V&A Waterfront for food, shopping, and good views. For delicious food and budget accommodation near the waterfront, you can check out Giovanni’s Deli and the never@home hostel.

2. Try Some of the Most Underrated Wine in the World at a Nearby Vineyard

When I visited South Africa, I went to a vineyard called ReedValley just outside of my home base of Mossel Bay. Though I had a wonderful experience at this vineyard (maybe a bit too good), Stellenbosch is specifically known for its vineyards and is a quick drive from Cape Town.

Visiting Stellenbosch is one of the best things to do in South Africa. The Stellenbosch region boasts more than 150 wineries and a beautiful backdrop to your wine tasting experience. 

South Africa has three famous varieties of wine: Chenin Blanc, Pinotage, and Shiraz/Syrah (though they produce many other types too). I remember a particular wine from my trip called Rose Espumante, though this may be a ReedValley specialty. 

Serenity at the Reed Valley Winery

I highly recommend South African wine. Its flavor is excellent, sporting many unique varieties. Not only that, but the economy surrounding it is enough for anyone to buy into it. Supporting South Africa’s tourism and wine industries are some of the best ways to help bring money back into the country and create jobs for locals. 

3. Go to Boulders Beach and Simon’s Town

I am a wildlife enthusiast. So, I admit that the sight of a snake, shark, bird, or virtually any other animal is enough to brighten my week. Boulders Beach is home to one of my favorite animals in the world: the African or “Jackass” Penguin.

Penguins in Africa, you might ask? Oh yes, and these little guys are loud and proud of their African heritage. They are lovingly called the Jackass Penguins. Their distinct call sounds similar to a donkey, and perhaps earn their namesake because of their attitude. 

These little guys need all the help they can get. The AZA lists this endangered species as having only 25,000 breeding pairs left. Boulders Beach is making an extraordinary conservation effort to help boost the penguin population. If you want to help the African Penguin population, they will definitely appreciate your support.

A section of Boulders Beach allows visitors to walk on the beach and thus with the penguins. Unsurprisingly not many of the animals hang out here. However, there are areas where a boardwalk allows you to observe the colony in their natural habitat and leave them undisturbed. 

This is one of my top three things to do in South Africa. I love these little guys, the beach itself, and the fantastic efforts that the staff is making to keep the African penguin alive. You might even see the odd Dassie here, a famous and adorable rodent well-known throughout South Africa. 

A Dassie at Boulders Beach, one of the best things to do in South Africa

Boulders Beach is right next to Simon’s Town, a lovely coastal village with excellent shopping and tasty seafood. After spending your morning with the penguins, you should look around the local shops for some souvenirs and get a nice meal on the waterfront. 

4. Visit the Southernmost Tip of Africa

Next on our journey along South Africa’s Southern coast is Cape Agulhas, where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet. Cape Agulhas is also the southernmost tip of the continent of Africa. This is a fantastic place for a photo op and a relaxed day at the beach. 

Cape Agulhas is surrounded by rocky cliffs and an incredible view of the ocean. You can either stroll along the boardwalk or go for a small adventure hopping between the rocks that make up the coastline. I recommend checking out the small tidal pools here as well. They are filled with beautiful South African sea life such as the sea urchin, anemone, starfish, and even the odd octopus.

As for your photo op, there are about a million beautiful views. You must also take a picture with the stone plaque that marks the official meeting point between the Indian and Atlantic Oceans. If you’re wondering why Cape Agulhas is the official meeting point between these two bodies of water, it was confirmed by the International Hydrographic Organization. Though currents do change year-round, Cape Agulhas is definitely where the two oceans meet. 

There is another tiny town next to Cape Agulhas called Struisbaai, where you can see stingrays if you’re lucky. A small restaurant called Catch Cook, next to the Struisbaai harbor, is where stingrays wait for the fishermen to come back from their daily catch. One particular stingray has gained so much fame that he has a name! Locals call him Parrie the Stingray, and he often hangs out in the harbor. If you go to Cape Agulhas, it may be worth seeing if Parrie is willing to come out and say hi. 

5. Walk with Elephants at Indalu Game Reserve

A lesser-known fact of South Africa is that a significant amount of wildlife is actually owned and maintained by ranchers. Thus, these animals live, hunt, and breed the same way they would in the wild, but with minor interference from their owners. 

Just northwest of Mossel Bay, on the Garden Route, is the Indalu Game Reserve. Though there are much bigger wildlife parks throughout South Africa, such as Kruger, this is one of the best. Indalu offers the same standard game drives as many other parks, but their best experience is an elephant walk.

Because the Indalu elephants are well-treated and used to humans, you can take an hour to an hour-and-a-half walk next to one of the biggest animals on Earth and feed them. The experience is truly magical. These elephants are entirely free to roam the safari park. Indalu does not endorse riding their (or any) elephants either, as this is a very inhumane practice that typically involves a great deal of animal abuse. 

Walking next to a three-ton (or more!) animal, you would expect them to shake the ground with every step they take. However, elephants are one of the quietest animals I’ve been around, and their steps are very delicate. 

Indalu and cage diving complete my list of the top three things to do in South Africa. Elephants usually are pretty dangerous due to their sheer size and sometimes aggressive behaviors (check out this insane elephant encounter!), meaning a walk with these guys is an unforgettable opportunity. Indalu also offers accommodation if you want to stay the night. 

6. Go Cage Diving in Mossel Bay

South Africa has 11 official languages, one of which is Afrikaans. In Afrikaans, “mossel” means “mussel,” as Mossel Bay is full of them! It is a beautiful town home to a very active population of juvenile White Sharks. 

First, let’s clear up the mythology surrounding Great Whites. Only about six shark attacks per year are fatal, meaning selfies, which take an average of 17 lives a year, are more deadly. Many Great White attacks occur due to mistaken identity. A human on a surfboard looks a lot like a seal (their typical prey). Sharks are the doctors of the sea, cleaning up diseased animals. They are vital to the ocean’s ecosystem, and many species are endangered. 

White Shark Africa is one of the best places in the world to see sharks. After taking a short 20-minute boat ride to Seal Island, you will be surrounded. You are almost guaranteed to see them, but they are wild animals working on their own schedule. 

You cannot go to South Africa and miss out on these guys. Seeing a four-meter animal jump out of the water or swim just centimeters from your face is the most humbling yet incredible experience I’ve ever had. 

If you want to stay in Mossel Bay for a couple of days, you can follow the St. Blaize Trail for a beautiful hike or take a dip at Diaz Beach. You can also go whale/dolphin watching on the Romonza Boat, or rent some scuba/snorkel gear and admire the smaller Mossel Bay natives in Kaai 4. 

For great Mossel Bay eats, check out Café Gannet for amazing sushi or ostrich. Kaai 4 also serves delicious traditional South African food cooked over a wood fire (what they call a braai in Afrikaans).

7. Take a Joint Safari at Schotia and Addo Elephant Park

Last but not least, if you are taking a trip through the Garden Route, you must do a proper safari. Though Indalu offers game drives, Schotia Safaris Private Game Reserve offers an incredible adventure. 

At Schotia, you can see four out of the “big five” African game animals, namely elephants, lions, rhinos, and buffalo. Unfortunately, they do not have leopards, though this is a highly elusive animal, and you would be lucky to see one. 

