Lions, Cheetahs and a Little Sister in Leopard Print

By Victoria G. ’16

In late June, Tahra W. ’16 and I flew down with our families to South Africa to begin our six-week stay in Cape Town. For a week, we toured the city with our families, getting our bearings before being dropped off with our host families. I stayed with Michaela Meyer and her family, including younger sister Alyssa and Michaela’s younger brother, Derek. Tahra stayed with Richard Wellington and his parents and two younger sisters. Both Michaela and Richard will be joined by another girl named Iris and will come in late September to LCDS.

For the first week and a half, we joined our host families on their vacation to the Kruger National Park. Over that time, I became very close with Richard Wellington’s 10-year-old sister, Juju. We started off as just Uno partners but ended up spending a lot of time together on fun adventures, often with Juju wearing a leopard-print onesie. Juju had an unwaveringly positive and caring attitude about everyone and her many hugs are one of my fondest memories. At the end of our time in Kruger, Juju and her sister Gemma gave me a necklace with Africa on it as a token of thanks for spending so much time with them. I was deeply moved and frankly a little surprised because I enjoyed my time with them and certainly didn’t feel like I needed to be thanked for anything. But thanks to this necklace, now whenever I see an image of Africa, I am reminded of the warmth and love of the Wellington sisters and all my other friends in Cape Town.

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To get to Kruger, we drove across South Africa, enjoying the beautiful scenery and stopping at various cultural and historical sites. Our days in Kruger were on safari trying to spot animals. We were extremely fortunate and saw the entire “Big Five,” a lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and buffalo. Besides seeing these incredible animal, some of the most memorable experiences from Kruger were the evening “braais” (barbeques) with our two host families.

After the holidays, we returned to Cape Town to start school. I attended Herschel, the all-girls school, and Tahra attended Bishops, the all-boys school. Bishops and Herschel are brother and sister schools and both are among the top academic, athletic and arts schools in the area. History class was especially interesting as we discussed the legacy of Cecil John Rhodes and whether he deserves to be memorialized, since his statue had just been removed from the University of Cape Town. During school days, we were fully immersed in their respective cultures, and sucked into the contagious school spirit during “Herschfield” (Herschel vs. Springfield in field hockey) as well as the Bishops rugby games. It was very different going from attending LCDS to a religious, all-girls school in Africa, but the school was extremely welcoming and accommodating, and the people and experiences at Herschel were inspirational and unforgettable.

In addition to attending classes, there were also day trips planned by the schools for exchange students such as hiking table mountain, working with impoverished children in the townships, surfing and touring Cape Town’s top sites as well as a week long Garden Route tour. During the Garden Route tour, all of the exchange students from Bishops and Herschel drove through part of South Africa to reach some of the nation’s most beautiful and exciting sites. Our exchange group consisted of boys and girls from all around the world, including the U.S., Spain, England, the Isle of Man, Australia, China and Wales. Overall, the Garden Route tour left us with a new understanding of global cultures, and a new appreciation for the animals and wildlife of South Africa.

Tahra and I are both immensely grateful to our host families, Bishops, Herschel, and LCDS for giving us one of the most meaningful and enjoyable experiences of our lives. When traveling, one is often given something to think about, but it is rare to have a place change the way you think. The culture of Cape Town and the people we became friends with opened our minds and hearts to new perspectives, and Cape Town is now a part of us both. This is something that can only be achieved through an exchange with a complete immersion into another way of life. We were given the opportunity to become more than tourists and truly experience the beauty of Cape Town. The memories, friendships, and ideas we have taken with us from South Africa will be with us for the rest of our lives and we both highly recommend this exchange to anyone considering it.