Category Archives: South Africa and Beyond

Sit down, be humble: A South African Embassy Experience

Greetings all!!

I am so very excited for this adventure to begin.  It has been a bittersweet seven months leading up to my departure (which is happening very soon).  I have grown a lot, and become much more self aware (thanks to the enneagram, the mystics and yoga) over the past year.  I have also had a lot more free time to think about this trip and my expectations, or lack thereof, which has caused some internal discomfort as I am forced to face the fact that things change, and when I return, not only will I be different, but the people around me.  Not only in their emotional and spiritual state, but their physical state.  I will return to Nashville after most of my friends graduation, and so realizing that some of the people I love very dearly will not be residing in Nashville anymore is quite saddening.  And over the past seven months I have also grown more and more excited about this unique and incredible opportunity that has led me into more gratefulness for whatever this adventure may hold.  Though sometimes I oddly wish I had more strings tying me down to Nashville (a strange thing for an enneagram 7 to admit), the fact of the matter is I do not, and instead of always trying to change that, I am thankful for the freedom and willingness for spontaneity that has led me right back to Cape Town.

Even in the months leading up to my departure, I have learned some very valuable lessons, like humility, flexibility and patience.  If I have talked to you about my trip since starting the visa process, you have probably heard me complain about the FBI.  Well fourteen weeks, yes fourteen, that is three and a half months after submitting my fingerprints, I finally received the long awaited piece of paper stating I had no criminal history, a surprise to many I am sure.  I received my background check on Monday, and on that Wednesday I was on a flight to DC to go to the South African Embassy to apply for my visa.  Let it be known that to apply for a visa, you have to go to the Embassy/Consulate to apply in person.  This means flights, hotels, ubers, the whole nine yards.  So, I arrive to DC Wednesday evening, eat some vegetable korma because Indian food reminds me of South Africa and every Sunday my roommates and I at S-CAPE would make veggie curry.  I wandered around for a bit, it was freezing but I saw a Christmas tree at the capitol building and that was pretty neat!  In the morning, I awoke, walked the mile down Embassy Row to the South African Embassy building and patiently waited outside.  And to those who know me, I was 30 minutes early, which may be the most absurd thing you have ever heard because I am never early anywhere! But I was and am serious about this visa.  So I stood on the other side of the fence next to a monument of Nelson Mandela, sipping some now lukewarm coffee and reading Desmond Tutu. The clock strikes 8:30, I ring the little bell and I am directed inside the small warm room with rows of gray chair lining the wall.  I was told to wait and they would call me up.  It was only me in the little warm box of a room so I observed the lion photo on the wall for what felt like an eternity before hearing “ok, come in.”  I was then directed to an even smaller and darker room where the visa man sat on the other side of a pane of glass.  I pulled out my folder with every single document they had asked for, from bank statements, to a radiological x-ray.  The man asked why I was there, I tell him “I am here to apply for a Charitable Activities Visa”, and he asked for the letter from S-CAPE inviting me to come.  So I proudly handed it to him, and waited as he glanced at it.  He then proceeded to ask me many questions and, in essence, told me that there is an unemployment crisis in South Africa (which I am indeed aware of), and that by volunteering I would be taking away potential jobs from South Africans.  Now I understand where he is coming from, however, I tried to explain that S-CAPE relies on volunteers, and the position I am taking would never be a paid position, thus leaving me confused with his reasoning.  But there was no convincing him otherwise.  He told me I could apply for a visa extension once I am in the Republic, or I could just go for 90 days (which Americans can do without any visa).  Frustrated, I left with all the unseen documents I had compiled, and walked back to my hotel in the cold, got on a plane and flew back to Atlanta discouraged and upset.

I called my wise friend, Hunter Wade, in the airport to tell her what had happened and as she always does, she pointed out some valuable opportunities to learn and grow.  It was quite humbling for sure.  As an American, a white, middle class, educated, straight, able bodied American, I have not been denied much in my life, especially when I have followed all the rules and done everything “right”.  This is one of the most poignant moments for me realizing that this happens to so many individuals.  People wanting to immigrate here to the states, or even simply visit their loved ones.  Arbitrary reasoning and unnecessarily difficult procedures are routine in the visa process to enter the United States as well.  And in that moment, I realized this is how most individuals feel: hopeless, powerless, frustrated, defeated.  It was quite a sobering moment.  South Africa owes me nothing, though I went in with the mindset of an easy visa process because why wouldn’t they give me visa? I followed the directions, I think I am pretty nice, I had good reason to to go, I have good intentions, I am not a criminal (the FBI even said so).