The park rangers at Schotia are not only highly knowledgeable but also very personable. They will make you feel completely comfortable as you gaze at some of the most dangerous animals on Earth. 

Besides the big five, you can also see Nile crocodiles, warthogs, ostriches, the elusive secretary bird, and more. A rite of passage that the rangers may offer you is to eat a live termite as well, which surprisingly tastes like mint. 

After a long day looking for animals, you might spend the night by the fire listening to someone play the guitar and drinking my favorite South African cider, Savanna. The drivers may take you on a night ride as well to look at the Milky Way. 

Schotia offers two options for accommodation: bush camp or traditional lodges. Bush camp is located in the middle of the lions’ section of the park, meaning you can sometimes hear them outside (it’s safe though, don’t worry). 

Though the traditional lodges are a more comfortable way to spend your time, as they include private bathrooms and are located outside the safari bit, they aren’t as cool as the bush camp. 

The great thing about Schotia is that you can buy a joint package and spend some time at Addo Elephant National Park. This is the best place to see large elephant herds behaving naturally.

Thinking about Taking a Trip to South Africa?

South Africa is by far my favorite country I’ve ever traveled to. Its nature is wild and untouched by the modern world, offering some of the most beautiful views and incredible wildlife experiences I’ve ever had. 

However, after writing such a glowing review of the country, I must give you some safety tips. Due to its recent history and the poverty that can be found in the townships that surround many cities and towns, you must be careful as you travel. 

Never flash your money, even if you are in a safe area. Always travel with at least one other person or, even better, with a group. If you are out at night, try to avoid dark corners and walk in the street if possible to avoid sidewalks. Please do not participate in what I often hear referred to as poverty tourism or tours that take you into the townships. These are highly exploitative and a very poor way to economically support the country. And always respect the wildlife. 

Every country has its problems, which should not discourage you from traveling. The Garden Route, for example, is relatively safe due to its high volume of tourists. Simply be careful and take proper safety precautions as you go. 

If you’re looking for the best things to do in South Africa, I highly recommend exploring its southern coastline. Traveling along the coast is an experience that you will never forget. When you go, tell the Great Whites that I miss them!

Interested in learning more about visiting Africa? Check out one traveler’s experience studying in Cameroon.

What I Know Now After Studying in Cameroon

When you think about studying abroad, Cameroon might not be the first country that pops into your head. Cameroon is home to more than 200 ethnic groups speaking over 260 different languages. Cameroon was first colonized by Germany in 1884 but after the end of the first World War Cameroon was “given” to France (3/4) and Britain (1/4). When gaining its independence in 1960, Cameroon decided to make its official languages English and French. The country remains divided with anglophones facing off with francophones due to anglophone suppression. While studying in Cameroon I did not visit any anglophone regions due to the civil unrest and protests that became violent. Here are some things I learned.

1. Malaria Isn’t That Bad (As Long as You Can Pay for Treatment)

About six weeks into my study abroad I had a restless night. I woke up the next morning and my stomach was not happy. I thought back to the street meat I had for lunch the day before and had many regrets. 

Since I lived across the street from our school, I managed to get to school, used the bathroom for the fourth time that morning, and laid on the daybed before my French class started. I only made it to class since it was only 20 steps from the daybed. At about five minutes in, I knew I needed to go home and go back to sleep. I went into our homestay coordinator/health and wellness advisor Nathalie’s office. I told her I wasn’t feeling well and that I wanted to go home. She asked if I wanted to go to the doctor. Slowly I said no and then blacked out. 

Aftermath

I awoke on the floor hearing Nathalie calling for Thierry who worked security for the school. Soon I was in his arms and I told him I needed to go to the bathroom again. Barely able to walk and seeing the hallway through tunnel vision, I remember thinking: “If I don’t get helicoptered out of this place, I’m going to die.”

A few minutes later Thierry was carrying me to the hospital. The doctor came in a few hours after taking lots of tests and told me I had a stomach fungus and bacteria, and a little bit of malaria. A little bit of malaria! What does that mean?? I soon learned how treatable malaria can be when you have access to medicine. Malaria is a deadly disease because so many people in Cameroon and other African countries don’t have the $3 it costs to treat the disease right away. I was fortunate enough to have the money to stay in a hospital for two days for treatment. Others are not so lucky.

2. How to Navigate Taxis While Studying in Cameroon

When you walk around the streets of Cameroon you see people on the sidewalks yelling at taxi drivers as they pull over. At first, this may seem odd, but there is actually a simple system to the madness. It is similar to Uber pools. If you would like to go somewhere in the city you stand on the sidewalk and when a taxi driver pulls over, you shout the place you want to go. If he is going in that direction he will pull over and pick you up. But if he isn’t, he will drive away.

A taxi from Cameroon.

The taxi fare was typically around 250 XFA, about $0.50.You will ride in the taxi with whoever is going in the same direction as you. So you never know if you will get dropped off first or last. The taxi drivers are efficient, however, and once you’re in the taxi, you’ll get to the destination in a somewhat timely manner. UNLESS there is traffic, which is always, so never look at your watch, and enjoy chatting with the other riders in the taxi.

3. Bucket Showers Are Pretty Efficient

Walking into my homestay, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. My host mom was the last one to arrive which was funny because the house was right across the street from the school. We were told from the beginning that Cameroonians tend to always be late. The staff told host parents to arrive at 2 pm and the first person showed up at about 2:30 pm. When my host mom came we chatted for a bit and then went back to the house. 

It was a quaint home and my bedroom was on the first floor across from the living room. There was a small kitchen off of the entrance and then two bedrooms upstairs for my host parents and their niece, who was staying with them while she went to university. The bathroom had a toilet and then a hose with a pink bucket under it. I remember my host sister Prisca explaining the bucket shower to me. “Fill up the bucket, use the smaller ladle, and wash yourself.” Pretty simple, I guess. 

Although not the most thrilling, I got pretty good at taking bucket showers and avoiding the occasional cockroach scurrying around my bare feet. The best bucket shower I took while studying in Cameroon was in a northern village called Batoufam where I also stayed with a host family. I woke up to kids knocking on my door telling me to follow them. They took me outside to the area where they showered, pointed to a steaming bucket, and left me alone. It was maybe 6:30 am and I took a warm bucket shower in the fields of Batoufam. I will never forget it.

4. Kids Are the Best Way to Learn a Language

My stay in Batoufam was one of my best experiences while studying in Cameroon. The family I stayed with was so kind, and there were always kids around. I was never exactly sure which kids were a part of the family I was staying with. When I decided to go to Cameroon, I had only taken a year of French classes at my university. I soon learned that my French was not as good as I thought it was. 

However, when I was with kids, I felt so much more confident with my language skills. Not only do you feel more confident with kids but they explain things to you that adults never do. When learning a new language you are often lost and ask people to repeat things. You can only ask an adult to repeat things so many times before they will stop and say forget about it. This is extremely frustrating when you are trying to learn a new language because you want to understand. This is why children are the best. They will take as long as you need to explain something to you. 

I was in the “kitchen” (a mud hut with pots, pans, food, and a place to build a fire) with my host family and I didn’t understand something one of the kids said. They then spent the next 10 minutes acting out and repeating what they were trying to tell me. By the end, we were all laughing so hard I didn’t even remember what I was trying to understand. 

