Cailin Plunkett heads home from South Africa

I arrived home in San Francisco a little over two weeks ago. I was immediately thrown back into school here.  Processing my exchange experience was sent to the back of my mind as I faced the whirlwind of responsibilities in front of me. I missed the first week of school due to a backpacking trip at the school in South Africa. As I scrambled to catch up, I didn’t take much time to think through my exchange. Two weeks later, as I’ve settled in back home and have caught up with all of my work, my trip already feels like a distant memory. The stark differences between here and there make it seem even more surreal. I was glad to be back in school here and at the time I was happy to not have to think about exchange. As it seems far enough in the past now, I feel much more honest about my trip. Letting it stir in my mind allowed me to sift through exactly what made it the way it was.

My last few weeks of school were decent overall. I became a lot closer to people in my last week there. Leaving them right after I started to get to really know them was difficult. I met a lot of amazing people, but there were also people I met whom I wish I did not. On exchange, you can be a slightly different person. You have to figure out the types of people you want to surround yourself with. Finding those who like you for who you are was one of the most difficult parts of exchange for me.

One of the highlights of my exchange was going on a backpacking trip through the school there. Each year, the grade 10s hike the Fanie Botha trail, a famous hike in South Africa. I can’t say everyone in my group enjoyed the hike, but I know I did. Outdoor adventure has been a part of my life since I could walk and being able to do that on the other side of the world was something truly special. I made close friends on the hike in the four days it lasted. The bonds created on that short trip rivaled those I made in my entire month at the school.

The hike was gorgeous, except for one day during which we hiked ten miles on an exposed ridge fighting pouring rain and biting wind. Despite almost freezing to death, we all made it through.  We spent hours around a large fire every night. We laughed as we dried our soaking clothes, had deep honest conversations after cooking dinner, played games and told stories. (Advanced Uno may have ruined some friendships.) Those evenings were some I will never forget.

Overall, my exchange was filled with ups and downs. I have a deeper understanding of who I am as a person, the good parts and the bad. Going on exchange is truly a unique experience.

At the beginning of my exchange, as several things were going downhill, I asked myself if I would regret it by the end. At the end, in no way do I regret exchange. I learned from the bad times, I cherish the good times, and I think I’m a stronger person on the other side.