See You Later, Namibia
Driving away from NISE (National Institute for Special Education) was one of the most challenging events I have experienced in the past 22 years. After spending quality time with the learners at the school and such wonderful people in Namibia not knowing if I would ever see people I had grown to truly care about again was a difficult thought. One task an educator faces each year is to grow and connect with students while knowing there is always going to be an end date of sharing time together.
On the last day of school the choir sang the most beautiful song about Namibia and America. A grade five student gravitated towards me during the song and began crying on my shoulder. While comforting her I couldn’t help but shed a tear myself because as I looked around I saw kids I knew so much about and was so proud of all they had accomplished during our time together. From winning a soccer game the weekend before to reading a new book, the learners at NISE had high spirits and wore smiles on their faces each day we were there. At the end of our last day a million thoughts ran through my mind of words to say to students but I found myself simply giving hugs, smiles and bringing up happy memories for the students to grasp onto.
What gives me peace of mind was the last day of school with the learners as we received cards and letters from the students. The students took time to reflect on our time together and through their kind words I was finally able to believe that the learners had developed their skills and learned from our teachings, which was our overall goal of going on this adventure. At the end of this past school year I had been teaching in fifth grade classroom. Each student wrote me a lovely letter wishing me the best and had wonderful words of encouragement. Notes from my students in Namibia talked about love, how we had changed their lives, and some students even referred to me as their mother.
One aspect I will always remember was our first day of school with the learners. I could not remember student’s name, was confused as to which way the bathroom was, and how much the student loved me and I had not even truly met them yet. For the learners to be so open to meeting new people and to give hugs, share their stories and to portray trust was amazing. Although we had our work cut out for us, I went into each day with such optimism and motivation because the learners were always in the back of my mind.
Since leaving Namibia I have most missed the love and compassion the students portrayed on a daily basis. Each morning students were lined up to greet us with hugs and smiles. One student I have kept in contact with recently wrote me, “That small white bus … we don’t see it anymore. We miss you guys a lot,” and I cannot help but think I miss that small white bus, too.
The 26-hour trip home seemed so short. This may be due to being surrounded by new friends or because we were simply exhausted! In South Africa I had the pleasure of meeting a teacher from Florida at the airport. She told stories of her travels across the world during her time as a teacher. A friend once told me, “The people we meet are out there for a reason. What we take from those meetings shapes who we are.” During this journey to Namibia I met some outstanding individuals and took away many memories and life lessons.
In Chicago another see you later took place as we all drove off on our separate ways. Since the trip we have been giving life updates on a Facebook group chat and often see signs in our daily lives that spark a memory from the trip. Some students hope to travel back to Namibia again while others may not be sure at this time. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not,” and every UW-Stevens Point student I have known that traveled to Namibia continues to carry this beauty to this day.
Katie Morici, an elementary education and special education major, is blogging about her study abroad experience in Namibia, Africa.