5. Flashlights Are not Necessary With a Good Guide

Later that night we went for a walk through the village to collect some pots and a jug of water. Even with the stars shining brighter than I had ever seen, I couldn’t see a thing. We set out on our walk and I had my flashlight in hand. There were kids all scattered around and they knew exactly where they were going. We walked for about 10 minutes before arriving in another family’s kitchen where a goat was tied up. The kids talked to the family, I did my best to answer any questions they had for me and tried to help them pronounce my name. 

We left and walked for another 10 minutes and even with my flashlight, I could not see more than three feet in front of me. We arrived at another house, picked up the jug of water, and headed back home. I asked the kids what they liked doing, what they thought about school, and most importantly how they could see in the pitch black. They just laughed and said that they walked this road every single morning and every night and after a while, you don’t really need to see.

I looked around at the road I had walked that morning and did not recognize a thing. I thought we were still a ways away from the house but within minutes we were home. All of these children were under the age of 10, could cook, clean, and walk around the village in the dark all by themselves. I often saw five/six-year-olds walking around with machetes and I didn’t bat an eyelid.

Wrap Up

Although not your typical study abroad experience, I am incredibly appreciative of the time I spent studying in Cameroon. I met wonderful people, learned a beautiful language, and discovered a developing country. I would highly recommend studying in an unknown place to those of you who are still in college. Your eyes will open to a world that you didn’t know existed. You will be pushed in ways you didn’t know you could be pushed. For those of you who are out of college, I challenge you to visit those unknown places that you may see as scary or unsafe. Do the research, find the right people, and explore the unknown. It will change your life. 

Interested in learning more about other travelers’ experiences around the globe? Check out what one writer learned after spending more than 100 days cycling through Europe.

What I Know Now About Visiting Morocco

Why did I choose here of all places? What was appealing about the desert, only four hours of electricity at night, and washing my clothes in a river? To be honest, it was the prospect of a different perspective. It was the challenge of pushing my comfort zones and defying the stigma behind traveling to certain countries as a woman. It was to learn about a culture that has influenced parts of Europe in language, architecture, and cuisine. Visiting Morocco was challenging, but beyond rewarding.

Getting to Morocco is relatively straightforward. Its close proximity to Europe makes it easily accessible by plane or through the Strait of Gibraltar. I would suggest traveling both ways. Going by boat into Tangier from Tarifa is a fun way to take in the coastlines of the respective continents and see the influence Muslim culture had over southern Spain. The first time I went to Morocco, however, I took a cheap flight with Ryanair from Rome into Rabat. Here are some things I know now about visiting Morocco.

1. Make Sure You Know Where You Are Going

I know it sounds simple. You already bought the plane ticket. You obviously know what country you’re going to. However, make sure you have directions to where you’ll be sleeping. We arrived in Rabat as the daylight cast shadows across the streets. We had booked a room through Couchsurfing

Finding a taxi from the airport wasn’t hard, but the language barrier proved to be difficult. All we had was an address on a piece of paper. Ensure you have photos of your route or landmarks around the place you’re staying. We handed the paper to the driver and sat back with high hopes. 

Eventually, we were dropped at a restaurant on an empty street. The taxi driver didn’t know the address and said he couldn’t help us. This is when we realized we should have purchased a temporary international data plan. With the phone plan, we would have been able to contact our host or use Google Maps. We wandered the streets instead, following the directions of the restaurant staff until by sheer luck we found our host’s flat. 

2. Take the Scenic Route When Visiting Morocco

Don’t be afraid to stop and enjoy the scenery. The morning was brisk and the terrain flat until we reached the foothills of the mountains that stretched from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. The Atlas Mountains boast diverse terrain and wildlife. It is a place you should visit to discover the Berber culture and lifestyle. Multiple times along the way we pulled over to admire the green contrast against the sandy hills. 

The oasis stretched for miles, home to the only civilization in the desert. Our driver spoke of a forest full of monkeys outside the city of Azrou. The forest is home to Barbary macaques (or Barbary apes). These are the only species of macaques found outside of Asia. As we wandered the paths staring into the trees, small, furry creatures emerged from the brush. Two puppies wobbled out to greet us and laid sleepy in the morning sun. Although we wanted to take them both, we had to leave them behind. 

3. Remember That You Are a Tourist

Our journey led us to a local in Marrakech, driving six hours with our driver who was a shy man, and sleeping amongst the towering cliff sides of the Todra Gorge. The latter being our final destination. A river cut its way through the course, tan rock faces; leading through a single hotel, the community gardens, and a small Berber village. This is where we learned the most about Berber culture. Our friend Watik, whom we had met the first time visiting Morocco, lived with his family on a mountain top; a two-hour hike up the Todra Gorge.  

We loaded up the donkeys with crystal clear water we collected out of a small stream that made its way through the rough rocks and came out at the bottom of the gorge. Let me tell you one thing though: there were fish in it. Yes. We drank fish water. If you don’t have a strong immune system, I wouldn’t recommend it. My friend was sick for two days. 

Another thing our friends told us was that only men were allowed to collect this freshwater. Women were not allowed. However, seeing as I was a tourist, I couldn’t resist. I asked Watik if I would offend anyone and he said no. 

One thing I had realized by this point visiting Morocco was that the locals didn’t want tourists to dress like them or try to ‘not be a tourist’. Tourism drives their economy and they know that. However, still be respectful and ask. I went over and put my gallon jugs into the fresh cold stream and filled them one by one. 

4. Sample the Local Cuisine

Heading into the mountains, the donkeys carried the necessities; our water and, most importantly, Berber bread. If you haven’t had this bread, you should. They eat it with every meal. Each night we huddled on the floor around a single plate of couscous and tagine. We split the bread in half, enough to use two fingers, and dug into the tagine, scooping it like a stuffing between the bread and shoving it into our mouths. Everyone partook at the same time. There was no silverware or plates. You took what you wanted, when you wanted. 

We had the opportunity to make this meal one night in the hotel and also on top of the mountain. On the six-hour drive over we also stopped for food and had a camel stew. For the Berbers, it is a delicacy, and to be honest you would have to try it to understand that it doesn’t taste like chicken. Back in the mountains when we reached the peak, there was a symbol made out of rocks. It resembled a stick figure, but the bottom of the figure mirrored the top. I asked Watik what it meant and he told me it meant ‘free people’. He said we would find it on every peak and oftentimes on peoples’ front doors. Standing on the mountain peak as the sun set over the Todra Gorge, you could hear the faint cries of the shepherd’s herd. 

5. Learn a New Skill

Watik’s family took us to another peak at dusk and brought mint-flavored shisha to enjoy at the top of the mountain’s peak where they lived. We sat up there smoking and watching the sunset as they brought out a sort of sling with two retention cords on either side of a leather pouch. This method of slinging goes back centuries.

Used in many different forms over different cultures, we learned how to use this sling to herd goats. Placing a rock in the pouch, you swing the sling around your body until you are ready to release. You usually try to hit on the opposite side of where you want the herd to go. This spooks the goats and forces them the other way and the direction you would like them to move. My friend and I tried this technique many times. The rock went everywhere but straight. Oftentimes it would fly above us or behind us. 

