My End of Program Botswana List
By Máire Nakada
We’ve come to the end of the summer 2017 program and through the two months that I’ve been here I’ve started thinking about all of the things I wish I knew before studying abroad in Gaborone. Some of the things on my list would have made life easier in general and other things are social norms that I had to get used to very quickly. I hope that at least one thing on this list will prepare you for what to expect in Botswana. So let’s jump right into it!
Batswana stare very freely, especially if you are white. Don’t think anything of it. Don’t be surprised if men ask you to take them back to America with you and marry them. My clinic partner often had marriage proposals from mothers with single sons. People like to ask you where you are from, what is your number, and my personal favorite, “what are your objectives for being here?”. Batswana are very straight forward and you should not be embarrassed to be straight forward back. If you have food in public people will ask you to share with them; it’s part of the culture. These experiences are shocking at first but eventually you will be comfortable with them.
Secondly, when visiting clinics do not be surprised when the person in charge says they were not expecting you or they do not know who you are. Just go with the flow and respectfully tell them you are studying public health at UB. Our program director gave us a number to call in case there was a problem so you will probably get a similar help line. Most clinics do not have toilet paper or soap in the bathrooms so I recommend bringing some with you in your back pack. Paper towels or strong air dryers were rare so just get used to shaking your hands off after washing them. Clinics are what you make of them. I recommend visiting every part of the clinic to get the most patient observations. My personal favorites to take notes in were the dressing room and child welfare clinic.
If you choose to do the homestay option like I did, you are going to eat a lot more Setswana foods than the students who choose to stay in the dorms. Personally I liked this a lot because I wanted to be fully immersed in the Setswana culture. Most families cook one big meal a day which is usually dinner. Breakfast was something simple like porridge or toast with tea or instant coffee. If you want more Americanized foods hit up Mugg & Bean at Riverwalk or Main Deck in Main Mall. SPAR and Pick n’ Pay at Riverwalk are good places to go grocery shopping. Bethel is the head CIEE driver and he can take you places for a small fee. Also, Bethel is awesome and will always help you.
A few miscellaneous things: make sure you try a phaphatha (puhPAHta) from the street vendor or grab an egg and cheese phaphatha from the student center at least once. Make friends with the student volunteers because they are really chill and know a lot about Botswana. If you have the chance to visit Cape Town, South Africa – GO. Finally I recommend keeping a journal throughout the program. It’s been really entertaining to read over my thoughts these past 2 months and see where I started compared to where I am now. I hope you enjoyed this brief list and have a solid study abroad program!