Bouncing up and down on a game vehicle at five A.M. looking for lions and giraffes was a normal South African morning for me for three weeks. One day I was sitting in the middle of a herd of thirty or more elephants and observing their social behavior as they too were observing us. Watching the babies show off their oversized ears and trunks was amusing as they marched towards the vehicle with attitude. To be in the presence of protected animals like the rhino was spectacular. Even though they are larger than a game vehicle they spend most of the day hidden in the African bush. Searching for leopards and lions was hard but rewarding when they came out from hiding. To be feet away from the king of the jungle with him tolerating the flashes of cameras was an experience in itself. Being able to experience animals up close in their natural habitats was educational. We even went to wildlife sanctuaries to learn more about species from a closer view. Students were rewarded with a ride from an African elephant, came nose to nose with a hyena, and got close and personal with a cheetah. All of these animals are used to educate the public, whom unfortunately don’t know much about their native species. I learned so much from this experience and never thought I would have traveled so far.
Before applying to college I was not open to much change. It was terrifying thinking about pursuing a degree at an institution far from home. UConn was the best choice I made since great opportunities such as the South Africa program are offered. Three weeks away and a sixteen hour flight was unsettling to me, but it was the push I needed. Not only did I conquer the fear of being away from somewhere familiar, but I found my true self and confidence and craved to learn more about the land and animals. I loved the African life of living off of the land and letting go of technology that takes us away from our beautiful surroundings. Meeting the people of South Africa helped me grasp a positive outlook and realize the simplest things in life are all you need at the end of the day. It is a simpler way to live with minimal provisions, but it works.
We don’t know much about ourselves until we try to test our abilities. Pushing myself to explore not only another country but me as a person was the best choice I have made. I learned valuable life lessons, stepped away from my comfort zone, fell in love with a country and I think I may have caught the travel bug. Personally I can’t make anyone feel my excitement and passion for the land and animals that I harbor, but I can say step out of your comfort zone and walk on the wild side because it may lead you to an exciting life.