The next day we made our way down the mountain to do our laundry. We insisted on doing it ourselves to learn the customs. They handed us a plastic tub and a cup of powder. They directed us to the river and we went calf deep. 

Let me give you one piece of advice: don’t fill your tub while facing downstream. I lost a few good pairs of underwear on my first try. Quickly realizing I was doing it wrong, I readjusted my position to face upstream and allowed the water to fill my tub. I sprinkled the powder soap into the tub and began scrubbing my clothes together. It was the most humbling experience I had while visiting Morocco, especially coming from a western lifestyle where we have washers and dryers. 

6. Be Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable

After rock climbing, one of our fellow climbers said there was a local hammam she wanted to try but didn’t want to go alone as a woman, so we accompanied her. Hammams are public bathhouses and we were not ready for this. When we arrived, a man at the front counter gave us a rag and a substance wrapped in plastic wrap. That brown glob was the soap. There was a gentlemen’s side and a ladies’ side. When we entered all the women were naked and stared at us. We proceeded to a bench and laid our clothes down.

We undressed and a woman approached us and started telling me something in Arabic. I couldn’t understand her but she was pointing to my underwear. She was telling me that our underwear was to remain on. Then she took all three of us through the curtains and we entered what looked like a college shower room. Women were bathing their children and some children were small enough that they just sat in their five-gallon buckets watching as we walked past. 

Playing soccer collegiately, I was used to a shared shower room. What I wasn’t prepared for was a woman bathing me personally. They threw us around on the floor like we were five years old again. They scrubbed us and both the women and children were fascinated with my tattoos. Everyone huddled over me and turned me over and around this way and that to see each one. At the very end, they stood all three of us against the wall and each woman took turns throwing buckets of warm water at us as the final rinse. As uncomfortable as it may have been, I would do it all over again. 

7. You’ll Never Be Prepared for the Local Transport

Let me tell you, unless you have a private car, you will never be prepared for what you may experience with local transport while visiting Morocco. As our trip came to an end, Watik and his friends found a local charter bus that could take us back to Marrakech. This was by far cheaper than a private car, however, you sacrifice some security and personal space. The charter also needed to make frequent stops in cities and so our quick six-hour drive became a ten-hour schlep. 

To get to the bus station, we had to take local transport from the small village in the gorge and it was packed. People were on the roof, hanging on the sides, standing, sitting, and in any other position you could think of. We crammed ourselves on, wide-eyed, enjoying every second and taking it all in. When we reached the charter bus, no one was on the roof and it was a typical charter you would catch in France. 

Being in a country with undeveloped road systems, we quickly came to a flooded road. A river was crashing through and the local police only let one car pass at a time. Slowly wading through, we thought we would be swept away in the current. Making it through, we had seven more hours to go. 

Wrap Up

Go travel in the desert on camelback. Stroll through fields, gardened by generations of families. Hear the river that feeds on smaller streams that nourish it. Whether it’s by boat or by plane, I would recommend visiting Morocco. Travel with another person or a group, though. The cities are bustling, set against a terrain that is vast and rugged. Traveling with others is not only more fun to create memories together, but it is safer. Trying to defy the stigma of solo traveling as a woman is both gratifying and motivating, but there is a time and place when you have to read your environment and the culture. 

Sam and her friend visiting Morocco with an oasis behind them

When I went back two more times, each to different areas, I kept this in mind. The first time was exhilarating and exciting, but there were moments of uncertainty and situations that could’ve been harmful for my friend and me. Morocco is a progressive and modernizing country, however, the history and culture still run deep through its rivers. Go have fun, see the beautiful coastline and the blue city, Chefchaouen, but be conscious of where you are. 

Michael Carter’s Travels in West Africa

Africa calls to many people. It is where our earliest ancestors were born, after all. That has earned the continent its nickname: Mother Africa. It’s also known as the Dark Continent. There is magic and mystery associated with Africa. We want to tap into it. This explains in some part why a young Canadian, our very own Michael Carter, chose to venture to West Africa back in the last millennium. For our latest interview, we jogged his memory with some questions about his epic trip.

What made you want to visit West Africa?”

Curiosity. Other than a brief visit to Morocco, I had never traveled anywhere in West Africa, much less the rest of the continent. To this day, I have only been to five African nations. There are just 49 left to go.

How much planning went into the trip?”

Virtually none. I had no idea where I was going, but I chose Dakar, Senegal as my starting point. How I decided felt like throwing a dart at a map and seeing where it landed. If I had known where I’d be going, I would likely have made an open-jaw trip by flying into one destination and out of another.

All I knew is that I had about six months to travel, but a budget that would limit my time considerably. The trip in its entirety, which included a handful of days in Paris, France at the end, lasted about four months. My only preparation was booking an open return ticket that took me from Toronto to Paris, and then to Dakar.

West Africa on a globe

What was it like to set foot on African soil?”

Setting foot on soil in West Africa was interesting since I arrived about 11:00-11:30 at night. I had no idea where I might lay my head for the first night. As fate would have it, I had met a German woman at Charles de Gaulle Airport during my Paris layover. She had a place picked out and a driver collecting her at the airport. I tagged along and this kicked off my African adventure.

Dakar is noted for its jazz music clubs. What are your memories of the Senegalese capital’s nightlife scene?”

I didn’t spend long in Dakar. I wouldn’t say I liked it much, to be honest. The exception was taking a boat to Gorée Island. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was the place where slave traders detained many slaves before shipping them off to the ‘new world.’ Although I didn’t visit any nightclubs, I did attend a music festival and fell in love with the rhythmic sounds of West Africa.

A street in Dakar, Senegal in West Africa

Tell us more about the festival.”

Youssou N’Dour was what I remember most about the festival. He was known as a griot,  which is a storyteller, poet, and musician. Youssou went on to international acclaim after touring as an opening act for Peter Gabriel.

The Gambia is less than 31 miles wide at its broadest point. Despite being so narrow, how did traveling there open your mind?”

The Gambia is a former British colony, so English is widely used along with Wolof and Fulani. What I remember most about The Gambia is the fun-loving people. However, this is the same for anyone who has travelled to the laid-back Caribbean islands, where people seemingly do nothing because there is nothing to do.  I consumed copious quantities of palm wine while lazing away the days.

Guinea-Bissau is noted for its natural beauty and wildlife, such as saltwater hippos. What was the most amazing thing you saw there?”

Well, I was only in Guinea-Bissau for eight or nine days. I met some interesting people in this former Portuguese colony — locals, travellers, and expats alike. The one thing I witnessed that was really intriguing to me was grave robbing.

It was almost twilight, and I was having a conversation, and a few beers, with a Brit whose wife worked at the Angolan Embassy in Guinea-Bissau. He told me that across the road was the main hospital. To the side and behind it was the cemetery. ‘You go in the front entrance and out the back,’ the Brit quipped.

There were groups of people rifling through the gravesites and stealing what they could — mostly clothes and shoes from the corpses. I guess you should be wary of those deals you find at second-hand markets.

Many people don’t realize that Timbuktu is an actual place in Mali. How much did the reality of the city match your preconceptions?”