On the bright side however, I was told I can apply for an extension of my 90 days visa (which is automatically given to visa exempt countries) once I am in South Africa.  This means some more money, waiting and bureaucracies, but I have a better chance of obtaining an extension that would allow me to stay in Cape Town for the full time I had anticipated.  But it is hard being so uncertain!  I want everything to be sorted now, but it simply cannot.  My impatient nature is surfacing and it has been quite the practice of learning to let go of what I cannot control.

If you have made it to the end of this very long first blog post, thank you.  I am a written processor as you can tell.  I am excited to update yall as I begin my journey in a few short weeks! Hopefully next post will be me on Muizenberg beach with an extended visa because it is going to be SUMMERTIME in the southern hemisphere 😉mandelaembassy

Meet the Coaches!

Some of our coaches cheering on our rugby players at Derby Day!

I can’t believe that five weeks ago, these people were just strangers to me. During my time in South Africa, I’ve not only had the chance to fall in love with a new nation and people, I’ve also been able to make an impact with these incredible folks from all around the world. And they’ve been so kind as to let me in on a few reflections from their coaching experiences!

Why did you decide to volunteer with United Through Sport?

I decided to volunteer at UTS because I fully believe in their goals and wanted them to help reach them at 100%. By placing children in the townships in the center of the attention, United Through Sport is taking care of the future of South Africa. —Julian S.

I’ve always wanted to do sport-related volunteering, and United Through Sport really stood out to me. After seeing a video and some photos of the kids that UTS was working with, it sounded incredible and described everything I wanted to do as a volunteer. —Jess T. 

Katie and Imi attempting candids on a coaching day.

Continue reading

A Trip to Jeffrey’s Bay!

Hey all!

A three-day weekend calls for adventuring, and what better place to do so than South Africa? Last weekend we headed an hour west to Jeffery’s Bay, home of the Billabong Surfing Championships. After a road trip and a few wrong turns, we made it to Island Vibes, our hostel and home for the next few days.

From the moment we talked to the smiling Charmain at the front desk, I knew I would love Island Vibes. The laid-back, surf bum feel was absolute heaven to me. I had never stayed in a hostel before, but it ended up being AMAZING! It was kind of like living in a big house, except your house-mates just happened to be incredible surfers from all around the world. As I leaned over the balcony watch the waves crashing on the shore and breathed in the salt-tinged air, I was filled with bliss (how’s that for Island Vibes?) Continue reading

From Here to Anywhere: Jen’s Lumos Journey

“It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” —Eleanor Roosevelt

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My name is Jeanette Morelan, and in just nine days, I will be leaving my home in Wisconsin and traveling to Port Elizabeth, South Africa. As I sit here and write these words, even now, I still don’t believe it. It seems like it was only yesterday that I was sitting in a classroom with my Social Entrepreneurship advisor and hearing about the Lumos Award, a way for students to bring their light to places all around the world while at the same time illuminating things within themselves through their once-in-a-lifetime experiences. I was skeptical that I would ever be accepted to the program, but on that day in November, a spark was lit.

It’s amazing what a little bit of faith can do.

My dream of learning more about community development and myself through an experience abroad was made reality thanks to my Lumos Award. And now, with flights booked, bags not-quite packed, and an adventure ahead, my heart is filled with nothing but gratefulness.

During my time in Port Elizabeth, I will be working with United Through Sport, a partner of Frontier, my original travel organization. Not only will I be assisting in providing disadvantaged communities with support and assistance, from education to physical resources, I will also be learning first-hand about the importance of empowerment as a solution to social issues. As an aspiring social entrepreneur, my life’s passion is to help address social issues by empowering individuals both economically and spiritually.

I believe that the two greatest resources in solving this world’s problems are our innate desire to feel purposeful and our innate desire to help others find their purpose. When we connect both, we create real, lasting change.

In a world that is rocked by seemingly insurmountable economic, political, and social issues, it can be easy to simply want to curse the darkness: to give up, avert our gaze, and simply turn the other way.

