So it’s been a few weeks since the course has ended and I am now back in Denver. I haven’t created the space or time for me to sit and process. Honestly, upon my return to Denver, I immediately jumped back into my routine; work and internship. However, although I am continuing with business as usual, I will say that I don’t feel 100 percent present.
Upon my return to work the following day, I was asked by my supervisor and coworkers about my trip. With a huge smile on my face and sparkle in my eyes, my immediate response was that it was great and I really enjoyed the experience; I simply left it at that. The same question was asked when I returned to internship that Monday and with the same excited I gave the same response: South Africa was great and I really enjoyed the course!
That was not the full story. I couldn’t help but feel that something was missing in my response to those who asked about my trip. In responding, I masked all other emotions and felt the need to force a smile on my face and only talk about the good things. I knew that in was not being completely honest with those that inquired about my study abroad experience.
It wasn’t until I sat down with my internship supervisor, I was able to be honest with myself. Yes, I did have a wonderful time immersing myself into the South African culture, learning from and engaging with individuals of diverse backgrounds. Yes, it is true that the experience for me was quite remarkable. Within the limited time I was there, I felt a sense of belonging and was able to bond and connect with people I had just met.
Nonetheless, what I failed to mention was that although I was happy about the experience, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of sadness about the things that I saw and made no comments about. As my life resumed, I walked around work and internship feeling overwhelmed and hopeless, with no clue how to reach and share this with someone. I thought a lot about this and posed several questions to myself.
Why am I feeling this way and what words do I use to describe these emotions? How could I express the sense of discouragement I feel upon seeing that the social problems I am so passionate about solving are not unique to the U.S.? In what way do I say that some of the same issues I feel overwhelmed by in the U.S. are some of the same things occurring in South Africa? How could I say that some of the things I saw and learned about were simply disheartening? For instance, seeing countless of homeless individuals sleeping at the side of the roads being ignored by passersby the same way I see homeless individuals in Atlanta and Denver being ignored while sleeping in corners and under bridges? How do I articulate to them that people of color, people who look like me are plagued by the similar levels of poverty? Was it even alright to say that I saw the struggle continue there as it does in the U.S. for people of color who continue to suffer as result of the remnants of institutionalized racism?
My mind was constantly going. I thought over and over again about the same things. When I wasn’t asking myself questions I was reminisced about the two weeks I spent in Cape Town with my South African friends. Though it was nice to reflect, I was beginning to feel exhausted by everything. I remember laying in my bed feeling sad and almost at the brink of tears, like I had just lost a very important aspect of my life. I didn’t understand what or why this was happening.
I was finally able to share with my mom how I was feeling. She was supportive and reminded me that I needed to give myself time to readjust. Also, in our WhatsApp group, I was able to share with my South African friends the sadness I felt. To my surprise, similar emotions were shared by others which made me feel a little better.
I’m in a better state now and have gotten some emotional clarity. Needless to say, I personally took a lot away from this study abroad course. In addition to learning about the South African culture, I learned a great deal about myself personally and professionally. My biggest takeaway from the course it to learn to live my truth. Also, continue to focus on being present and don’t be coy about shinning my light.