Leaps of Faith

By: Jaliyah Scott, a senior majoring in Industrial Engineering
All photos courtesy of Jaliyah Scott

  It was the first day of summer break in 2016 and I found myself looking out of the window of my British Airlines flight finding it hard to believe that I had finally done it. I WAS FLYING TO MADRID! You know, in Spain – not in North America! It was the first time that I had been out of the country and I was overwhelmed with feelings of disbelief and excitement. I was going to live in Spain for a month without my friends, family, or any immediate support system. Sure, I would be staying with an amazing host family and taking classes during my stay, but I had done my research and knew that I’d chosen a program that would give me the experiences that I needed to satiate a bit of my wanderlust.

  Of course, I’d heard the saying that “the world is your classroom”, but I don’t think that I’d truly experienced that in my life. But from day one in Segovia– that all changed. I didn’t stay in a classroom all day, every day like I had most of my academic career. In fact, we were only in a classroom for a maximum of three hours on any given day. Instead, we took overnight and day trips from our home town of Segovia to Madrid, Salamanca, Toledo, Avila, and Barcelona. Every week we asked our host families to pack us bocadillos and we would embark on a new journey. We were exposed to the perfect balance of history, culture and fun with professors and host parents who encouraged our adventurous natures, while guiding us in the proper ways to experience new cultures. We ate tapas and drank tinto de veranos. We danced salsa and watched live flamenco. We strolled through royal palaces and trekked Spanish mountain trails. We perused art museums and ate food we cooked on hot plates. And in the midst of it all, we formed some pretty amazing friendships – some of which I still have today. It was an experience that I will never forget and a time that I will always cherish.

 One would think that after such an unforgettable experience, I would be ready to head home and adjust back to life in the U.S. After all, since my trip began, I had missed both of my sisters’ AND my brother’s birthdays! However, I had one more stop to make. As my study-abroad family began preparations to head back to the U.S. or go country hopping in Europe, I hopped on a connecting flight from Madrid to London to Johannesburg. After 16 hours of flying and driving, I finally arrived at my new home for the next few weeks – the South African bush. Don’t worry, you read that right. We lived in the middle of nowhere. The nearest town was two hours away, we had a tank supply of water that we needed to recycle through an irrigation system to re-purify since we had a limited water supply, and my roommates were 10 other girls sharing a three-bedroom house. I quickly realized that I was going to experience another culture shock and was ready to roll with the punches.

My fellow student volunteers were fascinated with the clashing culture shocks I was experiencing in comparison to their own. For instance, while everyone else made coffee and bagels for breakfast, I would drink South African Rooibos tea and eat toast with the Spanish apricot jam my host mom introduced me to.  While they were not too keen on trying zebra meat or tramping in the African bush without being able to see their feet- these were valid concerns- I was feeling pretty adventurous… most of the time. There were even times that I would accidentally start speaking in Spanish mid-conversation and my safari leader, a Spanish native herself, would laugh and immediately say “Jaliyah, English for the pobrecitas, vale?” Despitemy struggle to adjust for the first few days, I was always ready to experience something new. So, every morning, when we would head out at 5:30am to take a ride through the game reserve, identify birds by their calls, track cheetah and hyena footprints, reset the batteries in the reserve cameras via speedy competition, and gather grazing and habitation percentages based on available foliage…I always did so happily. Silently, because I still wasn’t a morning person, but happily nonetheless.

Every now and again, I look back on that summer and know that I’ll never forget the first time I could identify multiple birds just by their call; or the day we played tug of war with a King Baboon spider that was hiding in its burrow (don’t try this at home kids); or the night we had an hour long laughing attack on a mountain top while we were drinking soup and lying down under the stars, which was followed by an impromptu, student led astrology lesson; or the first time we finally located the area where the cheetahs were hiding on the game reserve because we realized we were being followed; or the time we accidentally drove straight into a group of giraffes necking and were chased afterwards for trespassing on their territory; or the amazing, homemade, South African food our safari leader made for every lunch and dinner; or the Bao Bab trees that were thousands of years old that we were able to lie and eat in together.

So many irreplaceable memories and experiences were created, as well as friendships that have been sustained, despite now being on opposite sides of the country. I can honestly look back on my experiences at NC State and say that I have no regrets.  I challenged myself to meet new people and gain new experiences and because of that, I can graduate undergrad with confidence in my ability to adapt, maintain independence, and appreciate support systems in all aspects of my life. So my leaps of faith will only get bigger from here. Even if it takes me 28 hours to travel all the way back home.