I had no preconceived idea what the place would be like other than a lot of sand. It did not disappoint. The thrill, if you will, was in getting there. I left the city of Mopti — which is at the confluence of the Bani and Niger rivers — in an overloaded Land Rover. The only other foreigners were a French woman and a young Swiss couple.

There were no roads most of the way. It was truly overland. I was told the trip would take about 24 hours, so I purchased adequate provisions and water for this time frame.

We had mechanical problems, fuel shortages, and various other quirks. We slept under the stars of the surprisingly brisk desert night sky. 

A lone tree in Kebemer, Senegal.

By the time we reached the city of Diré, it had been three days of travel and surviving on one day’s worth of snacks and water. Diré is only about three hours — if I remember correctly — by a paved road to Timbuktu. By this time, it was early evening, and only us four foreigners left, including me. The journey halted until the following morning as the driver wanted to pick up more paying customers before continuing to Timbuktu.

I was parched, but at least I could purchase provisions in Diré. Sleeping indoors at a rustic guest house seemed rather luxurious that night. I finally reached my destination and checked my passport with the Commissariat de Police. This was a requirement for foreigners in every Malian city at the time.

Mali’s musicians are some of Africa’s most famous performers. What do you remember listening to there?”

Oumou Sangaré’s songs seemed to be playing endlessly, particularly in the capital, Bamako. She sang with a hauntingly attractive voice. Alas, like all overplayed music, it became like listening to The Eagles Hotel California for the millionth time. If I ever hear her again, it will be too soon.

What was your favorite dish you tried while journeying around West Africa?”

West Africa is no paradise for gourmands. Of the four countries I visited, Senegal had the best food over all. Poulet yassa — which is chicken with a flavourful lime and onion sauce — comes to mind. Mali was pretty much a choice of rice and fish or rice and rubbery chicken. There was one good Lebanese restaurant in Bamako, and I ate there exclusively during my tenure in the capital.

The Gambia was often a ‘meal of the day’ served from a large cauldron. Usually tasty, it’s just that I had no clue what I was eating most of the time. I spent a lot of time based in the village of Latrikunda, and my favourite go-to eatery was a place called ‘No Flies Restaurant.’ Very much a misnomer.

A tree in the prairieland of Senegal

I think my tastiest restaurant meal was in Bissau. Javelli — gazelle in a wine sauce sits high on my list. Guinea-Bissau also provided me with my most interesting food choice not from a restaurant — monkey. It was bush meat as it had been freshly shot by a police officer. What did it taste like? It was extremely rich, tasty, and boney as hell. My insatiable sense of curiosity lured me to try it. It is crossed off of my bucket list permanently.

Michael clearly developed a taste for Africa, monkey notwithstanding. When restrictions are lifted, we hope he can get back to discover some of the other 49 countries on the continent. It will be so interesting to talk to him after he has done that. Michael really is the most engaging of interviewees: well-traveled, educated, and irreverent in equal measure.

Meet Songhoy Blues, Monumental Malian Musicians

Dreams Abroad has a global reach. We have an audience, collaborators, and writers based all around the world, with a goal to cover each continent in glorious, technicolor detail. As we go about our working day, we listen to a developing soundtrack of artists both established and emerging. One previous happy discovery was Songhoy Blues, and we were delighted to set up an interview with bass player Oumar Touré.

Before proceeding to the Q and A, we want to give you a bit of backstory. Oumar is a founding member of Songhoy Blues. He’s also, along with bandmates, a refugee within his homeland. Oumar was forced to flee northern Mali after it was captured by jihadists. One of the first acts the new rulers made illegal was the making of music. Thankfully, Touré and future bandmates escaped to the more culturally tolerant south of the country.

You were born out of a civil war but your music sounds joyous. How difficult is it to stay positive through dark times?

It’s certainly difficult. Despite the challenges, we have to find the right balance between taking our music further afield to reach audiences who are not necessarily in the same situation as us, and denouncing the crisis that our country is going through. This is why we have remained very joyful in our music — but very rebellious in our lyrics!

Landscape With Trees And Cliffs Of Dogon Country In MaliWhat influence did producer Matt Sweeney and mixer Daniel Schlett have on your sound?”

Matt and Daniel are gentlemen who have a great knowledge of music, with Matt especially having a lot of experience with African music. So having these guys with us in the studio brings only good things — not only in the sound choice but also in the whole arrangement of the album. 

The sound effects that Matt offers in each song are so valuable and have contributed a lot to build that rock influence in our style of playing. 

If there is one thing Matt excels at, it is that he always lets us play. Then he tells us  “you go back and play with more anger, rage.” The result is much better. Daniel’s touches are also in the same vein. They have brought a good dose of electro-rock sound to our music while maintaining its African flavour.

And Damon Albarn on your career?

Damon and the Africa Express project were the triggers for Songhoy Blues to start our careers. Not many talents in Africa get this kind of opportunity. It helped us find our very first manager Marc Antoine and our label Transgressive. But since then, the adventure continues. We are starting to fly on our own despite the fact that the route is not easy.

You recently debuted on Stephen Colbert’s show. How do you explain the increasingly universal popularity of the band?”

We are lucky to have a dynamic team that works every day to make things happen – good management and record labels who believe in us. However, we ourselves work hard to continue to push what we are doing and who we can speak to with our music. That’s what makes more and more echoes.

Songhoy Blues in white posing on some rocks.

How did the Peace Through Music collaboration come about?”

We are mutual fans — Playing for Change and Songhoy Blues. They have a school here in Mali and do a lot of amazing work, unifying people around the world through music. It was an honor to be asked to contribute to a version of one of our favorite songs by one of our favorite guys in music — Bob Marley! 

The video was very beautiful and the message is so important right now. It was great to have some connectivity with other musicians and with people around the world. We love to tour and play so much but obviously haven’t been able to for nearly two years now. We also filmed a performance of our song Barre for them in an old schoolyard in Bamako, Mali’s capital.

What does Get Up Stand Up mean to you?

Get Up Stand Up for us definitely speaks to the role of the artist, but also of citizens who have a responsibility to participate in the events of their environment. An artist must therefore and above all speak about the problems of their country. They must see the problems of living beings where they are. And if these problems are ones such as basic human rights (to which Bob alludes), then one must be even more committed.

Songhoy Blues performs on a stage

By the time of his death, Bob Marley felt more African than Caribbean. How much are you motivated by pointing out Mother Africa’s influence on American Blues music?

If at the time of his death, Bob Marley felt more African than Caribbean, this is a great recognition of the African continent. The continent has had a dark past in contemporary history. And I think it’s actions like that that give Africa back its dignity. We believe that the legacy of African music on American Blues can be a great opportunity for us to reach more people in the USA and even elsewhere because of the similarities that still exist between the two musics.

To what extent does your message get diluted if your audience doesn’t understand what you are singing?”

Our songs have been well received all over the world since the creation of the group. However, the understanding of our message has still not been fully realized because of the language barrier. This can be frustrating, especially as we need to share the dire situation of our people with the whole world. We are becoming more and more aware of this reality, and are working on it! So we have already started to take some measures like translating the texts of the videos and singing in other international languages. Further measures will follow.

One of the most iconic cultural British TV moments was the filming of the Bhundu Boys visiting Ireland and jamming with Gaelic musicians. How much do you see music as crossing boundaries?”

