By Samantha Ernst
When I decided to come to Botswana, one of the biggest choices I was faced with was where I would live during my two-month stay. I picked between living in the dorms with other students in the program at the University of Botswana and living in a homestay with a Batswana family. When I was weighing my options, I knew in the back of my mind that I would also have the opportunity to experience living in a homestay when the group did a village homestay in Kanye for one week. Other factors I considered included the cultural immersion I would experience in a homestay as compared to in a dorm, the level of independence I would have, and the types of food that I would be eating. I was worried that if I chose to live in a dorm at UB with other American students, I would fail to get as full of an understanding of Botswana's rich culture as I would if I lived in a homestay. I was also relatively concerned that I would exist in an American bubble in the dorms and that was something I really wanted to avoid. However, I was a little nervous that if I were to live in a homestay that I would lose my sense of independence, which is something that is tremendously important to me. As a pretty introverted person, having my independence and time to recharge is critical.
Anyways, when it came time for me to fill out my housing form for CIEE, I probably spent a good thirty minutes just staring at the screen. I ended up deciding to live in the dorms at UB, instead of living in a homestay because I felt that I would be happier in my own environment and that I would get to experience a homestay while in Kanye. I am very thankful to have made this decision because living in the dorms has been an extraordinarily positive experience for me. I live with three other girls in the program and while we all have our own rooms, we share a living room and kitchen area. I have gotten very close to the girls I live with and we spend time together making meals, going to the gym, and relaxing after classes and clinics. Additionally, the dorm has become a home base for everyone in the program and we often retreat back there after class, before a night of going out, and on weekends. I still feel that I am experiencing true cultural immersion, while also maintaining my independence. I don't feel like I'm stuck in an American bubble because I interact with Batswana people daily, whether it is on a combi or taxi, in the clinics, or on campus.
While living in the dorms was the best decision for me, while in a homestay for a week I learned substantial amounts about Setswana culture and myself. I lived with my host mom, my brother who was my age, and my four-year-old nephew. I ate traditional food, interacted more in Setswana, and learned more about the Botswana way of life. Furthermore, I overcame more than I expected to during the village homestay in Kanye. I took my first taxi all by myself, something I hadn't even done in Gaborone, and I successfully walked to a friend's house even though I wasn't fully sure of the way. With another girl in the program I cooked for, served, and cleaned for 13 incredible individuals and I tried foods I never expected to like. While I definitely think I made the right decision living in the dorms at University of Botswana, the village homestay taught me tremendous amounts about Setswana culture and I got to bond with a family whose path I wouldn't have crossed otherwise. It goes to show that leaving your comfort zone to the fullest extent and conquering your fears really does pay off.