From The Cape of Good Hope to the Wild Coast - A Journey across the Rainbow Nation: Micah Houston, Community, Environment and Development


Posted: November 17, 2014

Headfirst immersion into a completely unfamiliar environment showed me how complex the world is, how little I know about it, and how much more there is for me to learn.

On my first day in South Africa, I woke up to see Table Mountain, bathed in sun, looming outside my window. I had just arrived in Cape Town for the spring semester of 2014 to study socio-ecological systems with a team of twelve students and three instructors. The trip began at Table Mountain National Park, where our studies included gaining knowledge of the local fynbos biome, learning about the interactions between the city and the park, and culminating with our team writing a decision-making report about the locals’ conflicts with baboons in the Cape Area. 

From Cape Town we traveled inland eastward, visiting National and Provincial parks, private game reserves, farms, and schools. We spoke with primary and secondary education teachers, sustainability professionals, farmers, park rangers, cooks, scientists, translators, and a huge number of people in various fields. The goal was to not focus on one specific aspect of life, but rather to understand the history, culture, physical landscape, and current issues affecting life in the country, and to tie them all into each other to gain an understanding of South Africa. Additionally, our instructors’ goal was to provide us with the ability to analyze the foreign environment around us, and learn how to interact with it and with each other in order to make meaningful connections and learn valuable skills with which we can take back with us into the classroom and a professional setting. 

I anticipated that traveling and working with the same group of people for a whole semester would be the most challenging part of the trip, much more so than the shock of being in an unfamiliar area, and I was right. We were kept in close quarters much of the time, even camping in tents for about a week and a half. Besides sharing our personal space we were given many group assignments, and had to come to many difficult decisions together without the intervention of our instructors. When one of the other students had to go to the hospital for an emergency, we had to work between us to complete a book project for a local school by strict deadline while our head instructor was gone for several days. Learning to cooperate, work together, respect each other’s ideas, and create high quality products together was an extremely valuable experience for me and one that I know I will need both in school and after I graduate.

Travelling in South Africa provided me with some of the coolest opportunities I have had so far in my life. I was able to see some of the coolest wildlife in the world, including the Big Five game animals, meet tribal Chieftains and Chieftainesses, hike through incredible scenery, and meet some outstanding people who love what they do and were very encouraging to me as a young person. Most of all, I loved immersing myself in a new land, experiencing completely new surroundings, and being given the opportunity to learn about the rich history and cultures of one of the most fascinating countries in the world, even though I feel like I only experienced the tip of the iceberg.

I would explain this experience to potential employers as training for intensive team-building, hands-on involvement in various fields of development, and the opportunity to observe and analyze systems, with the purpose of understanding situations in order to find solutions.