How can you answer such a simple question about such a complex experience? So much happened in my time in South Africa, how can I possibly summarize it in the 10-15 minutes this person expects? How can I convey the dynamics, weather, activities, and learning that happened while I was in Cape Town?
What I realized, of course, is that I can’t. There’s no way to share my full experience with anyone who wasn’t there experiencing it with me. Even then, it can be hard to find the words to share my personal experience with those who traveled with me.
I also realized, however, that the things I do choose to bring up when people ask me about my experience are telling of the things that impacted me most. I share my experience in the hospital in Delft, how it felt to be there, and what my reactions, reservations, and emotions were. I share my feelings about the way community is perceived and portrayed in the South African townships. I bring up the different in individual attention, self-care, and financial barriers. I mention the weather, the wilderness, and the food.
How much detail I share for each of these topics really depends on who is asking. My social work friends? Supervisors? Other friends? Family? Co-workers? Clients? I choose to share different aspects of my experiences based on who is asking, but always bring up similar pieces of the trip.
Being asked how South Africa was every day since I have been back has helped me to begin framing how it really was for me. It has helped me pull out the things that struck me most. I know this will be beneficial for me when writing my final paper, and I am grateful for all the people who have been curious about my experience, for whatever reason and in whatever degree of detail.
South Africa was beautiful, everyone. The people, culture, community, weather, food, land, and experience.