Life in Kruger

Submitted by Meg Deming on the 2024 Winter SOCI program in South Africa

The only word I can use to describe our visit to Kruger Park is surreal. Luckily for us, we had two incredibly knowledgeable guides who took us on our game drives during the four days we were in Kruger. Almost immediately upon arrival we were taken on one such drive were we saw groups of elephants and an amazing view of the surrounding mountain ranges. The diverse collection of trees in the area was also a sight to behold, with each species seeming to have their own unique story and purpose. 

Our first drive was only a preview of what we were about to see in the coming days. On day two we saw elephants, water buffalo, and a duo of lions blocking one of the many dirt roads. These animals make up three of the park’s Big Five, and I look forward to seeing the remaining two, leopard and rhino, during future visit. Still, seeing any of the Big Five was an absolutely incredible experience and being so close to such big animals almost felt too good to be true.

Later that same afternoon, we were able to ride some ATVs down a section of the dirt paths. While on one of the larger roads, we drove through a group of about twenty giraffe, some zebra, and countless impala. Seeing so many beautiful animals up close was indescribable. Despite the loud roar of a dozen ATVs, the animals continued to graze as we drove past them as if we were not even there. I can confidently say that I have never felt so immersed in nature and would highly recommend the experience to anyone who gets the opportunity. 

On our third day, our guide Sidney followed lion tracks for very many miles hoping to see some in the dirt path. Being in the front row of that particular excursion, I got the privilege of asking him many questions. I learned that lions typically stay in their den during the day, but emerge into the dirt paths later in the afternoon before going on the hunt. Our search for the lions during the first half of our drive was unsuccessful, but during the second half a radio message came in saying that the pride of thirteen lions had emerged and was traveling one of the dirt paths. We were able to quickly locate the lions, and just in time. We watched on as three adult lions and ten cubs walked down the dirt path and headed into the bush for their late afternoon meal. 

As interesting as it is to read and write about the South African bush, it is nothing compared to experiencing it for yourself. It is difficult to convey the sense of freedom and connection with nature that one feels while they are in Kruger National Park. There were many instances during our game drives that the group was too stunned to speak. I fully intend on making my way back to Kruger in my lifetime to relive the experience I had during this portion of our study abroad trip. (Submitted on January 23, 2024)

A Week In Cape Town

Although the entirety of my trip to South Africa was amazing, our final week in Cape Town truly blew me away with its scenery and atmosphere. As soon as we arrived we could see an absolutely stunning view of Table Mountain, one of Cape Town’s most famous landmarks. It was so refreshing to see the ocean from where we were staying, and nightly walks to watch the sunset became our norm.

There are so many different sights to see in and around Cape Town, but my favorites would have to be the Boulders Beach Penguin Colony and the Clifton Beaches. The penguins we saw were absolutely adorable and there were so many in such a small area! Unfortunately, we couldn’t have a beach day with the penguins, but Clifton Beach more than made up for it. Behind us, there was a view of Lions Head, a neighbor to Table Mountain, and in front of us was an ocean filled with boats and large rocks that you could swim out to. There were also paddleboards to rent, and while chatting on a paddleboard my friend and I had a school of dolphins swim under us. That felt like a once-in-a-lifetime experience and it really sums up the incredible experiences that are to be had in Cape Town. 

On one of our free mornings, a friend and I decided we wanted to hike Lions Head because how hard can it be? It’s much smaller than Table Mountain. The answer is very hard. About 45 minutes in it started to feel like less of a hike and more like scaling a mountain. The view at the end made all of that hard work worth it though, and next time I’m in Cape Town I’m willing to try and climb Table Mountain, but I may need to get some practice in first. 

The best activity I did while there had to have been paragliding over Cape Town. The views are incredible on the ground, but they’re even better from up above. I was able to see everything South of Table Mountain. Off in the distance, you could see Robben Island, an island once used as a prison. Nelson Mandela was held there as a political prisoner for much of his life. Below me, I could see the waterfront and the port as well as buildings that spanned for miles. Behind me, I could see an incredible view of Table Mountain just behind the hill we had used for takeoff. 

