“How was Botswana?” “Tell me about study abroad,” you ask.
Where do I begin?
It started with the heat: 97 degrees in January. It was only our third day together, and you had already exposed me to something new—umbrellas as a form of sunscreen. You taught me to protect myself from your beautiful sun by getting me to question my approach, my habits, my behaviors.
It was only the second week, and you taught me patience as I waited in lines—queues—everywhere. I hated them at first, but grew to appreciate them. When I passed you on the street, you listened to me when we exchanged greetings. “How zit? How are you?” You cared about my answer, even though waiting to hear my response made you late.
When people asked about you, it was difficult for me to explain you. They didn’t even know your name. BO-tswana, the country. BA-tswana, the people. They never met you; how could I describe you in two sentences? At least they asked, but they didn’t listen to my answer like you did. And they only knew you for your safaris, which I’ll admit were great, but there was so much more to you.
The first two months of our time together vanished, but it didn’t bother you. You, Batswana, gave me a chance even though you knew I would be leaving soon, leaving like so many others before me had left. You introduced me to your friends and family, showed me how to make your delicious food, told me what you thought about me, about America. And you helped me see that things can be done differently—and still effectively.
I wish I could carry my belongings as elegantly as you, laugh like you, be like you.
Yes, during our time together, I learned so much about you, and also about myself. You taught me how to take risks—like inviting me to bungee jump—while still being safe, like cautioning me frequently with your HIV/AIDS posters. You helped me understand the deep challenges you face trying to be healthy. And by showing me your culture, I learned about my own.
I wanted to give you something in return for everything you gave me. I tried, but I knew it would never be enough. A new volleyball cheer. A fresh perspective. A glimpse or two about America. It was insufficient, but you welcomed me anyway.
Our 127 days together weren’t always easy. You burned me, made me feel inadequate, made me feel guilty for all the “things” that I have, things that seem so unnecessary after the care you’ve shown me.
No, I didn’t want to leave you, and now that we’re no longer together, you haunt me in my daily life. I miss the food you made me, the way you let me explore, and the things you taught me. And despite the challenges we’ve faced, I don’t want to live without you.
Botswana: the country. Batswana: the people. I may have left you, but Botswana, Batswana—I will never forget you.
Megan Slavish’14, Beloit, Wis., is majoring in health and society and minoring in political science. This essay is adapted from the script of a film she created, which debuted at Beloit’s International Symposium in November. Go to www.beloit.edu, click on the YouTube logo, and choose the “International Students and Study Abroad” playlist.