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My Grand Adventure in South Africa

To me, Africa has always been a place surrounded by mystery. We as Americans do not get a lot of insight into the lives and culture of Africans. We see civil wars, AIDS, and the other stereotypes the West focuses on. I had always wanted to go to Africa so when the opportunity to travel to South Africa came up, I jumped on it and could not have been happier with the trip. I got to see a nation with a rich culture and meet people I will be friends with for the rest of my life. I saw wildlife I never thought I could see in my life, ate foods like antelope hunted by the people who served it to me, and jumped into a freezing cold gorge pool in the middle of a mountain range.

We left in July for South Africa and stayed for a month. Our task while there was to work with students at the University of KwaZulu-Natal on their senior design projects. My group designed and built an automated system to cut and trip eucalyptus saplings. Our South African colleagues Andre and Qwanele were some of the nicest people I have ever met and I still keep in contact with them now. They welcomed us instantly and we became fast friends. We were able to accomplish in one month what normally takes the students there an entire semester and I could not be more proud of what we were able to come together and do in such a short time together.

Our first weekend there, we went zip lining in Karkloof and had a blast together. Already at this point, we had become all pretty close even though none of us knew each other before we signed up for this trip. We spent about an hour zip lining through the tree tops and had plenty of laughs along the way.

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The group before heading out

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Hanging out in the trees

We also headed out to the coast and went swimming in the Indian Ocean. Its a personal goal of mine to swim in every ocean and now I have three done and two to go! The coastal area was beautiful and we all had a great time fighting the strong waves that day and watching people surf. We went on a long walk around the coast and got some amazing views of the ocean and the city of Durban.

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The next weekend, we took a long trip to the iMfolozi game reserve and had quite an amazing time seeing the wildlife and the incredible views. We got to see all kinds of animals and had a few thrills as well. We got to see a herd of water buffalo cross a river while elephants bathed in the river, wallowing in the mud and having a blast. We saw several rhinos including some adorable babies. We even got charged by an elephant on one of the paths and had to quickly back up until the elephant finally left the road and ate from a bush ten feet away from us! We even fended off some hyenas from trying to steal our food we were cooking each night.

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Never stop chasing the next challenge

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Luckily this guys decided to eat rather than keep charging us!

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One of the several amazing rhinos we saw

Our final weekend was spent hiking in the Drakensberg Mountain range that forms the border between South Africa and Lesotho. We went on a shorter two hour hike the first day through a valley near our camp. The second day was the big seven hour hike to the top of one of the ridges. We tried taking a preplanned path but ended up getting a bit lost. However, the views from the top were amazing and reminded me of some generic computer wallpaper people have. We climbed rock formations, saw baboons prowling the slopes and drank from natural springs in some caves near the top. It was a challenge but some of the most fun we had on the trip.  We finished up the trip with a few jumps into a gorge pool! The water was probably about 40 degrees so it was quite a shock when you jumped in!

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The pools were amazing!

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Getting near the top

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The views were so perfect

This trip was one of the highlights of my time at U of I. I could not be more greatful for the opportunity and it is my sincere hope I can return to this amazing country. Everyone should take an opportunity to study abroad if they can because it will be the most rewarding experience ever. Do whatever it takes and plan early so you can make it easier on yourself! Get scholarships, take and extra job to finance, make room in your schedule and just do whatever it takes! You will not be disappointed in the end. Remember to have some fun and keep chasing that next challenge! #ACES #StudyAbroad

Matt Stoklosa

Senior Ag Bio Engineering

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