Why yes, I am American

Did you mistake me for a South African?  Of course you didn’t because everything from the way I talk to the backpack I choose to use shouts ‘American’.

Actually, I was told that my accent isn’t to bad in comparison to other American who have come to UKZN.  I’m also told that some of my actions, such as taking the mini bus system alone, is more ‘black’ than most of our black kids on campus.  Yet i’m a foreigner here, at times I forget it.  At some point I started saying things like, “keen”, “high boh”, “just now”, “now now”, “yeb boh”, “robot”, “varsity”, and many many more.  The lingo of the PMB South Africans has started to invade my brain.  My brain does a double take when I see a large crowd of white people.  Mainly because it’s not common.  We have white people, just not in large crowds.  Especially on my part of the campus at PMB.  I sense the first major part of culture shock when I get back to DU.  Ha

Despite my brains decision to pronounce ‘z’ as ‘zed’ and to say my ‘a’s more round, it is impossible to forget where i’m from.  I almost have more knowledge and pride for my home land than before I left it.  It’s a sad day when you realize that people in other countries know more about America than you do.  And that realization happens often for me.

Luckily, I never run out of conversations to have.  A lack of words isn’t a problem for me anyways, but now I can talk for hours and not even mention my own soul or life.  Literally hours.  I had a four hour talk with some friends about the food and politics in America.

American politics are an interesting topic here.  The only opinion i’ve heard is that someone thought the only reason Obama was voted into office is because he’s black.  Most people like Obama as well.  One friend saved my number in his phone as “Sarah Obama” because i’m American.  In general though, everyone is way to interesting in my opinion.  When I was little I was told that the only two touchy topics are religion and politics.  Clearly that’s not a problem here.  Which is TOTALLY fine with me because I often touch on ‘touchy’ topics during conversation anyways.

So, there are a lot of “the American in South Africa” stories, but that’s not why I’m writing this.  The inspiration for this post is as follows:

“Sarah, come here real quick.” – Jon (South African theatre friend)

 The two people start walking towards each other while has a look of complete concern on his face

“Are you okay?” – Jon

“Ya.  Why?” – Sarah

“I just want to give you a hug”

While embracing Jon whispers, “I hope you’re okay, I saw on facebook that ….. (mumbles that Sarah can’t understand) …”

By this point Sarah is very concerned.  What was posted to her facebook wall?  Who is hurt or dead?  What happened?!?!?!?!

With a confused look on her face, “What?” – Sarah

“9-11” – Jon

Moral of the story:  Always check the date before you leave your room incase it’s a monumental date in American history.  Then you don’t look like an idiot when receiving random hugs.

This sparked something in my soul.  Mainly it was sadness.  Sadness that a South African recognized and cared about the date before I did.  Sadness that only after 11 years I managed to lose the intensity of what happened that day.  Granted, I wasn’t living in New York and I didn’t know any one who was hurt or killed.  It was still a monumental event.  It was painful for many and it showed how our nation unites through all things.  Yes, America has it’s issues, but we are great as well.

Then I get an email from DU.  Memorial service for Alex Teves on September 12th.  He was a well loved DU grad student who was killed in the Batman Arvada shooting.  Once the shooting hit the news I got texts from about five different people asking how I was doing because they knew I was from Colorado.  Sadly I didn’t have the privilege to know Alex, but the email combined with the date of it being 9-11 reminded me that I love my home.  South Africa’s great, but i’m America through and true.

Why yes, I am American.

— Sarah Caulkins, DUSA Blogger

The following videos are dedication videos.  The one is well known and it’s dedicated to the United States of America.  The second was written, recorded, and produced by two students from Westminster, CO.  It’s a remembrance for the victims of the shooting.

TIA, if you could do anything, what would you do?

TIA. This is Africa. The phrase first surfaced in my life during the beginning of my application process to UKZN. I was required to list potential courses I would take abroad. The problem was, I couldn’t open the handbook online to search for module offerings. Upon complaining to someone from the school, the response was, “TIA, it probably won’t get fixed.”

The joy of my experience here is that it did get fixed, (actually, I was just looking in the wrong place) and my classes are my personality in a class schedule. I have a class that lets me work with sick children, a class that allows me to have deep talks about humans and the way we work, and a class that allows me to express my theatrical side and write. The only thing I’m missing is a math class, which I am happy to take a break from. While the workload is hard, I’ve never had a class schedule fit my personality so well in the states, but TIA. (I might have used the acronym wrong here)

It doesn’t matter if you’re the boy who hates the phrase because it credits life’s adventures to a continent, if you’re the girl who loves it so much she entitled a Facebook photo album in honor of it, or if you’re the local who uses the phrase like American’s use the phrase YOLO, you have to recognize and accept that TIA is an acronym that is used daily.

TIA is used for many reasons on this continent. I think it was intended to be form of YOLO (You Only Live Once), but it’s used for many different things now. Some of the most memorable are:

-Having a washer and dryer and a toilet in the same room, with no light, toilet paper, or soap. BYOE (Bring your own everything).

-Having someone walk in on you using said toilet and start doing their laundry, striking up a conversation, while you’re on the pot.

-Spending all of your money to a point of almost starvation because experiences are more important than eating.

-Having a teacher tell you to skip class as often as possible to travel because you’re an international student and that it’s expected of you.

-Having a holiday where you get school off that’s entitled “Women’s Day” -Participating in a poetry slam despite the fear.

-Going to church continuously, even though you hate church and religion.

-Horseback riding even though you’re allergic to horses.

-Driving around for two hours, continuously changing plans, until you reached a destination that was only five minutes away from where you began.

-Doing things you’d never try at home. (like paragliding)

-Waiting around for an hour when you were told to meet someone at the gate, “Just now.”

-Seeing a little boy walking around holding a dead bird whose mother is completely aware and okay with it.

All of these stories when explained or asked for the reason, the response was TIA. (Note, many of these weren’t experienced by me personally).

So, if you went to a different country where everything that was thought of as weird, irresponsible, scary, exciting, or frustrating was passed off as TIA, what would you do? It’s interesting to see how the group of internationals here have adapted to the term. Personally, I’ve seen myself lighten up. Typically I live a life style where I plan everything. I have thousands of lists and I write down time schedules for the day. I never follow them perfectly, but I always make them. Here I’ve learned to just live life. I don’t need to have plans because things will happen. I’m still getting everything done that I need to get done, but I’m not as stressed by it. In the beginning, when the unorganized free flowing life of the South Africans was stressing me out, a friend just kept saying, “TIA, calm down.” Eventually I did and it’s a much happier way to live. One that might not work in the States, but for here, it’s nice.

Sarah Caulkins, DUSA Blogger