The beginning of my trip to South Africa was hectic, to say the least. After an eleven-hour layover in Frankfurt, I flew from Germany down to OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg. Arriving there, I was relieved to be almost done with my journey. After waiting for around half an hour in the immigration line, I was told that I didn’t have everything I needed as an unaccompanied minor entering South Africa. No one had told me that I needed more than my passport, and even if I had read it somewhere, when packing I didn’t know. For those of you who are unaware, when traveling into South Africa as an unaccompanied minor, one needs not only their passport, but a copy of their birth certificate and a letter signed by both parents approving the travel. As this progressed, my sleep-deprived mind became more and more convinced that my journey would end before it begun. I called my parents with my eyes filled with tears. Keep in mind that it was past 1 AM back home, so it was a miracle I was able to contact them at all. Luckily, I was able to get a letter from each parent, as well as a photo of my birth certificate in under an hour. Given the circumstances, the border control officers accepted this and let me move forward to meet my host family.
After my nearly three days of travel, as well as an hour of anxiety inducing border control, I was ready to take a nap. After a brief stop at a high school rugby game, we proceeded to the place we would be staying that night in Pretoria. The rest of that day is a bit blurry, and mostly made up of me sleeping as my host family enjoyed the day in Pretoria. Despite the chaotic beginning to my trip, the first day was alright. Since then my trip has gone off without a hitch.
The next day, we drove for four hours from Pretoria to my host family’s house in Sabie to prepare for school, which started the next day. One big difference between our schools and schools in South Africa is that school here starts at 7 AM. Given that Sabie is a 45-minute drive from Nelspruit, where Penryn is located, that meant I have woken up at 5 AM every morning for school. Given that for the first week of school I was only able to fall asleep at around 2 AM, I was very tired for the start of school. For this reason, I would highly recommend travelling to your country around a week before the term starts.
Apart from the uniforms and the difference in starting time, Penryn is not all that different than Athenian. In general classes are small, though with a more classic layout, with desks in lines, as opposed to our generally circular table layout. Students here have a bit more control over which subjects they take. Rather than needing to meet a requirement in every subject, they choose three subjects to focus on after grade 9. From then they take only classes in those subjects, along with a language (generally Afrikaans or Siswati) and a math. Despite the differences in schooling here, and a few differences in beliefs, political and otherwise, the people here are really not that different from people at home. With the ups and downs of life in high school, there will always be tired students, gossip, and drama, no matter where you are. There will always be adults giving (sometimes unwarranted) life advice. People will always be people.
Over the course of the weekends since I’ve arrived, I’ve done many different things with my family, from chill weekends at the house to 10-hour drives through the Kruger National Park. We’ve really done as much as we could with the time I’ve had here. There was one long weekend where Amber’s sister and a friend came to visit from Johannesburg, and we visited an elephant sanctuary together. The next weekend, we went to the Kruger. That weekend was incredible. We saw so many rare animals, including seven lions, two leopards, three rhinos, and a bunch of wild dogs. The Kruger is one of the biggest tourist attractions in South Africa, and one of the largest national parks in the world. I learned that if you drive every single road in the Kruger, you will see less than 5% of all the land in the park.
I am still not done with my trip, but this is my last week in school. This coming Saturday, I will be leaving on a four-day, three-night hiking expedition, a requirement for all grade tens here, including Amber. The hike will end on Tuesday, and I will be going home the following Sunday. My trip has been a whirlwind of new people and incredible experiences, and I am not ready to go home. It really is true that time flies when you’re having fun, and this trip has been no different.