Cape Town is an absolutely gorgeous beachside city with sightseeing and adventure that appeals to all. I have traveled to some pretty incredible places, but Cape Town definitely takes the cake. It is so hard to articulate just how beautiful of a city it is, so I would highly recommend that people go and see it for themselves. It truly was the trip of a lifetime. (Submitted on February 5, 2024)

The Beginning of the End

Submitted by Ibrahim Wilson on the Winter 2024 LLCU program in Morocco…

Day 14-15: Tangiers and Academic Pursuits

Our journey through Morocco continued, with our days filled with academic endeavors and cultural explorations. Classes in Arabic and Art and Architecture provided us with a deeper understanding of Morocco’s rich history and vibrant heritage. The guided tour in Tangiers and a visit to the Anglican church offered a glimpse into the city’s diverse tapestry.

Day 16-19: Granada’s Historic Charm

As we departed for Granada, our experiences reached new heights with a guided tour of the Alhambra. The fusion of Moorish and Spanish influences in Granada mesmerized us. The free day allowed us to delve into the city’s charm, creating memories that would last a lifetime.

Day 20-22: Reflections on Islam and Academic Insights

Our return to Tangiers marked a significant phase of introspection on Islam and Muslims. The classes, lectures, and guided tours enriched our understanding. Journaling about the changes in perspective post-trip highlighted the transformative impact of cultural immersion.

Day 23-25: Final Stretch in Fez

The classes in the morning and free afternoons in Tangiers set the stage for our final exams. Packing for Fez, our early departure provided a picturesque journey via Volubilis and a night in Moulay Idris. The guided tour of Fez’s medina unfolded its history and the resilience of its people.

Our group in front of the Brandenburg Gate

Day 26-27: Merzouga’s Desert Adventure

Embarking on a new adventure, we traversed to Merzouga, riding camels through the Erg Chebbi dunes. The challenges of development in the south were evident, but the hospitality of nomadic families and the beauty of the oasis towns left a lasting impression.

Day 28-30: Dades Valley, Marrakech, and Academic Culmination

From Dades Valley to Marrakech, our journey through the High Atlas Mountains showcased the diversity of Morocco’s landscapes. The guided tour of Marrakech revealed hidden treasures, concluding our academic exploration. The vibrant markets, historical sites, and the cultural richness of Marrakech served as the perfect finale to our transformative journey.

Reflecting on this immersive experience, it’s clear that Morocco has left an indelible mark on each of us. The academic pursuits, cultural encounters, and breathtaking landscapes have woven a tapestry of memories, enriching our understanding of a country that seamlessly blends tradition and modernity. As we bid farewell to Morocco, we carry with us not just the knowledge gained in classrooms but the wisdom and warmth imparted by its people and history. The journey may be concluding, but the echoes of Morocco will resonate in our hearts forever.

Traveling in Tanger

Submitted by Amayah Sullins on the 2024 Winter ARAB program in Morocco…

In Week 2, we traveled from Chefchauan to Techwan and then to Tangier, where we stayed with host families for the next two weeks. Despite initially expecting to prefer Tangier for its beach, my experience shifted due to chaotic traffic, swift-paced drivers, and challenges in navigation. The city’s dispersed restaurants and difficult-to-hail taxis, which often overcharged when spoken to in English, added to the hurdles. Unlike Rabat, Tangier’s mountainous terrain made walking more challenging. In contrast, Rabat’s Madina captivated me with its beauty and charming shops. Exploring all these cities provided a unique adventure, immersing me in the everyday life of Moroccan people.

Although my time in Tangier didn’t start off enjoyable, excursions and the company of classmates enhanced my overall experience. We spent the weekend in Granada, Spain, which, despite its rich Islamic history, was disheartening due to the evident transformation by the Spanish. The city displayed pig decorations everywhere, creating an unwelcoming atmosphere. On a free day, I explored a cathedral with Islamic references and a statue of Queen Isabel telling Christopher Columbus he could explore the New World. Witnessing a peaceful protest supporting Palestinians added a unique and moving dimension to my experience.

Returning to Tangier on the ferry was a beautiful but motion-sickness-inducing journey. Although Tangier’s beach fell short of expectations, Rabat’s overall experience surpassed them. The contrast in driving styles and the convenience of navigating Rabat’s attractions contributed significantly to my preference. As I reflect on the adventure, it’s evident that my preconceived notions were reshaped by the unique qualities and experiences each city offered. (Submitted during Week 2)

The Big Five

I am playing with one of the kids at the orphanage.

