Katie Reed

University of Botswana

I chose to study abroad in Gaborone, Botswana because I wanted to study in a place completely different from the United States.

I wanted to gain a greater knowledge on health outside of America while also embracing a new culture.

I didn’t want to travel to a popular place; I wanted to be completely outside of my comfort zone.

Fortunately, The University of Botswana offered a Community Public Health Program that perfectly outlined everything I was looking for.

Contributed Photo / Katie Reed

Contributed Photo / Katie Reed

As part of my community health program I have the opportunity to visit clinics and hospitals around the country.

I have been able to witness both the positive and negative impacts of universal healthcare.

Botswana has the second highest HIV/AIDS prevalence in the world.

Every single person in this country has been affected by HIV in one way or another.   

Having the opportunity to learn about HIV/AIDS in Botswana has not only provided me knowledge on the topic, but has also granted me insight on how high prevalence communities are affected by such a powerful disease.

For the first few weeks in Botswana I experienced full blown culture shock.

As time has progressed, I have become accustomed to the changes and have adapted to the cultural differences.

I still miss specific things from home, like coffee, but I have learned how to live without them.

Becoming a minority in a community has been the hardest adjustment for me so far.

The color of my skin automatically distinguishes me as a foreigner, triggering constant staring and frequent cat calls.

My American accent associates me with wealth and fortune leading to daily marriage proposals from strangers.

  People assume that African American exchange students are Batswanan and will speak Setswana to them expecting for a response back.

Setswana and English are both official languages of Botswana; however Setswana is more frequently used, and even though classes are taught in English, there is still a language barrier.

Heavy accents make it hard for me to understand lecturers and sometimes lead to miscommunications, however, people are always willing to translate and offer me assistance.

The most popular means of transportation in Gaborone is by combi.

A combi is a van that uncomfortably fits 18 people.

Each combi drives a specific route and stops at specific destinations.

One combi ride is equivalent to 35 cents, the drivers are worse than New York City taxi drivers and it’s so hot that you have to peel your legs off the seat when getting up, but somehow it’s always a positive experience.

People are so friendly and always willing to engage in conversation or assist with directions.    

It is the summer in Botswana right now so the temperatures are very high, it is typically around 100 degrees every day.

Even people who have lived in Botswana their entire lives are not accustomed to the heat here and, as a result, everyone moves at a much slower pace.

Another interesting difference is time is not taken into consideration here.

Professors begin class 15 minutes late, taxis show up 30 minutes later than expected and dinner begins two hours later than originally planned.

I have also become familiar with the idea that Wi-Fi and running water are luxuries, not necessities.

Botswana is currently experiencing a severe drought from lack of rainfall.

As a result, water is turned off during the day in an effort to conserve.

I no longer think of the “Ice Bucket Challenge” as an awareness campaign for ALS.

Now, dumping a bucket of water over my head is considered bathing.

For mid-semester break I am traveling to Cape Town in South Africa.

Later on in the semester I plan to visit Chobe, in the north of Botswana, Namibia and Zambia.

In less than two months I have already made lifelong friends and discovered so much more about myself.

Having an open mind and positive attitude are essential qualities to have while studying abroad here.

I want to leave Botswana without having any regrets and to take advantage of everything this beautiful country has to offer.

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