But I believe there’s another way. Be the light.

Through the experiences I’ve had at Belmont and now with the physical support of the Lumos Award, I am hoping to not only shine a light in the darkness, but to help spark a movement—first, within myself, then, to all those who are impacted and will hear about my experience, and then...who knows? I’m ready to find out.

Stay tuned with more pre-travel updates and follow my experience on social media with the hashtag #JensLumosJourney.

Let’s go light a candle.


My Year in South Africa

In less than a week I will be home! For the past year, the idea of coming home has been intangibly far in the future. Now, I am scrambling to prepare for my three-week-visit to the States. The end of the year has given me reason to reflect about my experience and compare my life now to where I started a year ago.

When I first arrived, I am ashamed to say that I knew very little about South African culture and history. I didn’t know who was president, what “colored” meant in a racial context, which languages where nationally recognized, or how much of colonial history still influences society–I didn’t even know any South Africans. Despite my attempts at self-education, I was completely ignorant of what daily life looked like for South Africans.

Now I am very aware of President Jacob Zuma, the ANC party, and the South African political system. I understand the apartheid imposed racial classification system that still is utilized today. I have experienced the dynamics of eleven national languages coexisting in South Africa. Furthermore, every day I see how British and Dutch colonialism still pervades economic, political, and social structures in Cape Town. I now comprehend that daily life means many different notions to the South Africans I live and work with.

There have been many more insights that I have obtained about South Africa, North America, and the international community from my trip. However, much of my insights have been reflections on past and current affairs. Therefore, it was fitting that I was recently able to attend an event series called Open Book Festival. The festival was designed for authors of recent publications to speak about their work. Several of the dialogues I was able to attend did well to address current and past international affairs, but they also expanded on how those events will impact future developments.

Along with my reflections on South Africa, my person reflections lead me to believe that very little can be understood about a place without spending significant and intentional time living there. In considering how much I have learned from when I started my year, I realize that while I have gained many insights, there are still many things that are unknown to me about South Africa. People also experience a place in a variety of ways, many of which through narrow and brief experiences. Sometimes as outsiders we see more clearly, but very often more happens than what an outsider can perceive. For now, I will look forward to what discoveries are to come in my next encounters in South Africa.

Adventures in Namibia

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About a month ago, I was able to take a week off work to go on a road trip through Namibia. My trusty co-adventurers included my housemate Kyle, my dear friend Mmamohau, her comrade Mandisa, and another American, Alison. Our road trip started strong with some Coldplay and Matt Kearney jams, aubergine pâté, and a luxurious first night at Ai-Ais hot springs resort. However, our timing was not ideal since several of my fellow Connect-123 interns left for home during our trip. Before we left, they indignantly joked, “Why would you choose Namibia over us? It’s just a bunch of sand!”


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Our strong start unfortunately did not last long. We quickly noticed that there was a scarcity of petrol stations. The majority of time on our second, third, and fourth day was spent rather slowly as we carefully took on one gravel ‘highway’ after another. At one low, low, low point we realized that we had only driven 20km in an hour—20 kilometers, not miles. Nevertheless, we persevered through the tough times with games and entirely too much Matt Kearney.


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After driving one day, we decided that we could carry on no further and stopped for the night at an accommodation in the middle of the desert. We were desperate and slightly low on petrol, so we said we would take whatever rooms they had available. My friend Alison and I got stuck in a couple’s room, which wasn’t an issue except for the fact that there was not wall in between the bedroom and the bathroom. We recovered by making s’mores outside on the campfire whenever one of us needed some privacy.

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Although we had some rough patches, the encounters we had with nature in Namibia made the trip entirely worthwhile. Highlights of our trip include a hike up Dune 45 in Sossusvlei (one of the highest sand dunes in the world), a glimpse at Deadvlei (a petrified forest in the desert), Fish River Canyon (the world’s second largest caynon), a camel ride through the desert, a tour of a ghost town (with houses covered in sand), wild animal sightings everywhere (including horses, antelope, zebra, and warthogs), and a drive by Orange River.


