By Maggie Sharpe ’22
On January 30, 2020, I arrived in Gaborone, Botswana for my six week exchange. Gaborone is the capital of Botswana, a thriving young country in Southern Africa. Botswana is warm and semi-arid for most of the year, and famous for its abundant wildlife. I have come to love it for the vibrant, joyful energy that underlies every interaction with the locals.
Here, I’m a day student at Maru-a-Pula school. Its name fittingly means “promises of blessings” in Setswana, a language spoken amongst the Bantu of Southern Africa. Maru-a-Pula is a large school, with a lovely campus. The classrooms are all separate buildings, scattered amongst gardens and large trees. It’s common to see monkeys on the grounds, which can be problematic if they want your lunch. The students and faculty here have been wonderfully friendly and helpful, approaching me to introduce themselves or inviting me to sit with them. I’m so thankful to them all for putting in the effort to make the new girl feel at home.
My host family is made up of Mr. and Mrs. Xavier, my exchange partner Chloe, and her three younger siblings, Krissy, Micaela and Josh. They’ve been so kind, welcoming me into their family and making an effort to show me as much of their country as possible. We’ve been on several drives through different game parks, including Khama Rhino Sanctuary. From the tailgate of their pickup truck, I’ve been lucky enough to see Botswana’s famous wildlife up-close. I was amazed by the number of impala, zebra, and wildebeest, the size of the rhinos with their calves tearing ahead on the plains. Recently, we went for a short horseback ride through bush trails thick with shrub and small trees. I learned the hard way that most of Botswana’s native plants have thorns, but otherwise enjoyed the unfamiliar landscape.
These past weeks have taught me a lot about myself and the world outside of our small school. Among the most important lessons is the value of positivity. There have been a few bumps along the road, including lost luggage, a lingering cold and a painful run-in with a thorn tree. It would be easy to let those throw you off, but you’ll find yourself much happier and more optimistic if you can smile through it and think of the many positives. Navigating in a new country alone affirmed my ability to manage myself independently. I feel like I’ll leave this period with more confidence.
I’m incredibly grateful to have been granted this experience, and I can’t thank my parents, host family and both schools’ faculty enough for making it possible. My recommendation to anyone offered this opportunity is to take the leap and go for it. It’s an offer you won’t likely get again, and you’re sure to make lifelong memories. As daunting as such a trip may seem, it teaches you a lot about yourself, and will leave you a better person than when you began.