How do you sum up a year of experiences, challenges, memories and hardships?
Before going into that, let me start with a few ice-breakers on how some students initially perceived South Africa. Since being at Woodford, I have been asked “Can you speak South African?’ Do you own your own laptop? But you are from Africa. Do you live in a hut? Is Obama your President? Is South Africa the capital of Africa?” Also my necklace, which is of South Africa, has been identified as Australia.
I am from Cape Town, South Africa. I went to an Anglican day-girl school, twice the size of Woodford, called Herschel. Like Woodford, it projects a similar ethos and traditional values. However, my school only had about 30 boarders and in retrospect was a highly pressurised-academic environment. What I love about Woodford girls is their charisma and ability to throw themselves into the great outdoors. Being the only non-boarder in my family, I always wanted to go to boarding school. I also knew I did not want to go straight into tertiary education and so a Gap year seemed like a structured platform to take a break. Having never stepped out of my comfort zone, or ventured overseas, I welcomed the opportunity with open arms.
I have absolutely loved my time in New Zealand. I have certainly challenged myself and experienced new things. Adapting to change has been eye-opening as leaving home you no longer have your parents to rely on, or to make decisions for you. I was surprised at just how dependent I was on other people. My character was also tested during the Rugby World Cup. However, over time you learn to take responsibility for your own decisions and learn from your mistakes.
The Kiwi culture and hospitality has been remarkable. Students have been kind enough to open up their homes to the Gappies and show us just what it means to be a Hawke’s Bay girl. During the school holidays I travelled around New Zealand, Australia and Bali. Some of the highlights were Abel Tasman, Queenstown, the Bay of Islands and Taupo.
Other highlights of my year included the Woodford House camps and outdoor activities such as rafting, caving, tramping, biking and surfing, The Tongariro Alpine Crossing had to be one of my absolute favourites. We were challenged beyond measure as we unexpectedly had to hike through knee-deep trenches of snow and ended up doing the transverse crossing, which was an extra 7km. Not having ever seen snow before, I was very excited.
I have also been fortunate to live with four international flatmates from Germany and England who were also Gappies. Living with the same people you work with has certainly been challenging, but I have learnt a lot about negotiation, sharing, responsibility and compromise.
Overall, New Zealand is a highly underestimated country and is not a mere dot as it appears on the map. It holds great sentimental value, huge patriotism, hospitality, passion, culture, incomparable beauty, space, tranquillity and all that comes with it. I will certainly miss it. Not only have I grown outwards a lot this year, but upwards too and I have embraced the bad parts just as well as the good.
Belinda Anderson, South African Gap Student 2015