I was fortunate enough like I mentioned in my previous post, the opportunity to participate in an exchange program for a year 2016/17 called Community College Initiative Program. In my life, I never imagined myself flying all the way to the United States of America, more especially to LIVE there. I am about to share my experience and what I got up to throughout the year.
When I received my flight ticket, I was in the car with my Granny, Aunt and Cousins. It had said 15 July 2016 was the day I will be leaving South Africa, my friends and family. The day I will be wearing my ‘big girl panties’ and being an adult with responsibilities. The packing was half way done, buying all necessary items bit by bit, but the flight ticket made it surreal. That was when I told myself “Girl, there is no turning back you about to change your life”. It was nerve racking because remember, I don’t know nobody in the US and I am leaving all by myself (even though I made a friend whom I will be traveling with, but I am still ALONE). My family helped me with the packing, we were reminding each other what I need so that I do not forget, It was a fun process. And then came the sad part, my favourite uncle was involved in a car accident and departed. I remember that day like it was yesterday, my entire world stopped. I was devastated with so much hurt, anger and heartbreak. He promised to drive me to the airport, May His Soul Rest In Peace.
14 July 2016, I couldn’t sleep at all. I was preparing, myself mentally, physically, emotionally. There was just so much going on in my head, I couldn’t focus on one thing. I finally closed my bags and that was it, I WAS LEAVING THE NEXT DAY. I had so many heartwarming conversations with God and Daph (last serious 2016 conversations with her face to face). I was sad leaving her all alone, But she was with GOD. I listened to Gospel music, family relatives came over to say goodbye, my friends (Katlego, Katlego and Victoria) came to also say goodbye. It was real, I mean very real hahahaha. Few hours when everyone left I finally managed to fall aslept, I decided to sleep with my granny that night.
The next day, my Best Friend took a day off and we had fat cakes for breakfast with chips with her family (my family), I indulged so much oh my goodness, somehow they tasted really good. My pastor came over to say a Prayer for me, I was not well at all. I was in panic mode because of how real this adventure was, I couldn’t describe the feeling at all. On our way to the airport, we drove past my friend’s house. I wanted to see her granny who raised me, I am so old fashioned, I believe in Blessings from Old people and that is what I needed; prayers from them and God’s protection. As we were driving to the airport I was a lot calm, driving with my Aunt, best friend and cousins. The commotion at the airport was not that bad, checking in and all! We got there early because I wanted to relax with my loved ones. I had so much support, they all made it hard for me to leave. I will never stop thanking everyone that supported me.
It was 18:15 and I had to leave now, see that moment my heart was pounding like CRAZY. This is the conversation I had with myself in my head “where are you going? Why are you going? You are leaving your family and friends”. We were all walking slow to the boarding gates hahahah. I don’t like ‘goodbyes’ they are just so sad even though I knew I was coming back but the thought that I will only see them the following year, did not sit well with me. I hugged everyone in tears of course and I was the one telling people that NO TEARS. But I was the first to tear up, family, friends, church family kept hugging it was sad. But honestly the sad part was hugging my granny, oh my! Daph got me balling in tears, just the thought of not seeing her until next year broke me. She reminded me about the journey I will be starting, to have fun and to behave. And there I was walking through the gate and everyone was on the other side, I was a mess with tears rolling down, it felt like I was not going to come back. I really wanted to send Megan and email saying “Hi, I am no longer coming”. During those feelings I kept reminding myself that I am strong, singing a hymn “rea o boka Morena” Praying for strength and guidance. But I still wanted to quit. I kept calling my granny while we were waiting to board, she said “PRAY ATI”. I only stopped crying when I got in the airplane, it was not a joyful departure for me.
It was a very long journey from South Africa to United States of America, I had forgotten about these 24-hour plane rides (with a lay over of course) our lay over was between 6/7 hours at Heathrew Airport in London. I was glad I was not traveling alone, I was with Tharina Malan and Neo Makgetla. When we arrived Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix, we were introduced to our coordinator Megan Young, whom I only saw a picture of her and we communicated via email; I finally met her. She immediately introduced me to my Host Family Cindy and Scott Gemberling. All I wanted was to shower/bath and feel fresh again. On our way out of the airport, the aircon was nice and cool. Cindy opened the exit door, I froze because I couldn’t understand what was happening now; why the sudden heat wave. I asked what was happening and they said, “WELCOME TO ARIZONA THIS IS THE WEATHER”. Oh, my goodness, I thought I was in an oven. That weather was not normal! When I left South Africa it was cold, so I had my uggs (boots) on and a sweater what a HOT MESS. I was warmly welcomed in their home with their dog that kept sniffing my bumbs hahahaha “I know I haven’t bathed”. My first night was a nightmare TIME ZONE, Arizona is 7 hours behind with South Africa, meaning I COULDN’T SLEEP. It was hilarious because when they sleep I was up and vice versa. It took a while to get used to the whole-time zone issue. The HEAT was one thing I couldn’t get used to!
