I was born in post-apartheid South Africa and moved to the US within months of 9/11. My childhood adventures in cities all over the country were mixed with years of questioning my identity and place—was I not Indian enough, was I allowed to celebrate South African culture despite moving at a young age, was I accepted for who I was by my peers? Yet what I learned over time was the value of diversity, of learning from others, and maintaining a fluid identity. Today, I am an incoming junior at Duke University studying Computer Science and Psychology with a minor in Education and a certificate in Entrepreneurship.
Unlike many of my peers, Johannesburg and Cape Town are not new to me. I have childhood memories of the joys of Sun City, the vibrant town center of Sandton Square, the colorful life within a safari in Pilanesburg, and the energy that radiated from Dainfern College (where my older sister attended primary school). Additionally, I was fortunate enough to return to make the 9,589-mile journey back to Johannesburg in 2014 where my family and I were able to experience South Africa for the first time in eleven years. During that trip, I also began my 4-year tenure working for an organization focused on supporting youth in the townships in both Johannesburg and Cape Town.
At first glance, you might be curious why I am here now writing to you from a place I am somewhat familiar with and am supposedly from in a program that is outside my fields of study. My answer is simple: this work matters, this place matters, these people matter. But more than all of that, this experience is an opportunity for me. It’s an opportunity for me to learn more about the history and current day struggles of the residents, to grow out of my comfort zone, and to have more claim over the country I was born in.
I’m not entirely sure why but thousands of miles from one of my homes, surrounded by strangers that have grown to be my friends, I have begun feeling a stronger claim to this place and hope to be able to eventually add it to my list of homes. So, as I write to you at the end of our first week, I am extremely eager for what the next seven weeks hold but if you take anything from this, it’s to wholeheartedly welcome unknown experiences with unknown people, especially when you are in one of the most unique countries in the world.