Submitted by Nicole Virzi on the 2024 Winter CRJU program in South Africa

While in South Africa, I have had the opportunity to work with children in an orphanage. The Children range from newborns to around 10 years old, all with different stories. Many of the Children have faced abuse, and have been there since they were born. The children are bright, funny, creative and kind to one another. The staff here is amazing, taking care of each child as if they were their own. One day, our group made lunch for the children, and we made them ham and cheese croissant sandwiches. The children loved it, and said it was their first time having a croissant. Most days we did various odd chores, whether that included folding laundry, mopping, or helping cook meals, but most of our time there included just playing with the children. I really connected with so many of the children and was heart broken when our time with them was over. (Submitted on January 23, 2024)

In the Wild at Kruger Park

Submitted by Juan Aguinaga on the 2024 Winter SOCI program in South Africa…

We departed on our six and a half hour drive to the province of Limpopo in order to reach Kruger National Park, a wildlife sanctuary revered for its stunning natural beauty and common sightings of exotic beasts. The ride itself was tiresome, but manageable due to the excitement we all had to arrive at the location. Nothing of note happened on the ride, although there were many scenic landscapes surrounding us that captivated our attention.

On arrival at our lodge we were informed that we were the only ones booked for the week so essentially we had a private lodge which included a pool, private chef, and a location right next to a watering hole at our disposal. As we settled in we simultaneously got ready for our first drive on the land. We set off once more on a two hour drive around Kruger Park, which was incredible. That afternoon we saw Elephants, Giraffes, and warthogs to name a few of the animals. We stopped for what the locals call a sundowner; a drink you have in a picturesque location while watching the sunset. After our sundowners we departed back to the lodge to finally get some rest.

The next day came and started at 5:30 am. Our days were scheduled to go on an early morning drive, rest in the afternoon, and another drive at around 6. Unfortunately the rest of the days were cloudy and rainy, but regardless that didn’t stop the animals from coming out. We saw many exotic animals once again which made bearing the rain worth it. The food we were provided was excellent, with an assortment of fresh fruit, vegetables, and unique dishes every night.

I’m going to skip forward a little bit at this point, to a very unique experience we all shared. On the third day on our afternoon drive we were attempting to find any animals but were having no luck. We stopped for our sundowners and shortly after our guide received a message from one of the other rangers. We reached the location that the ranger was told and there we all saw a pack of lions. Two adolescent males, one female, and about 8-10 cubs. It was surreal to say the least. Seeing so many lions up close in the wild was an experience I will never forget. That was our last evening drive of the trip, and the next day the rainy weather finally subsided and we departed back to Pretoria, where we were staying.

Never would I have thought that I would be in the wild like that, but Kruger Park helped me live out an experience of a lifetime. (Submitted on January 22, 2024)

The Drive of a Lifetime

Submitted by Alexis Predmore on the 2024 Winter SOCI/CRJU program in South Africa…

Week 3 of our study abroad trip to South Africa was filled with some of the best days of my life. January 16th started out with a 6 1/2-hour ride to Kruger National Park. This drive was a great bonding time for us students because we told jokes, riddles, and talked a great deal. Many of us were excited for the safari, but we were not exactly sure of what was to come.

Upon arriving, we were picked up in a safari vehicle and got to see elephants bathing in mud. This was my first-time seeing elephants in the wild, so it was a surreal experience. We then had a warm welcome from the workers, which created a friendly environment. 

The best game drive we went on was in the evening of January 17th. While out on the land, we saw many animals, including giraffes, elephants, buffalos, antelopes, zebras, lions, and the most colorful birds I have ever laid my eyes on. In addition, we got to overlook many mountains, and see the best views.

The next day, we got the opportunity to ride ATVs throughout the land. While driving, we saw antelope, elephants, and many giraffes. Due to the ATVs being closer to the ground than the safari cars, we were able to see how truly large these animals are. These drives are memories that will never be forgotten. (Submitted on January 20, 2024)

South Africa’s Different Lifestyles

2 of the beautiful buildings we saw at University of Pretoria

Submitted by Alexis Predmore on the 2024 Winter SOCI/CRJU program in South Africa…

After spending a week in South Africa, we were all filled with excitement. Being able to visit a cheetah reserve, many different towns, as well as historical sites were some of the best times in this past week. 

