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.