Music has never followed the logic of artificial boundaries that people have set for it or themselves. We’ve been listening to The Beatles since we were kids — and today Songhoy Blues is listened to in Australia.

A settlement in Mali

To what extent was your album named Optimisme a reaction to the pandemic?”

Our definition of optimism on this third album is a double reaction. Firstly, to give a glimmer of hope to Malians living in a crisis that is only getting worse. We wanted to bring joy to their hearts at this level. Secondly, we wanted to send positive energy regarding the great crises of the moment -— the world health situation, the current wars — to say that Songhoy Blues believes in a better tomorrow. We invite our fans to cultivate more love and freedom and to celebrate the importance of life.

Most countries have a north-south divide. You’re a northern exile living in the south of Mali. How do the two parts of the country differ?

They differ drastically. The north of Mali, where we come from, is like a town from the Middle Ages. There are no roads, schools, health centers, or security. This kind of place makes the population flee and creates a feeling of rebellion, especially with the religious extremism that threatens the north. On the other hand, the south is more stable. It has more infrastructure and more musical opportunities for the group.

View Of Bamako And The Niger River In Mali

Some of the most memorable London concerts from the Noughties were The Strokes (who ran out of songs) playing Brixton Academy for the first time and Yeah Yeah Yeahs at David Bowie’s Meltdown. How much has their indie-rock permeated your sound?

We’re in the Internet age nowadays and we have access to many different types of music. There are bound to be effects and sounds used by these big bands that appeal to us. It will inevitably influence the way we make music. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs are an especially good example since our first album was produced by Nick Zinner!

Three members of the band share a surname in Touré but none of you are related. You are all, however, Songhai. What does it mean to be Songhai to you?”

We are proud to belong to the Songhoy ethnic group. It was the largest medieval empire in Africa south of the Sahara. We draw a rich history of music from it, along with the superb languages. But beyond that, being Songhoy also allows us to talk about this once very cosmopolitan land that has developed a sense of state. And this heritage today is poorly known by all Malians. This is why we define ourselves as “the Songhoy of Mali.”

Blue electric guitar in a dark room

What has been your most memorable festival experience and why?”

Everyone in this band likely has their own unique memorable event, but for me, playing the Pyramid Stage in June 2015 at Glastonbury remains a day I will never forget. It was my first time playing in front of a crowd. Most of the time on stage I was observing the audience. It was only during the last two songs that I realized I was actually playing in the band’s show.

Songhoy Blues with guitar in front of building

Final thoughts on music making a difference

We get that music is entertainment. However, we are aware that some musicians are more rooted in their home country than others. The likes of Amadou & Mariam, Salif Keita, and Tinariwen have helped to put Mali on the (musical) map. Songhoy Blues want to keep this landlocked West Africa country there.

Songhoy Blues are rebels with a cause. They want to get their message across. But they do it in the most emotive way by featuring guitar licks Jimi Hendrix himself would have been proud of. Songhoy Blues pack some punch both on stage and in the recording studio.

If this interview has grabbed your attention, mosey on over to our VLOGS where some inspiring individuals state their cases.

Volunteering in Eswatini with the Peace Corps

 

It is no secret that an increasing number of young adults have pondered the idea of living and working abroad. It’s exciting. It’s something new. And above all, it’s rewarding. Countries in Europe, South America, and Asia tend to get the most attention, especially for those wishing to teach English. However, there are many small, developing nations all around the world where one’s hard work could have a great and lasting impact on families and communities, especially if you join the Peace Corps.

Rachel Albright chose the Peace Corps. A mental health counselor from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Rachel felt a calling in her mid-20s to go abroad and make a difference. Through the United States Peace Corps, she found herself in the southern African nation of Swaziland (now Eswatini) in 2015, unaware of what a life-changing experience it would turn out to be. I sat down with Rachel to learn more about her time abroad and what it was really like to be a member of the Peace Corps.

What inspired you to join the Peace Corps?”

Growing up, I remember being so curious about the world. I felt this intrinsic need to explore it, even in its most remote areas. Other cultures, particularly those in less-developed regions, intrigued me. I always wondered what it would be like to immerse myself in a completely foreign culture and society. Hailing from a predominantly white, conservative, small town in central Pennsylvania, few shared my longing to be elsewhere — somewhere more exciting, more interesting, more diverse, and more open-minded. 

While in high school, I met someone who had served in the Peace Corps and was mesmerized by his stories. At that time in my life, a goal of serving seemed so unachievable and unheard of. I didn’t feel like I’d have the support and understanding from my family. Plus, I was still discovering who I was as an individual. 

Other Avenues

So, I put this dream on hold and instead chose to explore the Dominican Republic during my freshman year of college. And that only served to spark my passion for international development. What I felt after the plane landed in Puerta Plata, and what I observed through the window as our group rode through the impoverished countryside to our luxury resort, has stuck with me to this day. 

Dominican Republic
A beautiful view of the Dominican Republic

The disconnect between the rural, developing areas and the upscale resorts shocked me. I could not understand how that level of poverty could exist while multi-star hotels lined the coast. How many vacationers have driven past these struggling communities and quickly forgotten about them once they reached their destination? When we got to our gated “Americanized” resort, I couldn’t help thinking how much I wanted to be on the other side, exploring the real Dominican Republic. Once home in Pennsylvania, I began to explore opportunities to travel to more developing countries. I returned again to the Peace Corps.

Why did you choose to work in Swaziland?”

When I applied for the Peace Corps, applicants could not choose their post. I spent a whole year applying, interviewing, and obtaining clearances and vaccinations. Finally, someone at the organization contacted me about a potential post in El Salvador. Shortly after, the Peace Corps ended up closing this post due to high levels of crime and gang activity in the capital, San Salvador. 

They then offered me a position in Cameroon. After about three months of preparing for Cameroon — giving up my apartment, selling my car, and quitting both my jobs, I received a call informing me that the Peace Corps was also closing its post in Cameroon and I would need to reapply if I wanted to serve. I felt absolutely devastated. Luckily, a few days later they offered me a post in Swaziland. I accepted it without really knowing much about the country aside from its location and the fact any foreign-language skills I had obtained (Spanish, French) would not be helpful there.

Ezulwini Valley In Swaziland Eswatini With Beautiful Mountains and Trees

What work experience did you have to take before traveling there?”

There are six sectors within the Peace Corps: agriculture, community economic development, education, environment, health, and youth in development. In Swaziland at the time, there were only two of those sectors in operation: health and youth in development. They assigned me a youth-in-development posting based on my educational and professional background. By 2015 when I joined, I had obtained a master’s degree in developmental psychology and had five years of experience working with teens as a mentor and counselor within various mental health settings.

What language do they speak in Swaziland? Did the Peace Corps offer classes to give you a basic understanding of the language?”

In Swaziland, both English and Swati are national languages. However, the majority of Swazis speak Swati and only very limited English. So, during pre-service training (the first two months spent in the country), I took intensive daily Swati courses.  They assigned me a language and cultural facilitator. After three-and-a-half years, two of which were spent in a rural village, I tested intermediate-advanced in the Swati language.

Rachel with community leaders during her time with the Peace Corps
Community matters in Eswatini

What was it like to live in a small village? How would you describe your accommodation?”