In my cohort we were 16 from 7 different countries; South Africa, Pakistan, Brazil, Côte d’Ivoire , India, Dominican Republic and Indonesia. Just imagine the diversity, how exciting. I met everyone for the first time at our Welcome Party. It was amazing to finally meet everyone, even though I had forgotten half of their names; but I still had some time to learn everyone’s names. We then had our Orientation Week at school, Scottsdale Community College and we were learning everything we need to learn about the CCI Program, SCC (where everything is), we met the staff members from school’ the President and Her Executive. It was an honor to be center of attention for the first few weeks, everyone just wanted to meet us how cool? Hahahaha. I still say I was in the best school SCOTTSDALE COMMUNITY COLLEGE. The best instructors, staff like everything was just TOUCHE’ (on point). I made friends in almost all departments at school and it was so cool when they asked me what my name was knowing it would be hard for them to pronounce. Everyone’s facial expression was hilarious when I told them my name hence, I decided to go by “KG” in the US. I got involved in School so much I just wanted to do everything that I could LOL. I joined three (3) clubs; Aces (Artie’s Community for Service, Council of Student Leaders and Women Rising. I made lots of friends and learned more about SCC.
One other thing that I appreciate about the exchange program was that I did a lot of SELF INTROSPECTION, I learned so much about myself throughout the year. I was finally getting to know the real KGOTHATSO BAATILE MOHALE. What I believe in is that God knew I needed to get out of my comfort zone and face reality ALONE without anybody that ‘knows’ me. I needed to learn more about adult responsibilities, learn to live on my own, BUYING MY OWN GROCERIES (which I’ve never) but that was so much work because I had to cook for myself. Living away from home made me realize that, it’s not that bad! I learned to be confident while networking and making new friends whom I am still in touch with ALL IN THE NAME OF TECHNOLOGY. As much as I became sick, I still say God wanted me where I was and throughout everything I was learning one or two things. But also, BEING HOMESICK! Not fun at all, you start missing your family and remember I was miles away, so I couldn’t just drive there. I had to suck it up and remember my reasons for being there. I was very thankful for skype calls and video calls; WhatsApp calls and video calls; receiving goodies from home via the post (that feeling is amazing). That always made home sickness feel a lot at ease. But I think the worst home sickness for me was church, I made sure I searched for an African Methodist Episcopal Church in the USA so that I can go to church and go to a church that is homey. I found one in Phoenix, Greater Bethel AME Church, my USA Home. Warmly Welcomed by the Congregation and their Host Pastor Sheriolyn Lasley, I felt at home because the way the church services were, they were exactly like the church I attend in SA, I was very excited cause church is my number one priority. I enjoyed worshiping American style, so that part of home sickness was at ease even though I couldn’t attend church every Sunday but I managed to go as many times as possible.
One thing I also appreciated, was being able to travel around the US. My first trip was with my cohort family, we drove to San Diego. To be quite honest I didn’t know it at all, until I was told about it. We went to sea world, my baby cousin was so jealous when I told him I felt like a kid there. During thanksgiving Olivia, Marcos and I decided to travel to Los Angeles. That was one of the best trips, Rodeo Drive, Hollywood, Beverley Hills, Santa Monica, oh my word I pinched myself so many times while we were there for four days. How can I forget the Walk of FAME street? I saw those things on Television and never imagined myself there it was amazing. I then traveled around Arizona; Tucson, Lake Pleasant Peoria, Sedona, Grand Canyon etc. For Christmas I stayed in Arizona and I was with both Host Families we were able to work around it. After Christmas I traveled with Neo to New York, it was a real dream come true. The way I used to picture myself at Times Square and God made it all possible. I really wanted to cry when I stepped foot at Time Square. We went around Manhattan, Brooklyn our trip was very adventurous with a very confusing train schedule, we always got lost. We traveled to Washington DC together with Olivia, seeing all the monuments I saw on TV especially ‘The Fixer’ I still had to pinch myself. It was such a wonderful experience as crazy as it was in New York, we managed to make the most of it. We had a girl’s road trip with myself, Neo, Christina and Mora. The best road trip I have ever been to! We drove to San Diego, it was CRAZY hahahah but super fun I enjoyed their company so much. Next was Las Vegas, Nevada ‘what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas’ a city that NEVER sleeps indeed. Las Vegas is just tiring but it was also one of the best road trips we took with myself, Cindy, Neo and Olivia. We walked the whole night on the streets, seeing very interesting people YEAH! With the cohort again we traveled to Los Angeles and guess where we went? Disney Land California by far the best place to be, I wish every child can go and experience it. Even though I wished to have traveled to other places like Philadelphia, I still enjoyed traveling to all the places I went too. I am beyond Blessed and Humbled by that opportunity to make memories and see the world. Another way I used to see and meet other people was through Volunteering. I remember my roommate Olivia calling me, “coming” because every volunteering opportunity I wanted to be part of it. The Best one was #ARTIEHASHEART it was very close to my heart, what an experience.
My wish is for someone I know to apply for the CCI exchange program, there’s a lot you learn about yourself and other foreign countries which I did not know about. You learn more also on Leadership Development, Professional Development and how it is being a Student in a foreign Country.