I am writing this entry as I sit in LAX for my 30-hour journey to Port Elizabeth (PE), South Africa. Once again I will be gone for two months for an internship during the summer. This time I will be working with unemployed youth on education and vocational training in the townships of PE. These townships are where most of the urban poor live and work. The organization I will be working with, Ready4Life works to improve education and job opportunities for those living in these areas. This work will be fairly different from my internship in Belfast, mainly because I will be working mostly with other interns and because I will, for the first time, be truly out of my element culturally. Last year I traveled all over Europe and was able to live both in Spain and in Northern Ireland. Both my experiences provided amazing opportunities to learn and grow in environments I felt comfortable. While I had never been to either country before, I was familiar with the cultures and customs. I knew the languages, understood the history and most importantly, I fit in. This trip I wanted to do something different. I wanted to be in a place that was completely different for me and so I decided to go to South Africa. I am sure I will get the question “why South Africa?” a lot, so I thought I would take this moment to write down my answer.
Why South Africa? There are several simple reason, such as it is a relatively safe country and is a new region of the world for me. I also wanted to travel to a developing region that has become more internationally significant (my other options were Turkey or Eastern Europe). However the specific reasons for my interest in South Africa is more complicated than that. As many of you know, I am an international relations major focusing on human rights. After my trip to Belfast I became interested in post-conflict regions and the human rights issues that follow. Most particularly I became focused on what the transitional process included, how does a country adapt to the new circumstances and learn to live in peace and allow the citizens to prosper. I have decided to focus my senior thesis on this topic and wanted to incorporate my internship this summer into my understanding of post-conflict regions. Though there are many differences from Belfast and PE, I am hoping that I will be able to compare and contrast the two cities and perhaps expand my knowledge of how the transition process works. I am curious by the process towards peace, but also by the current situation here in South Africa. How does a country with 11 different languages learn to speak to one another? What does the future hold for South Africa and the people most affected by apartheid? I know a little about the history of the country, but there is so much to learn. I am hoping that coming to PE with an open mind will allow me to find some answers. I came to South Africa for a new experience that will put me outside my comfort zone and allow me to explore my interests further.
And now it is time to board the plane, travel halfway across the world and start a new adventure. I will post again after my first week.