Living in a small village with a host family was the part of service I was most nervous about beforehand. I wish I knew then that becoming a part of that host family and part of my host community would be the most rewarding, incredible aspect of my time in Swaziland. In Swaziland, I stayed in a village called Msengeni. There were 78 families and it was located in the northeast corner, about five miles from the border of Mozambique.

Life in the rural village took time to get used to. My accommodation was located on my host family’s homestead (a group of dwellings belonging to individuals within my immediate and extended host family). They gave me my own stand-alone house. Essentially, this was a tiny room made of rocks and concrete. A corrugated iron roof and burglar-proof bars on the door and windows prevented rain and intruders from getting in. 

African living quarters
Home sweet home Eswatini style

I was lucky enough to have electricity wired in with an outlet and light. There was no running water in Msengeni. To gather water, we harvested rain running off the slanted roofing into buckets. We also walked and fetched water from the river, about half a mile from my home. 

After gathering water, I would treat it with bleach or boil it before drinking, cooking, and bathing. My bathroom facilities? Well, my family had an enclosed pit latrine, which is essentially a long-drop hole in the ground. In terms of life in the community, it was simple. 

Day-to-Day Life

Most of my host community members were farmers. They worked in the fields and cared for livestock early in the morning when the sun was weaker. During the day, women would sell homemade goods on the main road. The road received a decent amount of traffic from travelers coming back and forth from Mozambique. 

The children whose families could afford their school fees went to classes during the day and then studied, helped with the cooking and laundry, and played in the evenings. The other children would attend the Neighborhood Care Point, which my host mother helped run. There they received a hot meal and occasional education.  Men typically stayed indoors during the day, resting. Homestead life was full of chickens, goats, donkeys, and cows, free-range at all times. It was not uncommon for the animals to wander in and out of my house on a daily basis. 

A free-range chicken

How did you adapt to the local diet?”

The Swazi diet is pretty bland. The staple food is maize which is ground up into mealie-meal and used to make lipolishi or pap. Pap really does not have much flavor and is close to the consistency of grits. 

They typically pair pap or rice with beans or some sort of stew. On Sundays, and when it was available, we would have meat — usually chicken. During celebratory events, beef, goat, or pork would accompany the occasional salad (beetroot, cabbage, or lettuce and tomato). I adapted to this diet pretty quickly. The food was natural and for the most part, it was grown in the village. My stomach handled it pretty well.

What was the hottest temperature reached during your time there?”

In 2015 on Christmas Eve, I remember the temperature reaching 108 degrees Fahrenheit. During the summers it usually ranged from 85-95 degrees. What a lot of people do not realize though is that it can actually get pretty cold in the winters. During a Swazi winter, you can wake up to frost on the ground. Because we had no heaters or fireplaces indoors, the inside felt just as cold as outdoors.

A campfire in Swaziland

What were your responsibilities as a member of the Peace Corps?

The Peace Corps has three main goals volunteers work towards during and after their service: 1) to help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women; 2) to help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served; and 3) to help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans. In Swaziland, the main mission was to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Swaziland had one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS in the entire world. In working to address the epidemic, my role as a youth in development volunteer in Msengeni included teaching daily at the local high school. Alongside my counterpart, I designed a course for life skills, sexual reproductive health, and career guidance. 

Every day, I would walk about half a mile to the high school to teach. Within the high school, my counterpart and I built a library and started a variety of youth clubs. Outside of the high school, I helped to develop the Neighborhood Care Point and to establish a pre-school. In addition, I was involved in a variety of other projects such as building playgrounds, income-generating activities, handwashing awareness, and condom distribution, among others.

What were your expectations prior to moving abroad? To what extent were they met after you arrived?”

I am glad I went into the Peace Corps with limited expectations. My recruiter told me to go into service with this mindset. Initially, I expected service to be tough and a huge adjustment, which it absolutely was. I expected to form bonds with the people in my community, which I definitely did. I think all Peace Corps volunteers want to “change the world” and they find out quickly after arriving at their post that Peace Corps service will not accomplish this. 

Instead, I feel I made impacts on a tiny scale — on the individual lives of my students, host family, and community members. While I can only hope the projects I worked on were sustained, what I honestly hope for more is that my community remembers me for being me. I definitely feel my host community members made a far larger impact on my life than I ever could on theirs.

What was the biggest challenge you faced as you acclimatized to your new life?”

The most difficult thing to get used to was the gender differential. Men are viewed as above women in society and this was difficult to process coming into service as a female and a feminist. During community meetings, only men could stand or sit on chairs while women were on the ground. In addition, women were rarely given a chance to voice their opinions on matters within the community. 

There is also an overwhelming level of gender-based violence in Swaziland. Many of the cultural celebrations can be viewed as degrading to women. Learning to accept this was the most difficult aspect of service.

Umhlanga, the Reed Dance, a National Ceremony that Rachel observed during her time with the Peace Corps
Ceremonial Swaziland

Which special relationships did you form while living and working in Swaziland?”

I formed so many incredible relationships during my three-and-half years in Swaziland. The bond between myself and my entire host family, which included many brothers, sisters, cousins, grandparents, aunts, and uncles, was extremely close. The most significant would have to be the bond I formed with my host mother, Sibongile Magagula or Make (mother) for short. 

Make is undoubtedly the strongest person I know. She taught me the ropes — how to speak the Swati language, cook over an open fire, wash my clothes by hand, wax my floor, slaughter chickens, herd cattle, and carry a 25-liter bucket of water on my head. Make also taught me a lot about what it means to truly be part of a community. 

Rachel and Make during her time with the Peace Corps
Rachel with Make, her host mother

We could talk about anything and she went from knowing very little English to being completely fluent during the time I spent with her. Make kept me safe, healthy, and always entertained. For that, I am forever grateful.

How much were you able to use Swaziland as a base to explore the wider area in your free time?”

During service, I traveled to South Africa quite a bit — KwaZulu Natal, Durban, Cape Town, Johannesburg, Kruger, and many areas in between. I was also able to visit Mozambique during my service. Peace Corps volunteers receive leave time and can travel a decent amount on their Peace Corps issued passport. The Peace Corps only requests that volunteers report their whereabouts for safety reasons. I mostly explored within Swaziland, which is tiny but incredibly diverse. 

What advice would you give to someone interested in joining the Peace Corps?”

Although I am definitely grateful to the Peace Corps for allowing me the opportunity to see so many amazing things and meet so many remarkable people, I cannot say I completely agree with its mission — something I learned gradually during my time serving. I feel the idea of the Peace Corps perpetuates “white saviorism.” This promotes the idea that white people, or people from a more developed area, know best and can solve the developing world’s problems. Since returning to the States, I have struggled with how I feel being associated with such ideas. 

I have learned to accept it and learn from it. The good news is that the Peace Corps is currently discussing a reform to become more diverse in itself and to rethink its framework of sustainability. So, my advice to anyone interested in service is to do it, but be open to learning. Be open to the fact that you do not have the answers and you are not going to “change the world”, but you may change someone’s life, and that could very well be worth it.

Antelope in Swaziland National Park

How has it helped you since returning to the States?”

