Co-op placement at WUSC Botswana

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It’s amazing to think that I’ve officially been ‘on the job’ for a month and a half! It seems like just yesterday that I stepped off the plane and moved into my housemum’s place. I feel like I’ve integrated well in Gaborone in general and also settled into my position at WUSC, which has already been fun and rewarding.

The WUSC Botswana office in Gaborone

The WUSC Botswana office in Gaborone

Since I split my time between offices, I only spend a couple of days a week in the WUSC office here in Gabs. On these days, I am lucky enough to avoid public transportation because I can walk to work in just under an hour (it takes practically the same amount of time to take the combi to work… the traffic is busy!). Even though it’s getting hotter outside, I still enjoy getting some fresh air before the sun gets too intense.

At WUSC, I am here to support the international scholarship management (ISM) program. The ISM program is a partnership between WUSC and the government of Botswana, which has a program called “Top Achievers” that sends the most successful¬†Batswana high school students to universities around the world. WUSC Botswana, of course, helps facilitate the scholarship students who choose to study at Canadian institutions.

My job is mainly to help with the promotion of Canadian post-secondary education institutions. Many of the top achieving students haven’t even thought about Canada as an option for their education abroad so it’s fun to start that conversation with them. We do this through education fairs and presentations at high schools in the area. I really enjoy presenting in front of a crowd, especially when the audience is so eager for information, as most of these students are because they have inspiring ambition for their futures.

The second part of my work here is more about personal academic / career counselling services for students who are serious about exploring their education options in Canada. I will be doing a lot more of this in the coming months, once exams are over so students can turn their attention towards selecting their desired program and school of study. I am really looking forward to helping students find out which school in which part of Canada will suit them best. I know I will enjoy being a part of planning for their futures.

I work with an amazing woman named Ona, who has done a great job of both showing me the ropes and also letting me have independence. I have several ideas that I’m excited about implementing such as building a more comprehensive online profile including social media and a website that is tailored to the students, based on their questions and concerns. I should be moving forward on these ideas very soon.

I’ve already had a great time motivating the students to study hard and disseminating to them information about Canadian universities. I hope this happy momentum continues throughout the coming months. I’m slated to finish my placement at the end of February 2015 so, until then, I plan on making the most of my time at WUSC. So far, so good!

Safari Time at Kruger National Park

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Since it would take two full days of non-stop bus travel to get back to Gaborone, Botswana from Tofo Beach in Mozambique, Luke and I decided to break that up by stopping in South Africa. More specifically, we stopped just at the border in a town on the South African side called Komatipoort.¬†We stumbled into the Border Crossing Inn in the evening¬†and immediately took advantage of spending a night in a hotel (instead of sleeping in a tent on the beach or in a bus!) by taking a real shower and turning¬†on the television. Unfortunately, only the Disney channel was working¬†so we watched that for as long as we could stand it (not long, as it turns out… the show was about a dog who writes a blog… umm…)

The next morning, after a good night’s sleep (in a real bed!),¬†we headed to the front desk of the hotel to ask about the best way to spend a day in Kruger National Park, one of the oldest and largest nature and game reserves in all of South Africa. It would be unlikely that either of us would be back this way during our time in Southern Africa so we wanted to take advantage of this opportunity while we could.

The park entrance at Crocodile Bridge

The park entrance at Crocodile Bridge

First animal sighting of the day

First animal sighting of the day

We were surprised to hear that we probably should have booked something in advance (something neither Luke and I do often whilst travelling, especially on this trip, during which our MO was quite fly-by-the-seat-our-pants). Thankfully, the receptionist had a friend who knew a woman¬†who happened to be¬†heading into the park that day with her two grandsons. She gave her a call and learned¬†that she was more than willing to help us out!¬†Just under an hour later, Luke and I¬†met up with Joey¬†and her very grandsons, piled into her huge white truck, and we were all on our way into Kruger via Crocodile Bridge. We weren’t even two minutes into the park when we saw a couple of buffalo, a few crocodiles, and an elephant. Luke and I couldn’t believe our luck already!

Soaking up the sun

Soaking up the sun

Hippos are the cutest, but they are also pretty deadly if annoyed so don't  throw rocks or get too close

Hippos are the cutest, but they are also pretty deadly if annoyed so don’t throw rocks or get too close

It turned out to be a near-perfect day. In all, we spent seven hours inside the park. The entire time we were inside the truck, driving slowly around trying to spot animals in the brush. It was a fun and exciting and also very relaxing day. I have never said “Look over there!” and “Pass the binoculars!” so many times in one day before. There were times when the animals were all in one area and we would see new things around every corner. There were also times when it seemed like everyone had packed up for the day¬†so we just stared out at the landscape, which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, since it is a breathtaking environment (photos at the end of the post!).

The most wonderful animal of them all

The most wonderful animal of them all

Impalas, like this guy, were everywhere!

Impalas, like this guy, were everywhere!

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Sun, Sea, & Coconuts: Tofo Beach

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After a wonderful stay in Swaziland, Luke and I headed over to Mozambique. At the border between the two countries, one of the agents asked where we were going, to which I responded excitedly: “To the beach!” She laughed at my enthusiasm and told me I’d be there soon.¬†Sure enough, not long after this exchange, Luke and I were in Maputo. But it turned out that we still had quite the journey ahead of us before we arrived at the beach!

