It's been one month and everyday has its ups and downs but I believe that is a big part of exchange, getting though the hard time so you can have amazing life changing moments, This month has felt so short but the days felt so long. I feel that this month will really prepare for the months ahead. Through these weeks I have felt so many different emotions that it can be almost overwhelming but each emotion make me come to a realization. I've been able to really appreciate the things I have back in the US and also realize the importance of some of the little things. Overall this month has been an amazing learning experience and has also really opened my eyes to the different lives people live.
Homesickness has played a lot bigger role in my exchange than I have ever expected but now that school has started it seems to have gotten better. The first few weeks of my exchange I was home alone a lot and I didn't know anyone so I would stay at the house watching CNN. I wasn't allowed to walk around the neighborhood or take public transport to town so I felt very captive. Now I have met some amazing girls from my school who are constantly asking me to do things and to take me places which is an amazing thing to have.
Zimbabwe and the United States are impossible to compare, life here is so different from the one I am used to but as time goes by everything becomes more natural and normal for me. Adjusting was very difficult for me at first because its so easy think that the way they do something isn't as good as the way we would do it in the US. However, there is no better or worse there are just differences. Some major differences I have noticed about Zimbabwe are the food,religion,politics,economy,attitude and races.
Before I came to Zimbabwe I was a vegetarian for ten year but the first night I came I found myself trying chicken, to then wake up in the morning to eat bacon. Everyone in Zimbabwe loves meat but the meat here tastes a lot better than in the US. The chicken I am eating at night is the same one that was running around in the yard the day before. All meat and vegetables are from the house and they are so fresh and amazing. Zimbabwe itself doesn't have a lot of its own food but instead most things are imported from South Africa. We also have tea about 3 times a day so in other words we have a cup of warm milk and sugar 3 times a day. It's so common to have biscuits and tea here and if you go to someone's house you have to say yes if they offer you tea. However you have to be careful cause to some families "tea" can mean an entire meal where they will even leave the house to get groceries to prepare the food. The food here is very good but I have defiantly learned a lot about not wasting things. Here every part of the Animal is eaten even the heads and often you find chicken liver and kidney for sale. Many people also talk of a type of worm and alligator meat but I am not sure if I am ready to try either of those yet. The avocados, tomatos and watermelon are so amazing here. We have a mango and an avocado tree in our back yard so I have lots of access to them.
It has almost been a month and I finally started school. On the 12th I had my first day, I was welcomed by an overwhelming amount of girls and they hugged and greeted me. Here in Zimbabwe everyone you meet will hug you so it has taken some time to get used to. The school I am attending is a all girls Catholic school called Dominican Convent, Here I have sister s as teachers but also males. On the first day I was so overwhelmed by the newness of it all and I have felt aspects of culture shock before but that day for me was difficult because I had no idea what I was feeling. I still am experiencing culture shock at school but it is slowly getting better. I am starting to catch onto peoples names and get familiar with my classes. In Zimbabwe there are six years of Highschool. There is form through form six and here I am a form five but in January I will be going up to form six. The girls will take up to ten classes until form four and then they will narrow it down into 3 classes a week somedays they won't even have classes but they will be required to come so most of them just sleep. I arranged with the school for me to take 6 subjects so that I can meet my requirements from back in the US. School here is completely different from my old school in the US, although it is no the most desirable school here it has really opened my eyes to the life in Zim. We have to wear uniforms and at lunch and at break we have to wear school hats or else we will be fined and given work duty. There are lots of rules here that seem so strange to me but they are so commonly known here. At school we have to all walk in single file everywhere we go and can talk in a childish manner. When we are around teachers we talk of school only, we also are not allowed to bring our cell phone to school or they will be taken and we will have to pay fines and do work duty. We do not have relationships with our teacher like I would normally have with my Animas teachers. There are lots and lots of rules that seem so strange to me and which have made me really realize how much I love my school in the US. Apart from the differences this has been one of the most cultural experiences I have had so far. Everyone here is incredibly intelligent and friendly. Its quite funny because I have been asked some of the most ridiculous questions including
"Is school like High School Musical, Do you guys sing?"
"Is your school like mean girls?"
"Do you even have to wear clothes to school?"
"Do you eat Mcdonalds daily?"
"Why don’t you sound American?"
"Why don’t you wear those big sun hats?" (cow boy hats)
"Is Texas even real?"
"Are plane tickets free?"
