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Josette Taylor learned a lot in her first year at the University of Louisville, but it doesn’t begin to compare with what she learned during her summer break.
Taylor, a 2010 graduate of Washington County High School, traveled this summer with International Student Volunteers. The group uses volunteers to help people around the globe. Each year, more than 4,000 volunteer students from more than 800 universities and colleges travel with ISV.
A dream for Taylor has always been to visit Africa, and she got that chance with ISV. She spent one month in South Africa helping needy students at a school there, doing everything from playing games in the classroom and working with the children, to helping construct a building to be used as a school.
Taylor and nine other girls stayed in a hostel during the first two weeks of their trip. During the work days, they were each assigned to a classroom where they helped a teacher with her students. Later in the day, it was time for a little more physical work. That’s when the volunteers worked to help build an “educare center,” which Taylor described as a preschool. It was scheduled to officially open July 21.
“The kids were awesome. It was amazing to see that they have nothing at all, but they are still so happy,” Taylor said. “Even the adults were happy. Everyone seemed so happy to see us. Back here, we have everything, and we still want more, and we’re not happy. It makes me feel very fortunate to have what I have.”
The students were also respectful, according to Taylor, who said they called her “Miss” when she first arrived, but later, after she told them to call her Josette, they still showed respect, calling her “Miss Josette.”
“They were so respectful, and willing to learn. You don’t see that much here anymore,” she said. “The day I left, they were so sad, and hugging us. They made cards which I’ll keep forever, and one little girl was crying, and made me start crying. I realized what an impact I had on them, and it made me feel good to get to help them, but I don’t think they realize what an impact they had on me.”
The experience was good in most ways, but there were some adjustments, too. Taylor said she only had four hot showers during the month she was in Africa. In addition, about half of the time she was there, she was in areas where it wasn’t safe to drink the water. She even had to have vaccinations before leaving the United States, and she took medication to battle malaria while she was gone, and even for a couple of weeks after she got back home.
After two weeks of helping the children at the school and working on their building, Taylor and her fellow volunteers had two weeks to experience other parts of Africa, which she described as awesome.
“We traveled around South Africa, and we went to Swaziland and Mozambique. We got to do some adventure caving, which was not what I expected at all. I’d only been in caves made for tourists to look at the scenery. This was so crazy, and the spaces we were in, I didn’t even think my head would fit through,” Taylor explained. “You had to wear a helmet and a jump suit, and when we got done, I had a lot of bruises, but I’m glad I did it.”
Besides adventure caving, Taylor and her fellow volunteers also got a new experience called “kloofing.” She said it involved hiking to the top of a mountain, then hiking back down, jumping off cliffs into water along the way.
“We were all hesitant. We were jumping into 40-degree water. You start with small jumps to get used to it, and the jumps get higher. The first jump was about three feet high. We jumped in the water, and it was the coldest I’ve been in my life. The water took your breath away,” she said. “The jumps got bigger, and the last one was over 40 feet tall. It was amazing, and we all jumped off the last one three times. I’m not a daredevil, but that makes me want to do more stuff like that, like skydiving. I’ve never done it before, but now I want to.”
After the physical activities, Taylor and her group got a chance to experience a real-life African safari. She said they went to Kruger National Park, which itself is larger than the state of New Jersey.
“We went on a sunset safari and a morning safari. Our leader warned us to not get our hopes up of seeing too much, and that we might not see anything, but we did see a lot. About 15 minutes into our sunset safari, we saw a leopard on the roadside. We also got to see what they call the Big 5, which are rhinos, hippos, elephants, leopards and lions,” Taylor recalled. “We even got to see cheetahs eating a zebra. It was unbelievable.”
The students also got to experience elephants up close and personal. Taylor said they visited an elephant sanctuary and played with the animals, and she even got an elephant kiss.
“The elephants would put their trunk on your face and suck on your face. I got a lot of mud on my face. It was gross, but it was cool, too,” she said.
When asked if she would recommend a similar trip to other students, Taylor didn’t hesitate, and she said she would like to go back, or even live in Cape Town, South Africa for a year or two to get the full experience and continue helping people there.
“It was an amazing experience I’ll never forget. I learned a lot about myself, and I think if they have the chance, everybody should travel to another country. It opens your eyes to the world,” she said. “I’m already looking at studying abroad. I’m doing some online research, and I hope I can do it next semester. I want to go so many more places and get to make a difference in the lives of other people.”
Taylor had to pay for her own trip this time, but if she can recruit five other students to enroll in the International Student Volunteers program, she can travel anywhere in the world the group works for free. For more information, visit www.isvonline.com on the Internet.