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The entire trip I was craving a braai (South African cookout), and I finally had my wish granted on the last night. Our last accommodation was on a farm called the White House, which we thought was too ironic to pass up. Unfortunately, it was basically the opposite style of our first lodging. The rustic nature of the White House was exasperated by Mmamohau and my illnesses. When we returned home, Mmamohau learned that she had bronchitis and I had food poisoning or the equivalent. This lead to a slightly rocky ending, but jolly camaraderie and Lord of the Rings themed accommodation in Windhoek (called Rivendell) made food poisening slightly less painful.

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In the end, I decided that if I ever consider marriage with a life partner, then we must go on a road trip to Transkei or Namibia to test our love and see magnificent landscape.

Thoughts on Human Dignity

Recently, I expressed my dismay at a bathroom that charged me one rand (ten cents in the US) to enter it. I asked an acquaintance with me, “What’s the point of charging R1?” She answered that it was to keep homeless people out of the bathroom. I felt rage and horror at the establishment’s alleged discrimination against homeless people. However, my friend disagreed with me, arguing that the discrimination was not unfounded.

To give a context: my acquaintance is a South African living in the township in Cape Town that has been identified by a media statement of the SAHRC as a crisis area in regards to toilet sanitation. For 6 weeks toilet workers in the area have been on strike because of low wages. The residents attack city workers who try to clean it in the meantime. The protest is now very political and largely blames apartheid and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for leaving Black South Africans in poverty today and the DA (the political part in power in the Western Cape) for not making more substantial changes.

While this person is not directly affected by the sanitation issue in the area she lives in, I was still shocked that my acquaintance was so inhospitable to the thought of sharing toilets with homeless people. Sure there are other issues to consider, but at the end of the day, homeless people deserve the same amount of dignity as anyone else.

What are your thoughts?

An Overdue Update

Noordhoek Beach

Noordhoek Beach

It feels as if life has just exploded here. My work and social calendar have gone from 0 to 60 lately, making me negligent, forgetful, and lazy to post. I’m so sorry for the overdue update. My latest personal and professional adventures consist of: an exploration of the Cape Peninsula and Franschhoek, a road trip to Transkei in the Eastern Cape, a camping trip with Green Pop to plant 3,000 trees, a visit with the BU study abroad group, and new developments in my responsibilities at the SAHRC. For now, though, I will just tell you of the wonders of the Eastern Cape.

My traveling has brought me to lovely parts of the nation, untouched by commercial development or western culture. Outside of the Western Cape, South Africa has a beauty truly foreign to  my eyes.

Even though I traveled with other Americans and South Africans for several of my excursions, many of my needs were unexpected. For instance, for two days in Transkei I had no cell phone service. This was unfortunately not accounted for and led to many misadventures. After following landmark descriptive directions for about three hours in the dark wilderness (including a hour long wrong turn because our car couldn’t make it up a hill), my fellow comrades and I rolled up to Bulungula backpackers at 12:30am. Long story short we didn’t think things through and sent non-Xhosa speaking comrades to speak to the only Xhosa speaking villagers we woke up in the middle of the night. The result: sleeping in a tent/the car/fail. In the morning, we did realize that we,in fact, found Bulungula in the dark and we were camped in the middle of the school yard. The funniest part was that everyone went about their day like it was the most normal thing in the world.

While Bulungula provided a fairly difficult destination to get to (especially with the flood-washed Eastern Cape backroads in our cheap car), it was one of the most serene places I have beheld. The backpacker is essentially a social venture, empowering the local community by providing entrepreneurial services at the backpackers. I spoiled myself with a canoe trip, sunrise pancakes on the beach, and a massage. The BEST!

On the way home, we realized that cell phone service would have been helpful while our gas light was flashing about one hour away from the closest petrol station. However, our previous adversities made us innovative and strong. Well that and we were lucky. One of our comrades was African, so we had to rely on her to pull up to a shady minibus rank, speak broken Xhosa, and buy some greenish looking petrol to get us to the next garage.

Our road trip ended well, with me safely making it to the gas station and learning how to drive manual!


