Georgetown students tend to have “busy” lives packed with internships, sports, clubs, activism and school. We pride ourselves on the Jesuit value of reflection, yet it can certainly be difficult to find time for, unless it becomes a required exercise during one of our activities.
In South Africa, I was forced into silent reflection for extended periods of time, whether I wanted to or not simply because of where I was. The isolation, devoid of anyone else from Georgetown, allowed me to return to campus rested, refocused and enlightened as to what problems I want to help solve with my remaining time at Georgetown and beyond.
When I studied in Ecuador last summer, I was constantly surrounded by almost 40 Hoyas with a fully packed schedule for an incredible six-week adventure. South Africa was the polar opposite; I knew nobody and had no plans at all for what I would be involved in on campus. This raw freedom and restart was a scary but also exciting prospect.
Over time, I developed friendships and became involved in communities. I developed a niche for viticulture and eventually became a wine enthusiast in the Wine and Culture Society, where I tasted wine at nearly 30 vineyards in the Western Cape. I probably learned more about wine than I learned about the actual academic course material.
Societies are the Stellenbosch version of Georgetown clubs, except there are only a handful of them and thus they have huge amounts of members. Thus every Wine and Culture Society tasting was an opportunity to redo the awkwardness of introductions and small talk but also to forge new friendships. Fortunately, this process was smoothest and quickest in the Wine and Culture Society because there was a lot of wine involved.
By not being bound to my Georgetown activities and leadership roles, I could reflect on what actually makes me happy, what makes me fulfilled and what inspires me rather than following the repetition of a schedule that becomes mundane.
While some see viticulture or wine knowledge as pretentious or posh, I view wine as an art no different from music or painting. From the years of schooling and experience required to be a winemaker to the hard working laborers tending the vines and adapting to varying annual conditions, everyone works in concert to produce incredible aromas, tastes and sensations to be enjoyed while making memories with friends and family. When opening a bottle of such a familiar scent years down the road, those sensations spark those same good memories once more. Maybe wine production is what I should shift my life course toward.
In November, I spent a week hiking in the mountains bordering the magnificent Elgin Valley with eight complete strangers. While the original meeting was awkward to say the least, this friend group of three couples and two roommates joked that we had become close enough friends to finally stop calling me “the add-on.” They also forgave me for being a Republican because of my distaste for Donald Trump, in return I adequately convinced them to become Carly Fiorina supporters.
Walking 60 kilometers through what could easily have been Middle Earth was a chance to just let my mind roll in thoughts as I stared in awe at the views. It was the first time I was free from the shackles of stress in years. Maybe I should spend my life hiking across the world.
The following week I went to a tiny beach town called Muizenberg because I had to at least wade in the ocean once before I returned to winter in the United States Once again, I had no plans, nor was there much to do in this sleepy narrow coastal town. I ended up spending time with a Belgian student beginning his travels around the world, hiking up a mountain overlooking the Atlantic, losing my way and following an old man — who I could only assume was the wise town elder or perhaps the Grandpa from “Up” — and suntanning with some 70-year-olds living at the retirement hotel on a Monday. Maybe I should open a bed and breakfast on a beach.
South Africa was a time of both active and silent meditative reflection. By removing myself from the Georgetown bubble, I was able to reassess who I was at Georgetown versus who I want to be. I tasted what it was like to reset and start from scratch. My priorities in life have evolved and I have promised myself to quit anything I feel is a scheduled burden rather than an activity that inspires me or contributes to my well-being — even if it is long, hard work.
We only have four years on the Hilltop. While it might not seem like every day counts, they quickly add up and soon you are far past the halfway mark. I realized it is important to make each day count, to fill them with passion, laughter and love. Sometimes that means not being at Georgetown at all.
Whether we are studying abroad or on our own journeys at the Hilltop, as long as we empower each other and our own lives to have open hearts and clear minds, we will leave Georgetown on paths that align our passions and skills with the needs of our communities and the world. And that is the most fulfilling life journey we can make.
Alexander Bobroske is a junior in the School of Foreign Service. This is the final appearance of Oh The Places You’ll Go this semester.