Travel Confessions: Monique Ledger on teaching English in South Africa
University student and Student Flights customer Monique Ledger and her boyfriend, Pat, embarked on a life-changing holiday to Africa, combining adventure with volunteering. Here's her story about her gap year abroad, seeing the sights in East Africa, driving around the Cape in a campervan, and giving something back by teaching English in South Africa.
What inspired you and your boyfriend to volunteer in Africa in the first place?
Pat and I had been planning a trip to Africa for quite a while for a mixture of adventure and surfing. We sort of agreed that it wasn’t really a continent that we could cover for six months and not give something back. We decided to volunteer with African Impact, a voluntourism enterprise that organises volunteering opportunities across Africa in a variety of areas.
Had you recently finished school or university?
I had just finished study at university and wasn’t quite ready to move into the standard 9 - 5 [job]. Pat and I spent the next six months after I graduated working flat out between a couple of jobs to make sure all the flights and adventure activities could be covered as well as a little spending.
Was it difficult getting the paperwork and visas arranged?
The best thing we did before we left was arm ourselves with the knowledge of access to each country and the cost in US Dollars. We had our visa for our first stop organised just in case, but the rest we were OK to show up at the border or airport and move through customs. We visited out local dentist before we left so we didn’t get any nasty surprises while we where over in Africa. We also visited our local doctor to make sure all our injections were up to date and seek advice on any medication we should be carrying with us.
Where did you stay during your time in Africa?
Through East Africa we stayed in a lot of guarded campsites – awesome fun! In South Africa, it was awesome. We organised a Wicked campervan and moved and stayed across various backpackers from the Western Cape to Kwazulu Natal. In South Africa the best way to travel is coast to coast or alternate route, offering good recommendations along the way and advice on safety.
Where did you travel around Africa?
On our trip we went to East Africa – Uganda, Tanzania (Serengeti National Park is amazing), Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mozambique and Madagascar. Needless to say our passports are looking nice and decorated. Student Flights was a big help with internal flights, like Entebbe to Nairobi.
What's your favourite memory from your time in South Africa?
I loved hanging out around Cape Town – we drove the Chapmen Peak Drive, went to Robben Island and surfed at charming Muizenberg (there’s a great bakery nearby). At Jeffreys Bay there’s an epic backpackers, Ubuntu, where we made heaps of friends and enjoyed rad surf.
Has teaching English and volunteering inspired you in any new career direction?
Teaching English to the younger Zulu children in Khula Village changed my life. I applied to volunteer with African Impact again and travelled back to live in Kwazulu Natal so I could continue to pursue my aspirations of making an impact and offering positive change to community development. I also decided to begin studying a Masters of International and Community Development. I do this part-time, and figured that it would give me a better understanding of how NGOs (non-governmental organisations) and all the various types of development programs work to aid positive change.
What was the biggest challenge you faced during your trip?
Sometimes not always knowing the local language was frustrating. You could not always be sure you were being understood. Also, directions between places could sometimes be a bit sketchy - best to have a map on hand!
What's the best advice you can offer to someone wanting to teach English or volunteer in South Africa?
Know what language is spoken in the areas you are headed and learn a few phrases that could help you out. Even if you don’t master them, the locals get excited and really appreciate you trying to greet them in their own language. It is also very encouraging for them if you are to be their teacher.
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