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Cape Point

Cape Point

Easter at St. George's

Easter at St. George’s


The beautiful Eastern Cape Xhosa houses

The beautiful Eastern Cape Xhosa houses

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Bulungula Backpackers

Bulungula Backpackers


random horse grazing outside of our room

random horse grazing outside of our room






The Rickers Explore Kruger and Vic Falls

After a busy four-ish days exploring Cape Town, my family and I flew to Thornybush Game Lodge for a Ricker fam safari experience. I was slightly skeptical of this choice, since I thought it would mostly just be a cheesy tourist trap or a fancy zoo. Instead, I was delightfully surprised to find a beautifully simplistic lodge with a warm and welcoming staff. The game drives were long and relaxing; our driver and spotter had to spend a significant amount of time analyzing animal tracks since the bush was so thick. Below are some pictures from the safari.

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After spending two nights in Kruger, my family ventured to Livingstone, Zambia to see Victoria Falls. Our highlight was a lunch excursion to Livingstone Island. The island, located in the middle of the Zambezi River which runs between the borders of Zimbabwe and Zambia, sits on the edge of the falls. Vic Falls stretches over a mile from one side to the other during this season, standing over 300m high. The local name for the falls is Mosi-oa-Tunya or in English, “the smoke that thunders.”

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Apart from the tourist areas, Livingstone is significantly less western and developed compared to South Africa and especially Cape Town. I really enjoyed seeing a different part of Africa, but I missed the Western Cape a little. I left Zambia with a strong desire to travel more outside of the Western Cape providence and beyond South Africa’s borders.

While I will not be traveling home during my year abroad, it was so refreshing for my parents and I to be reunited. There were able to meet my friends and see this part of the world through their own eyes. There is only so much one can say about a place, culture and people. It is fulfilling to bring others across the globe to experience the world for themselves.

Ricker Family Vaca, Part One: Cape Town

The Rickers at Victoria Falls
The Rickers at Victoria Falls

My parent’s plane landed at 9pm in Cape Town on Friday, February 8. When they exited the plane, they found me waiting with a box of Butler’s pizza, two soft drinks, a package of ginger cookies, and a hug. My mother chattered excitedly on the way to the hotel, but my father was unfortunately suffering from a sinus infection. When we arrived to the hotel I found heaven: a room of my own! Thus far I have been very fortunate to have a flat that is centrally located, in nice conditions and with fairly normal roommates. However, the wind is so loud that I have to wear ear plugs to sleep. I almost never sleep past 8 am since the sun wakes me up through the blinds. Also, there is no a/c or heat, and I have shared a room most of the time, detracting from the relatively little space and privacy I have (but adding enjoyment since the people I have shared a room with have been nice).  While I have not missed these privileges too much, it was luxurious to have them again for a short time while staying in hotels with my family at the Southern Sun.

For my parent’s first day in Cape Town, we had a tour scheduled for the Cape Point Peninsula. The tour winds through one of the most beautiful drives in the Western Cape and includes mostly outdoor entertainment, so naturally it was raining. We still had a nice time, since the point of our trip was to be together more than it was to tour South Africa.

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Our first stop was in Hout Bay, a town on the coast with a nice harbor and market. We explored the port before going on Drum Beat boat tours to Seal Island. My manager at TSiBA, comes from Hout Bay and knew the owner of Drum Beat tours, Levi Bezuidenhoudt. The Drum Beat took us on a tour around a large rock were heaps of seals bask in the rain or sunshine.

Simons Town was our next stop so we could visit Boulders Beach with the African Penguin colony. It was magical. However, I want to tour the entire Cape Peninsula again since the rain put a damper on the beautiful landscape. After a fairly wet stop a Cape Point for lunch, we headed back towards our final destination: a braai (BBQ) at my manager, my manager’s house with our colleagues and their families.This was one of the best moments of the trip since my family was able to have a local experience while meeting my friends and coworkers.





Each night in Cape Town we ate dinner with a different set of friends, so my parents could better understand what my life is like here. After our tour of Paarl, Franchhoek, and Stellenbosch (the winelands), we had dinner with my friends Rachel, Cathy and William Arendse, and their daughter Kaylee.

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Our final dinner was with my friends Nthabi, Bertin, Ethan, Will, Lusanda, and her husband Issac after a day touring the city. Our dinners were a great way to end the day, because they reminded me how generous, hospitable, and kind South African can be. I am truly lucky to have found such lovely people.                     Ricker Fam in Africa 031 Ricker Fam in Africa 032 Ricker Fam in Africa 033 Ricker Fam in Africa 036