During week 2, we got the opportunity to visit the University of Pretoria, which was gorgeous. While there, we completed History of South Africa classes, with a professor from the university. Taking a class from a professor from another country was a great experience. We were able to learn about many different tribes, such as the Zulu, Khoikhoi, Xhosa, and Bushman. We then also learned more about the history of Apartheid. 

In addition, every day before this class, we got the opportunity to help at a day care. On Tuesday, January 9th, we had the honor to meet the kids, ages 4 months to 8 years old. From the moment we walked in the door, the room was filled with joy and laughter. In the day care, we were able to play with the kids, help in the kitchen, and freshen up the paint. We attended the day care for 5 days, and all 5 days were filled with smiles. This week was very memorable and important. (Submitted on January 20, 2024)

Learning from the Hadzabe

The arrow I made

Submitted by Carolyn Anderson on the 2024 Winter ENWC program in Tanzania

Today we had quite the exciting day with the Hadzabe, Tanzania’s last remaining hunter-gatherer community! We started off the day learning about their tools and equipment, including a tool similar to an axe and hammer combined, their bows, different types of arrows, and the tools that women use for digging. We then ventured away from our campsite in order to collect sticks for arrow making. While we were out, we were able to watch a few of the Hadza harvest honey from not one, but two beehives. And different species, at that! I was so impressed with how easily they found both hives, as I would have had no idea that either of them were there in the trees I was walking right past. The way they created a fire to smoke the bees in the first hive really reminded me of how I smoke my bees at home to mask their alarm pheromone before I work the hive. It made me wonder if modern beekeepers got their knowledge of using smoke from hunter/gatherers like the Hadzabe, or how that knowledge came to be in the first place. After we collected our sticks, we spent the rest of the morning turning them into hours. We used fire to heat the sticks so we could peel off the bark and bend them straight using our teeth and hands. We used kudu tendons to attach the francolin feathers to the end. At every step of the arrow making process, I was continuously impressed by how skilled the Hadza were at making such important tools out of seemingly simple parts. I also really enjoyed getting to make beaded bracelets with the women, as I enjoy similar crafts in my own life. It was great to learn a new way of doing it. After that, I was able to try my hand at using their bows and arrows. It was a lot harder than the fancy compound bows and plastic arrows I am used to, but I didn’t do too shabby. I don’t think I’m quite qualified to hunt with the Hadza yet, but today was a good step in the right direction! (Submitted on January 21, 2024)

Trying out their bow and arrows

Safari Kruger National Park

Submitted by Mollie Kline on the 2024 Winter SOCI program in South Africa

This past week we went on a Safari in Kruger National Park. We saw many animals and the wildlife was beautiful. The landscape was also amazing and meeting the people there was very cool as well. (Submitted on January 21, 2024)

Settling Down in Tangier, Morocco

Submitted by Thomas Elia on the 2024 Winter LLCU program in Morocco…

A view into downtown Tangier down a street lined with orange trees

In the second week of our travels in Morocco, we finally settled down in the city of Tangier. We met up with our host families as soon as we arrived and my roommate and I were greeted by our host family with inviting smiles and welcoming hugs. Once we reached their home, we were introduced to the rest of their family, including the three brothers, whom I have since grown more and more close with. The biggest obstacle that I have had to overcome with this experience so far is the communication barrier. Having only taken a single elementary level Arabic class so far, my skills in the language are not as advanced as I would have wished for them to be. Because of this, however, I feel more encouraged to develop my skills more quickly so that I can better communicate with my host family. Even after just a few days with this family, I felt right at home. Every meal that we have had with the family has been delicious and unique, from chicken tagine and couscous to liver sandwiches. They have taken time out of their lives to host us, teach us about their culture, their dialect of Arabic and much more and I am extremely grateful for that. Looking ahead at the coming week, we are spending the second half of the week and the weekend in Granada, Spain. When we return back to Tangier we will only have about 3 days before we leave our host family and head south for the last week of our trip. These past two weeks have flown by and I can only expect the next two to go by even more quickly. With this in mind I can only be present and thankful for the situation I am in and the people I am surrounded by. Here’s to new experiences and new friends! (Submitted on January 16, 2024)