For my family members, it was really hard for them to wrap their head around South Africa. Like, South Africa? What’s there? What could I possibly gain? Why so far away?
Part of their confusion came from concern and love. Part of their confusion came from not knowing anything, not knowing much, about South Africa. Not knowing much about Africa, in general. And, I couldn’t blame them. All they knew about Africa were the extreme stories (ebola, terrorism, poverty, etc.) that come up for 5 minutes on the news. (The media does do a good job of just portraying the extremes.)
But, I just want to set the record straight and say that I didn’t just choose to go to South Africa out of the blue. Some international people who I’ve met are here because it’s a country in Africa, and they have never been to Africa. I have no problem with this reason to be here, but my reasons are deeper than that. There was a series of signs that just pointed to South Africa.
South Africa was just the place I needed to be.
Actually, I have always felt that South Africa was one of the few places in the world I needed to visit. The other two being Brazil (especially Rio) and Vietnam (check!). Of course, there are many other places in the world that I want to visit, want to live in, but these are my top three.
So, why South Africa?
- South Africa has been present in my history for while. I remember hearing about Cape Town in an episode of the Bachelor. (I know, I have watched that show, but only a few episodes. I swear!). There was the World Cup in South Africa not too long ago. I knew of Charlize Theron. I knew Nelson Mandela.
- But, it mainly came into my life because of Trevor Noah. Yes, I love Trevor Noah. And because he’s in the news a lot lately — did you hear? He’s taking over the The Daily Show — let me explain why he is an important person in my life before I sound disingenuous.
Thanks to my high school history teacher, Mrs. Meyer, and her husband, David Meyer, Trevor Noah walked into my classroom (along with Loyiso Gola) when I was in 10th grade. He came to speak about his life growing up in apartheid and what it meant to do comedy in South Africa as a Coloured person. At the end of the day, I remember getting a really good impression of Trevor Noah. That night, I remember YouTubing his stand-up, and I wasn’t disappointed. So much laughing! This was back in 2009.
Why was Trevor Noah paying a visit to my 10th grade class? You Laugh But It’s True, a documentary about Trevor’s rise in the comedy scene and preparation for his first one-man show, was shot at my school. Actually, some of my classmates are clearly visible in the movie. (Thank goodness I couldn’t be seen in it!)
- I later worked for Day 1 Films as an intern because I have a knack for filmmaking, and David Meyer, the director of YLBIT, was helping me out with a short film of my own. I worked on YLBIT in its post-post-production stage. I remember I attended an exclusive screening of YLBIT at the University of Southern California. David was getting his MFA in film & television production at the School of Cinematic Arts. YLBIT started off as David’s dissertation short film, but it soon became a feature length movie. And I’m glad it did!
- And for a while, I didn’t think about South Africa seriously. I was subscribed to Trevor’s YouTube channel. I sometimes would re-watch his stand-up online. Then, YLBIT became available on Netflix some time in the beginning of this year (2015). And I was soooo excited. Even though I had tons of school work that night, I re-watched the documentary. I spread the news on Facebook. I told all my friends. I told one of my friends in LA to watch it and keep the sound on so I could still listen to it while I was writing an essay. Seriously.
It is such an amazing feat to get your movie on Netflix!
- Then, my study abroad program was cancelled. And I didn’t know what to do. But, in the email telling me that me program was cancelled, there was a list of other options. Most were other Asian destinations: Thailand, Taiwan, Hong Kong, etc. But, in the middle of that list was South Africa (… and Manchester… ). And I took it as a sign! All the other alternative choices didn’t seem right to me, but the more I thought about it, the more South Africa just seemed to feel right. Is that crazy?
- I also have an academic motive. So, this blog is all about me trying to figure out my life. I have definitely started to realize that I want to do work in development. I want to engage in poverty and inequality. And honestly, there is probably no better place to study that (unfortunately), than South Africa. A country that had apartheid. A country that purposely had structures of oppression and legal segregation. A country whose structures resulted in the high level of poverty and inequality that it has today. It just made sense to study development in a place that was still reconstructing itself, when it’s last regime ended only over 20 years ago.
- Then, one week after I got that dreadful email, it was announced that Trevor Noah was going to take over The Daily Show. It was seriously the best timing ever because I was feeling the pressure of making the decision of whether or not to go. When I found out, I thought to myself, “Yup, it’s time to go.”
- And finally, I just want to push myself. Part of me wanted to get away from Berkeley, but another part of me wanted to challenge myself and be open to new experiences. Never in my life did I ever think my life would take me here. I mean, I’ve wanted to go for a long time. But, in the parameters of which I once I thought of my life, South Africa was way outside of it. Europe? Sure. Lots of people go to Europe, and some of my very extended family live there. Asia? Sure, because it’s a good excuse to go back to the roots. But, Africa? Definitely not. It just wasn’t accessible to me and to this day, some of my family members can’t believe it. To this day, my dad still questions me.
But, I want to prove to myself that I can pursue a life I want to live by going after opportunities that scares me (because yes, going to South Africa definitely scared me). I want to be able to define my own limits. I want to see the world.
So, put all that all together, and you get the answer to “Why South Africa?”
I realize that one fateful day when Trevor Noah came into my classroom, changed my life in a nuanced way, and it’s currently being manifested right now.
I am so thankful that I’m here. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in world right now (even though I secretly miss Berkeley). I am working hard and stressing out, but I’m learning a lot in more ways than one. I’m kind of sad that I’m not in the same continent as Trevor Noah, but I’m excited for him and David for their work on The Daily Show. Thank you to South Africa for being so good to me.
Over and out.
PS. The decision to go to South Africa is this story. The process to get to South Africa is a whole other story. Let me know if you want to hear it!
PPS. If you have never heard Trevor’s stand-up before, I highly encourage that you do. YouTube him! You won’t be disappointed! AND, watch You Laugh But It’s True on Netflix or Vimeo. Do it!
PPPS. Huge thanks to Mrs. Shannon Meyer, my 10th grade teacher, and David Meyer. This experience really began with them, and they both have been extremely supportive.