Almost everyone who writes me asks a series of questions that highlight the details and specifics I neglected to share. I’ve heard time and again, ‘I’m reading your blog, so sorry, but…’.
Don’t worry. It’s not you; it’s me. For today, I’ll write an information-sharing type of post rather than my usual reflection or story. Here are my FAQs…
Where are you?
I am currently residing in Plettenberg Bay, a beach town in the Western Cape of South Africa. The Program Leaders (PLs) live in a flat together just below a family’s house in town. We have a breathtaking view of the ocean and are a five-minute walk to the main street in Plett. The students all live in homestays with White South African families just down the road.
We will be in Plett for another week and then spend a week on safari. We head to India on October 31st and are still deciding what costumes we’ll wear on the plane. Here is a visual of my itinerary in reverse order. For a detailed itinerary, see here.
What are you doing?
I am currently leading a global gap year program with Thinking Beyond Borders. This means that I support students in their learning and experience throughout a trip around the world. We explore international development through experiential learning, dialogue-based seminars, local homestays, and readings. Each country has a different area of focus. In South Africa, we look specifically at Public Health and HIV/AIDS. Across every unit are the core questions of the program: how can I be a proactive agent of change; what is “development”; who am I; and what do we assume about ourselves and others.
My role centers on facilitating reflection as students make meaning of their experience and learning. This happens formally through both mentoring relationships and seminars. It also happens throughout all of the extemporaneous conversations we get to have while exploring the world. Additionally, the PLs are responsible for the logistics that come with coordinating a travel program abroad- taking students to the doctor, planning local outings, and keeping track of passports and the like.
What does a normal day look like?
We have a weekday routine that gets disrupted quite frequently (with sixteen students, a lot is happening all the time). In general, my mornings are the most leisurely part of the day. I sleep in until about 8:00 and decide what I want to do for myself to begin each day. This alone makes me so in love with the job. The late morning and early afternoon entail lesson planning, errands, and meetings. With Plett’s beautiful weather, I do as much of this as possible outside on our deck (where I often practice yoga in the morning). For our unit here, the students spend time every morning with a caregiver for our partner organization, PlettAid. The students shadow caregivers as they provide home-based care in their local communities. In the afternoons, we all come together for seminar and further research and reflection. Our evenings usually include lots of reading, a break to enjoy dinner (I’ve really enjoyed cooking since being here), and other logistics for the program such as reporting, parent communication, and accounting. On Fridays, the students don’t join their caregivers and we all spend the morning together with students working on their presentations for the end of the unit, writing blogs, and having one-on-ones. The rest of the weekend varies depending on where we are in the unit. A few weekends, we leave town to see other parts of South Africa; others, we hang around Plett and are largely free with hikes and other outings scattered throughout our time.
Living with your co-workers makes it hard to ever stop working; we are forever processing our experience or talking about our students. We are currently working on creating some boundaries/lives outside of work. One thing we already do is try to give each PL one day off a week. On this day, I usually hang out in town and do something fun (surf lesson, extended yoga session, massage). This is a nice time to recharge.
For more on what the students are up to and thinking about, you can check out their blogs here.
Who do you work with?
There are three PLs in total, so I have two amazing co-workers with whom I share this journey. They both call DC home and have extensive travel and education experience. I’m the youngster of our team, but have recovered from my feelings of inadequacy around this. Seriously, I am so grateful to have these two and count them as dear friends already. We have sixteen students, ages 17-20. The majority of the students just graduated high school and are taking a year before beginning college— some of them deferred acceptance to a school while others are working on college applications now. To really root the experience in local knowledge, we have two partner organizations in each country. One organization is an NGO within the area of emphasis for the unit. The other (sometimes one organization fulfills both roles) provides cultural orientation and training, sets up the homestays, and coordinates travel experiences and guest speakers throughout our time in their country.
What will you do when your trip is over?
To be determined! I may have the option of leading the program for a second time, so I have a decision around that. I am scheming for the summer months, but right now I only know that I want to be around for Lyndi Smith and Danny Warner’s wedding (!). The rest is still in the making, which excites me to no end.