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Study Abroad Blog

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The Impact of South Africa after Graduation

Life after graduation is often a hazy area for many students in college. The idea that our choices in college impact our lives greatly seems to be missed by a large majority of students—from choosing between treating college like a giant party or working hard and graduating with honors, to choosing to get largely invested and “enjoy the college years” versus simply treating college like a checklist before you enter the “real world.”

Upon entering college the decisions made seem menial and hardly impactful; however, by the end of your college career you are forced to sit back and reflect how those small choices actually shaped and molded your college life and ultimately your future. Once that tassel is flipped and the hat is tossed, there is no going back, there is only trudging forward and entering the “real world” that has been feared and anticipated in turn. We realize that our small habits—working out, taking naps, studying hard, where and how we choose to spend our time—have molded our personalities and characters over the past four years and we must now see if those habits will positively or negatively effect us upon entering the “real world.”

If we turn back and reflect on these small habits which have molded us, we must also look back and recognize the effect that our big decisions have made on us—which university to attend, our major, how we spend our money, the religions and politics that we chose and rejected, and for some us, studying abroad. When I think of my experience abroad versus what I had always anticipated I know that it has greatly changed me, both as a person as well as a soon-to-be working woman. When I initially decided to study abroad, I was all but set to go to France and then later England. I have known since I was a little girl that I was going to study abroad and Europe was always my choice destination. Never in a million years would I have thought I would be in South Africa…but I wouldn’t change that for the world. I have learned so much from this culture and its beautiful people.

One thing that has greatly influenced me, which seems silly to even state, is simply how different things are here. In America, we use a high-speed-pace in everything we do. The words patience and relaxation seem to have been lost from our day-to-day vocabulary. I am now so accustomed to sitting in a restaurant for as long as I please, making friends with those around me, and receiving the check when I ask for it—not five to ten minutes after receiving my food. This seems like an absurd concept to highlight, but it truly reflects the difference in the cultures. In South Africa, I have learned that things may take a while, but they will get done; to enjoy the people, not the things; relish time because it goes fast; there is actually more than one way to skin a cat and doing it differently doesn’t make the other person wrong. These seem like truly cliche ideas; however, until you have really understood the meaning of slowing down life and appreciating simple things, they come and go as passing thoughts and nothing more.

I hope that as I return stateside I can hold onto and cherish these simple, yet life-altering realizations. I hope I can enter the workforce as an open-minded person who is willing to try new approaches, be people focused, do the job right, and be patient with others. More importantly, after graduation (and before) I want to take these life lessons and apply them not only to my career, but also to my life and my person.

I implore you to take just a little time out of your day and busy schedule—try something new! Make a new friend! Turn off the Internet and the T.V. and appreciate the simple yet beautiful life around you! There is so much we miss because we have our heads down, arms tucked in, and feet moving quickly—take a moment to look up, hug someone, or just sit for a little while.

These may not seem overly profound, but South Africa has taught me to look at life through different eyes. I hope I have been able to show you a little bit of a new perspective! I have loved being able to share my experience with you this past semester. I hope I have given you an exciting, fun, and thought-provoking vicarious experience in South Africa.

It has been a pleasure being your Spring MOJO!

Michelle Peniche is the Spring 2013 CEA MOJO in Port Elizabeth, South Africa

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