By Dominic Lathos
I seek comfort in every aspect of my life. I surround myself with people and places that comfort me no matter where I am in the world.
Right now, I am writing from Durban, South Africa in the province of Kwa-Zulu Natal. This is a huge step for me. I’ve traveled to Europe and Mexico but never have I been abroad for such an extended period of time. Also, following the news as much as I do, most of what I heard about South Africa has been about the hijacking and kidnappings in cities like Johannesburg and Cape Town. Such a place seemed to be way out of my comfort zone. I was worried as I flew over the Atlantic Ocean. I thought about all of the crime stories I had been reading, and knew that I was going to be very anxious as I made my way to Rhodes University in Grahamstown, my home for the next five months.
This might seem like the thoughts of a nervous traveler, and that is because I am one. For someone who gets anxious when travelling, I was surprised to find myself comfortable while enjoying my experience here in South Africa. There is something about the people here that makes me feel like I belong here with them; that even though I am different, I am meant to be here, driving 10 hours in a car with them to their home in Durban.
The sense of belonging that I feel now seems to contradict all of the bad press this country receives about its levels of crime. In Grahamstown, I feel like I can walk up to anyone and strike up a conversation with him or her.
I have always been anxious in public because I always feel too young, too old, or not part of the crowd when I go somewhere. When traveling, this same anxiety contributes to my feeling of discomfort. However, my weeklong April vacation in Durban has been a time spent among a wonderful South African family.
Staying with a local family is a necessity when traveling. Not only will you be treated to amazing local food, news, and different forms of entertainment, but you will be granted an inside look into the lifeblood of whatever community you are exploring.
As an outsider what one can observe is limited. To truly experience the culture of a country, living amongst locals is very important. I have learned more in this past week of holiday than I have in the two months living in a university residence hall. More importantly, I have also felt more comfortable here in this house, with this family, than I have since landing in this beautiful country.
That is the beauty of South Africa and what I love most about this country. The people here have made me feel at home and has made it the best place for me to study abroad. Yes, there are amazing game reserves here, the landscape is absolutely beautiful, and the weather is great, but what really has made this experience special is that I have almost forgotten to be nervous. I never would have thought that a problem I have had all my life could be solved by simply jumping on a plane and living 10,000 miles away.