Twenty-eight NUS students from the College of Alice and Peter Tan (CAPT) and Residential College 4 (RC4) embarked on an unforgettable 15-day journey to a land of blue skies and welcoming hearts on the African continent as part of the Study Trips for Engagement and EnRichment (STEER) Botswana programme. Organised by CAPT, in conjunction with RC4 and NUS International Relations Office, STEER Botswana introduced students to the educational, environmental and economic sectors of the region through one of its most politically stable states. The trip was held from 21 May to 5 June and led by CAPT faculty Dr Tan Lai Yong, Ms Wong Soon Fen and Dr Kevin McGahan.
At Delta Waters International School in Maun, the group watched performances, tried their hand at playing a traditional percussion instrument known as the Marimba, and learnt about the local culture and student life in Botswana through meaningful interactions with students and staff. They also experienced the best of Botswana hospitality during similar visits to St. Joseph’s College, Maun Technical College, Lesoma Primary School, and private after school drop-in centre Happy Home, among others. Such visits to a wide range of institutions dealing with different stages of one’s educational journey provided a comprehensive understanding of Botswana’s education system. As a token of gratitude, the NUS students helped to plant trees at the schools, a symbol of the young and growing relationship between the hosts and NUS.
They also visited the office of ST Electronics in Botswana’s capital Gabarone, which primarily provides e-governance assistance to the Botswana administration. There they learnt about Singapore’s surprising footprint in Botswana, as well as the business practices between the two nations with vastly different work cultures — Singapore prizing efficiency and Botswana more people-centric.
“What I really took home was the vastly different perspective on life held by the people I met in Botswana. There wasn’t a need to rush all the time, and more value was placed on human relations,” said Year 3 NUS Arts and Social Sciences student Benjamin Liau.
Of course, no trip to Southern Africa would be complete without an encounter with its iconic wildlife. From drives around the Chobe National Park to cruises along the Chobe River and Okavango Delta, the students managed to spot herds of elephants, impala and lazing hippopotamuses in their natural habitat.
The safari adventures also served to be educational as they learnt about conservation and tourism in Botswana, increasingly important areas for the nation as evident by the vast amounts of protected land, harsh anti-poaching policies and strict guide-licensing criteria imposed.
For most of their stay, the team’s accommodation consisted of lodges, campsites, and tents. While it was not always comfortable, with scarce hot water and chilly nights, it made for a quintessential camping experience that they would not soon forget. With a dedicated Food Team among them, they also enjoyed simple home-cooked dinners like stew, porridge or noodles, along with a cup of hot chocolate to warm themselves up, all while sharing their thoughts on the day’s activities.
After two weeks of cultural immersion and learning, the team departed Botswana not only with an understanding of the nation’s educational, environmental and economic challenges, but with a deeper appreciation for its refreshing way of life.
By Dhivya T, Year 3 NUS Arts and Social Sciences