My Time in South Africa

Traveling to South Africa Taught Me the Importance of Being Exposed to Different Ways of Life

It really is as amazing as they say.

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30 hours of flying. Enough said. That's what I tell anyone when they ask me how traveling to South Africa was. However, that's not quite the whole story. While dealing with LAX traffic, 3 different flights, connecting in Heathrow, and missing my flight from Johannesburg to Bloemfontein held more sore necks, exaggerated eye bags, irritable family members, and airline coffee that I would like, I had no idea of the other world waiting for me once I stepped outside of that airport.

First off, I had never been on the continent of Africa before; it almost felt like I had been neglecting such a large part of the globe. I've been fortunate enough to travel to many different countries and it has expanded my worldview in many more ways than I would've thought possible. Born in London and raised in the United States, it's not outrageous to say that I've been surrounded by people who look like me and who act like me. My first time being an ethnic minority was jarring but in a healthy way. It helped me check my privilege a bit.

I visited a game reserve just outside of Bloemfontein for about ten days. While not the infamous Kruger National Park, it was amazing to see a place that protected and cared for their animals. Without the big cats as predators, the owners of the reserve employ controlled hunting of the populations of bontebok, wild boars, and other game. As a vegetarian, I, of course, did not participate in these activities but seeing this money keep their reserve running was eye-opening. While I am not a fan of hunting, in South Africa there is a large hunting culture; however, it matters the target. Endangered species in Africa are too often being hunted for sport and self on the black market. However, hunting does not have to be wholly negative because when it is legal, it keeps tourism going and allows reserves for these animals to continue. Without hunting, these animals would be without the protection of the reserve.

After my time "in the bush" as the locals call it, I spent about four days in Cape Town, which was by far the most thrilling and diverse location I have ever been to. Chapman's Peak Drive on the southwestern coast of the country reminded me of the PCH drive in California from the south up to Big Sur. It was like California coastlines but on steroids. We also went to the Cape of Good Hope, the most southwestern tip of the continent. There's a misconception about this cape- many people think that it is the most southern point, but it is actually where the Indian and Atlantic oceans meet. Looking down, you can even distinguish where the two waters meet each other.

While the scenery was amazing, the most important experience of my life happened about an eight-hour car ride from the southern port of Cape Town. Getting up at 4 a.m. to leave our hotel, we packed as many towels and jackets as possible (July in South Africa is WINTER). After an hour ride on a boat to Shark alley, I descended in my thick wetsuit into a cage to go shark diving. South Africa and Australia are some of the only places where diving with sharks is possible, so I was determined to see one up close because who knew when I would have the opportunity. After two hours of nothing, I began to think that it was all for naught. Out of nowhere, my brother and I saw a 17-foot great white loom out of the water. It passed by dozens of times, each time getting close enough so that I could have reached out and touched it. I felt so close to these animals that are so misunderstood. I had never experienced anything like it.

South Africa has so much to offer that spending just two weeks there was not enough. Traveling there takes a lot of money, planning, and time. Now I guess I have something to work for. I can't wait to save up and go back.

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I Visited The "Shameless" Houses And Here's Why You Shouldn't

Glamorizing a less-than-ideal way to live.
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After five hours of driving, hearing the GPS say, "Turn right onto South Homan Avenue" was a blessing.

My eyes peeled to the side of the road, viciously looking for what I have been driving so long for, when finally, I see it: the house from "Shameless."

"Shameless" is a hit TV show produced by Showtime. It takes place in modern-day Southside, Chicago. The plot, while straying at times, largely revolves around the Gallagher family and their continual struggle with (extreme) poverty. While a majority of the show is filmed offsite in a studio in Los Angeles, many outside scenes are filmed in Southside and the houses of the Gallagher's and side-characters are very much based on real houses.

We walked down the street, stopped in front of the two houses, took pictures and admired seeing the house in real life. It was a surreal experience and I felt out of place like I didn't belong there. As we prepared to leave (and see other spots from the show), a man came strolling down on his bicycle and asked how we were doing.

"Great! How are you?"

It fell silent as the man stopped in front of the Gallagher house, opened the gate, parked his bike and entered his home. We left a donation on his front porch, got back to the car and took off.

