Post by Sara Goldstein and Miranda Sprenger-Mahal
One of the highlights of our first week back in Windhoek was hearing from a panel of Americans now living in Namibia. This was memorable because we can see the possibility of one day being in their shoes. Four professionals came to tell us about living abroad, job opportunities, and what to expect from starting a new life/career in a different country. The panel consisted of Andrea, Beth Terry, Steve Nerie, and Anna Wang, and they each took the time to share their personal experiences here in Namibia. Andrea is a teacher at the Windhoek International School, and she talked about how she stuck with a job she was unhappy with for many years. She finally decided to change location and came to Namibia, and her message for us from this experience was to change our situation if we are professionally unhappy, and not to settle if our career is not to our liking. Beth owns her own consulting company, though her career path followed many twists and turns before this point in time. She was a Peace Corps volunteer and has lived in many different countries throughout Africa, so she brought an interesting and well-educated perspective to the group. Steve is the regional director for Project Hope, an organization that provides health care services and education in Namibia. He was also in the Peace Corps, and eventually decided to stay in Namibia because of his wife’s family. Anna is a Foreign Service Officer, and she focused on the cultural differences that she has observed since moving here.
|This week, we toured an organic farm outside of Windhoek|
We were particularly struck by something Beth said at one point. She was discussing her varied travel experiences, and congratulated us on our willingness to get out of the United States and study abroad. This sparked thoughts within us about how so many Americans are content without ever seeing another culture, traveling the world, and leaving the comfort of their home country. The idea of traveling is so important because the world is bigger than just the culture in which one grows up, and observing other societies helps one better understand one’s own culture. We started discussing how much work and energy it takes to leave the United States, both mentally and emotionally. A key aspect of international travel is often leaving one’s comfort zone, which is a crucial element of truly immersing oneself in a new culture. This includes talking to locals to get an inside perspective, participating in cultural events, etc., as opposed to observing the culture from afar, which could be classified as simply “being a tourist.”
This is directly connected to what Andrea talked about regarding making yourself at home in a new country. When she first got here, she joined a running group, did yoga, and other similar activities in order to meet like-minded people. She stressed that being happy and comfortable socially can help someone maintain a career that they are satisfied with. Intentionally immersing oneself is a great way to get as much out of the experience as possible, which is applicable to many other aspects of life as well.
The panel as a whole made us think not only of our future, but also caused us to re-examine what we are doing right here, right now. Whether we are happy with the way our paths are going or whether we see the need for change, we are all thinking of the many questions that were raised during the presentations. Do I want to one day live abroad for several years at a time? Can I leave my family like that? Should I make that decision based on where my partner lives? What do I want to do with my life?! Though the speakers focused mainly on their careers, they also talked enough about their personal lives that we are now reflecting on our own personal journeys in new and different ways.
Another highlight at the end of the week was a trip to an organic farm about 45 minutes outside of Windhoek. We were greeted with a homemade, organic breakfast buffet and heard about the process of running a genuinely organic farm, about the politics and challenges surrounding organic farming, and the farmers’ personal stories. Afterwards we went on a tour of her farm and saw the livestock, compost, vegetables, weeds, etc.
|Cattle grazing openly on the organic farm|
From this visit, we gained new insight about how scarce organic farming is in Namibia. We understood before visiting this farm that in the United States, it is often common to have a more organic diet. However we knew very little about organic farming here, and we learned that certified organic farms are very rare in Namibia. Part of the reason for this is because there are many standards to be met in order to be certified as an organic farm. We also didn’t fully understand the extent to which the non-organic farming methods can be harmful to both the environment and to people, so the tour was eye-opening in that regard as well. For example, we heard about how elements that weaken the immune system are often added to maize, and how certain farmers are not treated well, both of which are considered to be non-organic methods of farming.
Both the panel of American professionals and the trip to the organic farm sparked the questioning of things we might not have thought about without prompting. From questioning our journeys to the harmful foods we can put in our bodies, this week was a week of asking new, different, and BIG questions.