“The beauty is that through disappointment you can gain clarity, and with clarity comes conviction and true originality.” -Conan O’Brien
Classes are over, finals are beginning, and the end of my study abroad program is near. The much anticipated CIEE program final dinner was held on Friday night at a quaint wine estate. For most of us, this event marked the beginning of the end of our time in South Africa. Unfortunately, I spent the majority of my night preoccupied with feelings of frustration, embarrassment, and great disappointment. There were nearly 300 people at the combined CIEE Service-learning program and CIEE Arts and Sciences program dinner. Out of these 300 guests, probably 75 of us actually listened to the speeches, poems, and performances throughout the night. The speakers included CIEE staff, various students on the program, and the head of the CIEE South Africa programs who was also my professor this semester. Nearly every speaker was disrespected by the drunk antics of my fellow students. The speakers tried everything from waiting for silence, expressing their annoyance, and using humor to get some sort of attention. When awards were handed out, myself and my fellow service-learners received The Philanthropy Award for our work this semester. Although this award consisted of a simple keychain, there was little to no recognition from the other students in the room.
Minutes later a familiar chant echoed in the vast room during a heartfelt speech. “USA! USA! USA!.” I cringed and glared at the students that had apparently gained valuable experiences over the past semester, yet could not listen to the stories of others. Sinking into my chair, I couldn’t help but wonder when they would put down their wine glasses and pretend to listen to their peers speak. Despite the disrespect, I couldn’t help but smile at the girls on my service program.
The silver lining to my great disappointment is this. Over the past five months I have lived with 26 other girls who dedicate their time to service. I have heard their inspiring stories, told with passionate voices and genuine emotions. I have seen them kindly interact with the youth at their services sites. Although I found it difficult to fully enjoy the event, I am grateful for the realizations that the uncomfortable experience gave me. I am proud to associate myself with the these girls and I only realized how truly thankful I am for them and this program until Friday night. Luckily- we have a separate final dinner to look forward to!