As we took the drive to downtown Chicago, something didn't sit right with me. While it was exciting to have this experience, I began to feel a sense of guilt or wrongdoing. After discussing it with my friends, I came to a sudden realization: No one should visit the "Gallagher" house.

The plot largely revolves the Gallagher family and their continual struggle with (extreme) poverty. It represents what Southside is like for so many residents. While TV shows always dramatize reality, I realized coming to this house was an exploitation of their conditions. It's entertaining to see Frank's shenanigans on TV, the emotional roller coasters characters endure and the outlandish things they have to do to survive. I didn't come here to help better their conditions, immerse myself in what their reality is or even for the donation I left: I came here for my entertainment.

Southside Chicago is notoriously dangerous. The thefts, murders and other crimes committed on the show are not a far-fetched fantasy for many of the residents, it's a brutal reality. It's a scary way to live. Besides the Milkovich home, all the houses typically seen by tourists are occupied by homeowners. It's not a corporation or a small museum, it's their actual property. I don't know how many visitors these homes get per day, week, month or year. Still, these homeowners have to see frequent visitors at any hour of the day, interfering with their lives. In my view, coming to their homes and taking pictures of them is a silent way of glamorizing the cycle of poverty. It's a silent way of saying we find joy in their almost unlivable conditions.

The conceit of the show is not the issue. TV shows have a way of romanticizing very negative things all the time. The issue at hand is that several visitors are privileged enough to live in a higher quality of life.

I myself experienced the desire and excitement to see the houses. I came for the experience but left with a lesson. I understand that tourism will continue to the homes of these individuals and I am aware that my grievances may not be shared with everyone, however, I think it's important to take a step back and think about if this were your life. Would you want hundreds, potentially thousands, of people coming to your house? Would you want people to find entertainment in your lifestyle, good and bad?

I understand the experience, excitement, and fun the trip can be. While I recommend skipping the houses altogether and just head downtown, it's most important to remember to be respectful to those very individuals whose lives have been affected so deeply by "Shameless."

Cover Image Credit: itsfilmedthere.com

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6 Reasons Traveling Is Good For Your Mind, Body, And Soul

Wherever you go, go with all your heart.

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Have you ever traveled to a new destination and felt your mood instantly improve? Are you like me and feel happiest when you're on vacation? This is because traveling is a way for you to renew your soul and step out of your comfort zone. It keeps you happy and allows you to experience new things.

Visiting new destinations can open your mind to experiences you didn't even know were possible. You can meet new people, fall in love, try new foods, and see remarkable sites all while traveling. There are no limits to the places you can visit, and the things you can see. Currently, I am on a mini weekend trip to Arizona, and being here has opened my eyes and made me realize how impactful traveling really is on your mind, body, and soul. Traveling should be something you do as often as possible and whenever you get the chance. Here's why:

1. Traveling makes your heart happy 

Traveling is something that most people enjoy. It keeps the heart young and childlike. Traveling brings people joy because they get to experience new things that they love with the people they love.

2. It teaches you to embrace every moment 

Traveling can be unpredictable, especially because you are experiencing new things. Although it can be challenging, we learn best from these unpredictable moments. When we travel we learn to embrace every situation that is thrown at us.

3. Traveling relieves stress and improves mental health 

Traveling reduces stress and allows you to relax. More often than not, you take off work when you go on vacation and you focus on renewing your self. You get away from all the crazy things going on in your life, and you can just relax and focus on your own happiness.

4. It broadens your horizons 

Traveling lets you branch out and experience different cultures. You can try new foods, new activities, and meet all different types of people. You learn diversity, and you learn respect for other people and their culture's. Traveling helps you learn other perspectives around the world and lets your mind think in ways it never has before.

5. It keeps you healthy 

Traveling actually plays a big part in your physical health as well. During vacations, you often walk a lot to destinations and participate in calorie burning activities like hiking and swimming. Activities like these are often why you still are able to get your workout in while on vacation.

6. Traveling reminds you what is important 

Most importantly, traveling reminds you of the important things in life. We live day by day forgetting that every moment is remarkable. Sometimes, we get stuck in the same old boring routine and take for granted the life we have been given. Traveling reminds us that memories are valuable and that our lives should be cherished.

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