by Leighton James
A few days ago I realized I have a problem: I have to write the final blog for Namibia Study Abroad 2012. I should probably be happy about it. Everyone always wants the last word.
What I didn’t realize was how difficult it would be to write about this trip. How can I possibly tell you how absolutely amazing this trip was in a blog or at all really?
I could talk about the places we went or the projects we were assigned. Of course, that has already been done.
Along with the places we went, came the amazing people: the Schneider family, Dr. Mary Seely, Eugene Marias, the fabulous Dr. Laurie Marker, the Ogongo students, the staff at the University of Namibia’s Neudamm and Ogongo campuses, Gobabeb Desert Research and Training Centre, and the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF), our bus driver, Ephraim, and everyone else along the way.
Perhaps I will talk about the billions of stars in the night sky or the multiple colors of the sunrise. They were both breathtaking. One of my favorite moments was climbing to the top of the dunes (which also took my breath away, literally) at sunrise with Jessica Guerra and Tray Heard. I was so excited and in such awe of the beauty that I almost started squealing and jumping up and down. I could’ve stayed there for hours.
Then, of course, there were the animals – my favorite, by far, being the cheetah (thanks CCF). Their anatomy, precision and beauty is fascinating.
There are so many things we did and experienced, constantly moving and changing. All of these places and people make it difficult to say goodbye. However, there was a constant that I was also fortunate to have – the other 12 Aggies on this trip. Everyone contributed in their own way.
We never had to wonder about what Josh Hardcastle was thinking; he let us know frequently, and we humorously coined the phrase, “It’s just Josh.” I admire his hardworking personality that shined through in all of our groups. (You can thank him for keeping this fantastic blog updated.)
Brooke Brock, whom I gained a respect for early on, not only constantly applied her scientific knowledge but was also almost always the first to talk to the local people. Her willingness and ability to converse came so naturally, and I loved watching her do it. I can’t wait to (hopefully) visit her in Washington, D.C. during the Thanksgiving break!
I have to thank Samantha Alvis for all of the hard work she put into the planning of this trip. We appreciated her input on all that we did as she knew a lot about the places we were going. By the way, I hope Sam’s niece knows how much she loves and adores her. It was adorable seeing her excitement when she got to Skype with her for her birthday.
Brandy Dangelmayr never stopped surprising me. The humor she provided in almost every situation was much appreciated. As Dr. Rutherford said at dinner, it was fun seeing her in her element as she was truly intrigued by the goat operation at the Cheetah Conservation Fund.
Her partners in crime (and in humor) were Holly Van Groll and Jessica Guerra. Jessica brought insight on new ideas and beliefs. She always seemed to perfectly “fit in” with all of the nature aspects of our trip.
Holly is one of the most down-to-earth people I have met, and her laugh is so contagious. I also enjoyed listening to her talk about the Peace Corps, through which she will soon be pursuing her master’s degree.
That brings me to Lauren Cockerell. You can tell she adores her family through the way she talks about them. She is incredibly driven by her work. She and her husband are in the process of joining the Peace Corps, which I find admirable. (Mom and Dad, don’t be surprised if all of this Peace Corps talk inspires me to join, too.)
I don’t think I could describe Beth Alexis any better than Dr. Wingenbach did. Her “wonderment” in everything we did struck us all. I wish I could capture her wide eyes and huge, beautiful smile. It would be nice to look at her face when I lost sight of the value of “wonderment.”
Amy Heartfield’s excitement made me giggle many times. I wish I could include a recording of her enthusiastically saying, “I’m so excited!” Her loving nature makes me doubt that she has a mean bone in her body. I know her words and actions are genuine and kind – something that is truly refreshing.
Then, there is Tray Heard. I had the pleasure of receiving his insight on many things about life. This was in between the times he was enlightening the group with all of his useful (random) information and making us laugh with his witty remarks. His passion for his future goals and powerful voice makes me believe that he will exceed even his own expectations.
Lastly, our trip would not have been possible (literally) without our professors, Dr. Gary Wingenbach and Dr. Tracy Rutherford. Dr. Wingenbach’s stories and insights gave me new perspectives on agriculture and leadership. He also helped me further develop my own ideas. I think I learned something or was challenged to think almost every time he spoke. I appreciated his efforts in trying to push my buttons. He continuously gave me a hard time, which always kept me on my toes.
I give Dr. Rutherford credit for a lot of things, including my decision to officially change my major to agricultural communications and journalism (which I have gradually been doing since I met her). She epitomizes the feeling I have of a family at Texas A&M. I appreciate her ability to silently observe everyone in the group. She was the first to point out the “pure joy” she saw me develop on the trip. I’m not even sure I had identified my own feelings until she pointed them out.
I hope these two individuals know the immense positive impact they have on all of their students.
I will never forget this trip or the people on it. Now, don’t get me wrong, put 13 strangers in confined spaces with limited resources for a month, and you’re bound to come across some conflict. However, the conflict doesn’t come close to outweighing the positives.
I appreciate them for every late night talk, shedding light on ideas and experiences during reflections, the laughs (I haven’t laughed that hard in a long time) and helping me understand myself a little deeper.
I’m fortunate because some of the best parts of my trip get to come home with me. Although I may never cross paths with these individuals in Africa again, I can’t wait to see them back at home, hear about their success and learn even more from them.
This is my Aggie family, and we’ll always have the times we spent under African skies.