Horns meet World. World meet Alexandra Gary. Alexandra is a nursing major here at UT, and she spent the summer of 2014 abroad in Gaborone, Botswana studying community public health!
When I first decided to study abroad in Gaborone (the capital of Botswana), many people were surprised by my decision. Some, such as my parents, did their best to discourage me from my choice. However, I knew that I wanted a non-traditional study abroad experience and thought if there was ever a time to go, it was now. It took me a matter of days to fall in love with Botswana and just one summer to make memories that will last a lifetime. However, there were plenty of challenges as well. One of the hardest things for me was mastering the transportation system. It was unlike anything I had ever dealt with. There were no maps, no route tables, no schedules. The locals just knew it. The whole public transportation system consisted of “combis” and taxis. Each cost about 2 pula, which is essentially 50 cents. The combis were large, white vans that everyone would just pile into. There could be 20 to 25 people in each one; the taxis functioned essentially the same but they could fit less bodies.
All combis and taxis made numerous stops (you had to yell “Stopong” to get them to stop at one), but they all eventually ended up at “the station,” which was essentially a large parking lot where you could switch to another route, such as “Tlokweng” or “Mogoditshane.” It took pure memorization to learn how to get from place to place. For instance, I had to take two combis to get to the University of Botswana, stopping at the station to stand in a long line to switch in between. While I lived about five miles away, the commute took me over an hour each way, which was extremely frustrating at first. I was used to being able to get places quickly, and it took me a while to realize that I took so many things for granted in the United States (the lack of washing machines and bucket baths in Botswana really drove this point home). However, I hate to even bring up the difficulties because I enjoyed my experience so much. For the most part, the challenges simply made my experience interesting.
It also helped that the Batswana (the people of Botswana) were so wonderful. Strangers were always so eager to help us. I remember one time when my friends and I were hopelessly lost, we asked a woman for directions and instead of simply telling us where to go, she decided to hop on the combi with us to make sure we got off at the right stop. My host family also did their best to make me feel like I was a part of their home, even though my host mom mainly spoke Setswana. From making home-cooked meals each night to going out of their way to spend time with me, they helped me adjust to living in Botswana, and over the course of the summer, I realized how similar they were to my family in the States.
I also had the privilege to work in both urban and rural clinics around Gaborone, which I absolutely loved. Being a nursing major, I was able to compare healthcare in the United States with that of Botswana. I saw the challenges providers faced, such as severe supply shortages and lack of funding. I worked in HIV and communicable disease clinics and saw patients with diseases such as measles and tuberculosis, which I had never seen before. I had learned about the disease burden in Sub-Saharan Africa in public health courses at UT, but it was a whole different experience to see it firsthand. I was fascinated with everything about the country’s healthcare system, and I cannot wait to go back one day.
I also grew close with other people on my program, and I found friends who were willing to travel around the whole region with me. From great white shark diving in Cape Town to road tripping to Namibia to bungee jumping Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, I could not have imagined a better summer.
My all-time favorite trips were the numerous safaris. Nothing can prepare you for having elephants wander through your campsite or tracking lions on a safari until you are experiencing it yourself. It is simply awe-inspiring to see these animals in their natural habitat.
When people ask me about my summer, I never know if I should tell them about my host family or the clinics or my many travels. However, I always make sure to emphasize the fact that my summer was one big adventure.
If you enjoyed reading about Alexandra’s adventures in Botswana, check out the program that got her there! Whether you’re interested in public health or a summer program in Africa, we have a program for you. Come visit us to see how you can go abroad like Alexandra did. And, as always, check in with us next week to see where in the world our Horns pop up next!