My time in the Peace Corps and simply immersing myself in a foreign culture has definitely changed my perspective on many things. Now I am more mindful than ever of other peoples’ adverse experiences, diversity, and politics in general. These days I am more aware of how change needs to happen from the grassroots up if it is to be sustainable and that we should be putting more focus on preserving culture in that process, by celebrating differences within each other. 

I think the biggest takeaway that I have found from traveling anywhere is that people are the same intrinsically, no matter where they’re from. We all laugh and cry at the same things. We all are striving towards happiness and the only real difference is that we may speak a different language or look different from each other. I feel being mindful of this has only strengthened my ability to form relationships and relate to others.

Finding Clarity

Rachel remains in contact to this day with her host family and many of the friends she made in the Peace Corps. She continues to utilize everything she has learned abroad in her professional and personal life, striving to make the world a better place one person at a time. Her feeling of wanderlust has never been stronger, and she hopes to travel as often as she can when it is safe to do so. 

No matter what route we take to live and work abroad, one thing is abundantly clear: we see the world more transparently. Moving abroad doesn’t have to be a pipe dream, and joining the Peace Corps is one of many viable options to be able to expand your mind and gain international experience within a developing nation. In today’s climate, experiencing life from a different lens may be more important than we realize.

*The content of this article belongs to Dreams Abroad and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Government, the Peace Corps, or the Eswatini Government.

 

Getting a Master’s Degree Abroad

 

kenny obiora Getting a Master's DegreeKenny Obiora was born in Onitsha, Anambra State, Nigeria, Africa. He lived the majority of his formative years living with his uncle, aunt, and grandmother in Nigeria while attending school. He returned to the US during his school breaks before moving permanently to the United States for grades 8-12.

When we asked Kenny about his parents’ decision to send him “home,” he answered, “they wanted me to have a good upbringing.” He later explained that this meant that his parents wanted him to be culturally immersed in his day-to-day activities and life. They wanted him to be part of the Igbo tribe and learn the Igbo tribal language. Kenny speaks three languages: English (which is the dominant language in Nigeria), his tribal language, Igbo, and French, which he studied throughout his academic career. 

Kenny is currently living in Paris, France on an APS visa. This visa class means that Kenny will have to work in a field in which he studied. Kenny recently graduated, getting a master’s degree abroad in health economics and is pursuing a career in the field. 

What was it like growing up in Milwaukee, WI? For example, your education system. Did you go to a primary school and a secondary school? 

“I had a mixed childhood. Before I was fourteen, I lived in Onitsha, Anambra State, Nigeria. I attended a private boarding school. I returned to the United States officially to complete eighth grade and high school. When I arrived, I attended a public middle school in a suburb of Milwaukee, and then a private high school in Milwaukee. 

The education system in Milwaukee is very broken. Most of the public schools are lacking — whether in quality teachers or in funding. Due to this, students are negatively impacted. My parents enrolled me in a program in Milwaukee called “Open Enrollment” which allowed me to be bussed into another school district. This program was only by application and there were selective spots. I was only able to finish middle school through the program. Afterwards, my parents decided to place me in a private high school.”

Boston CollegeDid you take a gap year? Or, did you go straight to the university for your undergraduate studies? 

“No, I went directly to the university. I was fortunate to attend a college-preparatory high school, which pushed us to apply to a wide range of universities. I was most looking forward to the exciting majors and clubs at Boston College.”

Where did you study after high school? How long did it take to get a diploma for your undergraduate studies?

“I attended Boston College (BC) in Chestnut Hill, MA. It’s funny that BC is neither in Boston nor a college! It took me four years to receive my diploma. I received a B.S. in Biology and a minor in French. College changed me in many ways. I learned independence and what it meant to do things for myself. Laundry was no joke!”

Why did you decide on getting a master’s degree abroad at Sciences Po Paris ? 

“I decided to leave the United States and move to France for a few reasons. After I graduated from college, I spent a year working part-time in a lab in the Boston area doing clinical research and working part-time as a Resident Director and Diversity and Inclusion Assistant Director at Emmanuel College. My goal was to apply to medical school during this time. However, after I was accepted officially to Sciences Po Paris, I knew this was an opportunity of a lifetime. I hadn’t studied abroad during my college years, and I knew that getting a master’s degree abroad in Health Economics would be a complement to my bachelor’s studies. The price point of a university in France was also very attractive. With all these decisions I decided to pack up and head to France!”

What sparked your dream study abroad?

Getting a Master's Degree Abroad in france“I’ve always considered myself to be a wanderer. I spent many years of my childhood in Nigeria. When I didn’t have the opportunity to study abroad as a university student, I knew that getting a master’s degree abroad was a priority. Studies in France are very attractive. For example, schools are much cheaper than they are in the United States and there are many opportunities to do dual programs in other countries.”

What were your expectations before you left? How did they change once you arrived to the   location and what changed after having completed the program?

“I was an International Assistant at Boston College, which was a program that paired together international students and BC students to make the transition smoother. I was paired with a few French students. To be honest, they tended to stick with their friends from their country and thus, I thought the French would be exclusive. While this was somewhat true at the beginning, I did learn that the French value friendship a lot. While they can be closed-off at the beginning, once they opened up, they were very kind. 

I also didn’t expect the amount of bureaucracy in France. I was so used to the efficiency of the United States. You applied for something and you could receive that service in a short period. This doesn’t happen in France. Everything takes so much time to happen and is very difficult for foreigners. Getting an apartment, healthcare, a bank account, and visa are all long processes that took weeks to months.”

What did you not expect about living abroad and getting a master’s degree abroad in Paris? 

“I expected that university life would be similar to how it was in the states. You live and learn in the same environment. I was expecting that I would have classes right next to where I lived and wouldn’t have to rely on public transportation. In Paris, the school was just for studying. Clubs and student residences were far and many students lived on their own in the city. In my first year of working on my master’s degree, I lived in a flatshare thirty minutes from school.”

What have you done since you got your graduate degree?

“I am currently looking for a job in my field in Paris. Also, I have been keeping busy giving English lessons to families and companies in the Paris area. I have been applying to pharmaceutical companies in the Paris area in hopes of working in the healthcare field. Since graduation, I’ve been involved in acting classes in Paris. It’s a fun outlet to express myself and meet other expats and students with similar interests in Paris.” 

What advice would you give to someone who wants to study abroad in Paris?

“I would tell them to go beyond a semester study abroad program. A full bachelor’s or master’s degree would not only be enriching, but it would save them a lot of money and really allow them to immerse themselves in the culture! Getting a master’s degree abroad really changed my life.”

kenny obiora paris france

Starting a Professional Career After Getting a Master’s Degree

Kenny is actively looking for a professional career in Paris in the healthcare field. While looking for this position, he has experienced firsthand how competitive it is in his field. He has also realized how being from a different cultural background has its disadvantages. In this field (Kenny can’t speak for other industries), he has noticed that Parisians tend to work amongst themselves and often exclude outsiders. This isn’t just because of the need for a visa. It’s also a cultural familiarity amongst workers. Parisians tend to prefer working with other Parisians in big pharmaceutical companies in the Paris metropolitan area. Kenny just started interviewing and is teaching private English lessons at his college for extra money. His life is thriving at the moment, and he hopes to break through the cultural barrier during an interview soon. 

by Dreams Abroad