being “the international kid”

It’s hard to admit discomfort when you’re told to remain strong, and you know you are supposed to keep an open-mind – no matter what. But truth be told.. I am now the outsider. And with that comes an innate sense of discomfort that washes over you when you least expect it to.

For example, the small waste bin in my room has been practically full for a week. Not knowing where to take it out, I’ve just let it add up. So,  after meandering through my building for a while in search of a deposit sight, I noticed a slightly larger waste bin in our common TV room. So.. desperate to take out this week-old rubbish, I carried my bin into the common room and began to empty it. Suddenly, I heard laughter behind me as four local students observed my actions. I instantly turned red. Thinking to myself “I’m so embarrassed . what am I even doing wrong!” I proceeded to empty my bin. “Ahem, Miss… is there not a rubbish bin near the laundry facility… this one is for smaller items”. Oops… I looked up apologetically and said “sorry, I had no idea”. So I grabbed my now empty bin and walked back to my room. After setting it down, I wandered over to the laundry area where there was no sign of the supposed bin.. I’ll have to keep searching.

On to the next awkward experience of the day… You see, Durban is quite hot and humid, so my towel rarely dries entirely before it’s next use. Acknowledging the awkward smell it was giving off, I decided it way finally time to try my first load of laundry here. Since I completely forgot to bring a laundry bag, I scooped up my first clothes and stuffed them into an old grocery bag and headed down the hall. Arriving in the laundry room, I placed my new powdered laundry detergent on the floor  and  identified an open washer.I emptied my overstuffed plastic bag into it, followed by a sprinkle of the detergent and then closed the lid. I tried pressing all of the buttons – in different orders and with more determined strength – and nothing was happening! Cool.. So I asked Bisola for assistance… and to no surprise, our combined efforts found little success as well.

Luckily one of the other res girls came and emptied her washer in this distressed process so as soon as she left I started to move my items into the washer she had previously occupied.. powder and all. Success! I could make this machine work, after-all there was only one button on this one.

I return a little while later wanting to check on my items to find them missing from their original place. Uh oh! I frantically looked in all of the machines and was happy to find them in the furthest dryer already started on a cycle. I was impressed and grateful. Oftentimes at HWS students will just remove your wet clothes and leave them in a soggy pile since they are not willing to spring forth the extra quarters to assist in your laundry endeavors.

Laundry and rubbish… who knew that these two seemingly simple and trivial things would cause me so much discomfort and stress in one day.

As I said in my last post, nothing about this journey has been in my control thus far. Sihle will often ask where I would like to eat when we go out and I have to look at him with surprise and admit that I don’t even know what my options are. But I am learning.. slowly but surely.

The Zulu thing is also quite stressful. Here at John Bews we have 24/7 guards at our entrance. Most of them are very kind and give me encouraging nods when I cannot seem to work our gate. However, there is one who will scold me and give me disapproving looks every time I see her since I have yet to speak Zulu to her. Now let’s be honest here.. I have been here for about a week and a half and my knowledge of Zulu remains quite limited as it has elements to it that are completely unfamiliar (like the clicks!). I’ve tried to pick up a few phrases here and there, but even Zulu names seem difficult. But that is exactly it.. they are unfamiliar. I am not used to having someone laugh at me every time I try to learn a word.. It’s like learning to speak all over again. Not to mention the awkward stares I receive almost everywhere I go.. White girl with blonde hair… I stick out like a ghost!

Now, please don’t take this post as one of distress. I am actually feeling quite happy and settled here more and more every day. But there are elements to my days here in Durban that are awkwardly strange and difficult. Even the most everyday tasks are journeys in and of themselves. It’s wild! Anita and Sihle have done a wonderful job giving directions and providing support and care, but there are somethings that are just learned through trial and error (which can be embarrassing at times). I have to admit that I am looking forward to a routine and new friends who will lend more support in these everyday learning processes. But I am proud of how much I have done thus far.

I will never consider being an “international student” or “studying abroad” in the same way ever again. I am reminded of how much this experience truly is just letting myself feel these uncomfortable emotions, and then learning to move on. There have been so many rewards here so far and I will not let laundry or rubbish get the best of me!

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7 thoughts on “being “the international kid”

  1. Sometimes I wonder if the biggest lessons come from the smallest sources… I do know that life can be a lot like doing your laundry… it’s best if we sort it one load at a time! Good luck learning the Zulu language. I know one thing that needs no translation – a big and sincere SMILE!

  2. I am a friend of your father’s, we used to work together years ago. I studied in Zimbabwe in 1988 and can relate to your posts! Enjoy the time you have there as it will follow you all your life. Cheers!

  3. I know just how you feel. Sometimes, when I forget their light switches are upside down and fumble for a second to get the lights on, I’m truly reminded how different it is here and how little I still fit in. It’s all about perseverance.

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