We only spent about five hours in the hostel in Maputo because we’d arrived quite late in the night and had to leave again pretty¬†early in the morning (4AM!) to catch the bus to Tofo. So we were one of the last ones to stumble into the dorm at the end of the night and we were the first ones to head out in the morning. (My apologies to the¬†others in the dorm that night. We¬†tried so hard to be quiet but my alarm did go off at an ungodly hour…)

The bus from Maputo to Tofo was certainly¬†an experience. While Tofo is just under¬†five hundred kilometers away from Maputo up the coast, it took us nearly eleven hours to get there! Thankfully, we spent much of it sleeping but I’ll say there were moments during the ride when I wondered to myself if this was going to be¬†worth it. Not only was the bus journey very long, but we were also very¬†squished for the entire trip as the drivers had packed the aisles high with luggage, bags, and all sorts of boxes so we carried our backpacks on our laps. Even with some shut eye on this stuffy, squishy, hot trip, we were exhausted when we finally arrived in Tofo, just after sun down.

We stayed at Fatima's, a Tofo institution

We stayed at Fatima’s, a Tofo institution

All my doubts about the worthiness of this trip vanished, though, when I first looked upon the beach. There was still a glow of the afternoon sun on the ocean and the air smelled thick with salt and humidity. The evening wind was strong coming off the waves, catching me as I breathed a sigh of relief… A sigh of relaxation, too, for the first time that day. We’d finally¬†made it to the beach!

The beach!

The beach! (More photos at the end of the post)

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Journey to Swaziland, Sibebe, and Swazi Trails

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My friend Luke and I left Gaborone on Friday September 26th in the early afternoon. Bags packed and passports finally wrangled from the Mozambique High Commission, we headed to the bus rank to catch a combi to Johannesburg. It was a hot and sunny day, as they all are these days in Gabs, so we both slurped on a guava Cool Time (a frozen fruit snack like a freezie), trying to ward off the heat as we waited for the combi to fill so we could leave. Soon enough, we were on the road and, as soon as we crossed the South African border, I was practically bouncing off the walls with excitement over the adventures to come. We were officially on the road!

On the road in South Africa to Jo'burg

On the road in South Africa to Jo’burg

About four hours later, we arrived in Jo’burg. We were on the… how do I say?… not as nice side of Park Station where the combis stop so we hurried through the crowds to¬†quickly¬†find our next bus to Manzini, Swaziland. Thankfully, everything went smoothly and in mere minutes we were on another combi, sipping on water to keep ourselves hydrated for the next journey ahead. While our first bus ride that day was characterized by the heat (combis are like greenhouses if no one opens the windows), our second bus ride was characterized by very, very loud Christian choral¬†music. Luke and I chatted throughout the ride to keep our sanity.

At the Swazi border, we battled hoards of people passing through as well, presumably for the weekend (such is the issue with traveling on a Friday evening). The little hallway was filled with at least a hundred people so I held onto Luke as he held onto our combi driver to get to through the crowds to the immigration desk. As they pushed past each other, everyone was laughing with exhaustion and exasperation at the ridiculousness of the situation. We eventually made it through immigration and the Swazi border and we were back on the road.

Combis & mountains = Swazi

Combis & mountains = Swazi

The forty minute drive from the border to Manzini was beautiful, even though it was dark. The mountains of Swaziland were dotted with lights from people’s homes, making patterns that seemed to mimic the expanse of stars that were spread out in the sky above. The crescent moon peaked out through the darkness and dramatic lightning broke the sky in the distance. We arrived around midnight, quickly connecting with our friend Heather, whose futon we crashed on for three nights. (Thanks Heather!)

The incredible view from where we ate lunch near Gone Rural and House and Fire

The incredible view from where we ate lunch near Gone Rural and House and Fire

For our first day in Swaziland, we relaxed after a busy day of travel. Heather and her friend Hillary took us to the famous venue House on Fire in Malkerns, which is also home to the Gone Rural store that I’ve wanted to visit for a very long time. (More photos of Gone Rural at the end of the post!) Of course, I bought myself a little treat from the store – a colourful woven reed basket – and we shared a lovely lunch in the valley, staring out onto the mountains in the area. (As Heather describes it, Swazi is “mountains on mountains on mountains”, which means it’s painfully beautiful at every corner of the country!)

The incredible view from where we ate lunch near Gone Rural and House and Fire

Mountains on mountains on mountains: the incredible view from where we ate lunch near Gone Rural & House on Fire

The next day, Luke and I were feeling adventurous so we headed to Sibebe, a popular hiking destination. (It also happens to be the namesake of the country’s most popular beer.) The mountain is so beautiful, rocky, and mysterious. Well, it felt really mysterious when I was there because it was so misty! Basically, we hiked through a cloud. This meant that as we climbed we didn’t see anything more than a few feet in front of us. We had to keep calling out to each other so we wouldn’t lose one another in the fog!

The beginning of the Sibebe hike... All those mountains hidden behind clouds!

The beginning of the Sibebe hike… All those mountains hidden behind clouds!

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Update: Back in Gabs after 10 days of adventures

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You might have noticed I was a bit absent from my blog in the past week or so. That was because I was on vacation!

What's a vacation without a beautiful beach?

What’s a vacation without a beautiful beach?

Last week, everyone in Botswana had two days off to celebrate independence day on Tuesday and Wednesday. So I took the Monday, Thursday, and Friday off to go exploring around Southern Africa with my friend Luke!

We went on a mountainous and misty hike in Swaziland

We went on a mountainous and misty hike in Swaziland

In all, we spent about ten days traveling, visiting Swaziland, Mozambique, and South Africa during this time. The trip included many buses, lots of sun on the beach, some mountaintop hiking, and even a safari (I finally saw my favourite animal, the giraffe, in the wild!).

We saw all sorts of animals in the wild in South Africa

We saw all sorts of animals in South Africa

I’ll be posting lots of stories and¬†photos in the coming days so stay tuned!