It has been funny to hear the perception of the US from kids here but every time I get asked about highschool musical its hard not to laugh. Being asked these questions has opened my eyes to the importance of exchange. Kids thought I would be obese and rude and I would be a mean girl but as they has met me they have told me I am not what they would have expected. A lot of people tell me that they swear I am not American and this is the most important thing for me to respond to them about. Exchange is about opening peoples eyes to the truth about the countries we have stereotyped our whole lives. It gets rid of all of you previously presumed thoughts and views of the cultures around the world, it incredible to see kids amazed when they heard my voice and that I don't sounds country like. It has been a very different month for me and it has been very challenging to stay motivated to find positivity but I am learning that each day I gain more perspective and knowledge that will stay with me for the rest of my life.
I've almost been here for three weeks and its hard to describe the waves of emotions I have gone through since I have been here. I have been having an incredible time but it hard to imagine that I will be here for a year, The biggest thing that has been scaring me is the idea of returning home as a different person. It is strange to not know what to predict or even imagine will happen within the next 10 month I will be here for, who will i become?, what will I experience? and how will I grow have been things I have been asking myself everyday but it is impossible to know or to control. My time here so far has been amazing and difficult but I am starting to feel more settled in. The days seem to go by slowly but my overall time here goes my quickly its hard to explain. I am loving the people I have met so far. I just got back from my orientation, finally I have met more kids my age. The past few weeks I have been so bored so it was nice to get out of the house. For the orientation we drove 45 minutes away from Harare to a place called Bush Baby Lodge. We got to go "hike' and swim. i met the other inbounds and some of the rebounders. Meeting the rebounders was a great thing for me because they could relate to what I was feeling and they could tell me about how it gets better and without those experiences your exchange wont be as successful. Every day we made our own meals together and were able to just hangout in the lodges talking about the stories from our home countries and stories from the other kids year abroad. Before we went to the Lodge we went to a women's graduation where I met many Rotarians that came from Denver to come help with the program. On our way back I was able to get an idea of the Law Enforcement in Zimbabwe, Here the Police are not paid as often so they need to make money for their families so they will stand on the side of the road and wave people down. We were driving with a Rotarain and we were waved down, but the police reports are not regulated so they can charge people for whatever. We were charged for a loose battery after he opened the hood of the car and checked everything he found one thing that was wrong. Somehow this was a traffic offense. In Zimbabwe there is almost no cash so the police officer was saying we had to pay in cash most likely so he could pocket it but we didn't have any, We were escorted to the police station where we waited for hours to sort things out but eventually we got picked up and had to eave the rotarian. This event really showed the life of some people in Zimbabwe and the things they have to do to pay for their families food and shelter. In the end it all worked out but it was a bit scary at first but it was one more experience for me to have.
On the 17th of August I stepped foot on my flight to Zimbabwe, it took three flights and over 24 hours of travel time but I made it to Harare. Before I left I had to say my goodbyes which I never imagined would be so hard. It was emotional because it finally had become my reality that I would be leaving my friends, family and even the person I am behind for a year. I waited with my mom in the airport for them to begin to board my plane. As my flight boarded the Anxiety of it all began to build and I started to get more scared. I walked onto the plane and sat down and put my luggage away. As the plane took off it was a feeling of relief. As we left the ground the stress of it all went away because it was replaced with a feeling of independence. It then came to my awareness that I was on my own, for me this was not a bad thing. It helped me realize that the outcome of my year was up to me. I was now on my own journey that didn't rely on my family or friends but instead my own actions. I made it to all of my connecting flights with waves of emotions from stress to excitement as I dealt with minor issues including not being able to understand the announcements, have my gate change four times for one flight and not having the right paperwork. However, I made it to my last flight, they brought be traditional Zimbabwean food on the plane and after only a short 2 hour flight I landed safely, I figured out my bags and visa and I walked into the waiting room where I was greeted my loving host family and my YEO. It was late at night so we said our hellos but then headed to my new home. I family was so welcoming and we had a cup of tea then went to bed, The first few days of exchange it really became real to me what was happening. These days were hard for me because I started to think about how this year will change me forever. This idea scared me a lot and it still does but as time has continued I have been able to get out of my head and enjoy the beautiful place which would be my new home. Over the past two weeks I have been introduced to many amazing people, foods and places. We have lunch and dinner together as a family where we eat more traditional Zimbabwean food which includes Sadza, lots of Sadza, we also have take out pizza as well. I got to finally meet the other exchange students who will be here ( there are only 3) we went to go to a bird park at a lake called Chivero where we got to see all of the bird of Zimbabwe. It was great to meet these girls and spend the time together, I was able to meet some girls for coffee was an experience for me because my phone didn't work yet so I ended up waiting alone in a cafe for 2 hours cause I wasn't aware they had gotten lost on their way but I was able to get food for my self and spend time thinking about what my concerns and excitements were for my year. Overall these two weeks have been a lot of thought processing for me, I've learned to recognize when I am feeling homesick and what I need to do to help that go away. Zimbabwe is an absolutely beautiful country and I can't wait to explore the different parts of it!