THE world is a book and those who do not travel only read one page,” said St Augustine.
These words describe my thoughts as I boarded a plane at OR Tambo International Airport on my very first overseas trip, to read another chapter in my life.
I’m well aware that travelling is a luxury many people cannot afford. We can barely afford to commute between two cities for a month, let alone go between countries.
Nevertheless, I have also realised that not all travelling experiences need to come at a cost, some of the travelling exploits come through seizing opportunities that life presents at us in various forms, like fully funded scholarships or correspondent programmes.
But we must start somewhere.
In 2015, as a junior employee, I couldn’t even afford to go home every month, or spoil myself with a KFC, Streetwise-Two meal, just five days after pay day. But I made a promise to myself that no matter how little money I could save, I was definitely going to get a passport, and it was costly at the time, at least for me.
I knew I couldn’t afford a trip over any South African boarder or exit the country, but I had a curious mind that is and had always been looking out for opportunities.
Fast-forward to 2018, today I’m in Helsinki, Finland. This village boy (me), has just undertaken his first overseas trip.
One may not financially afford an opportunity to travel the world, but the universe finds a way to conspire and create opportunities that will see them live their dreams, getting a passport stamped at embassies and with lots of visas.
So, when the Finland Correspondent Program (FCP) was presented to me by that country’s embassy in Pretoria, I wasted no time in applying and hoped for the best.
Imagine, I will be spending almost a month in Finland. There is so much exhilaration in me.
I have travelled to a lot of countries through reading pages of books that reflected on their authors’ countries of birth, especially African authors.
I am a voracious reader. Recently, I was reading NoViolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names. Through her humorous, colourful and detailed style of writing, I grew even more interested in visiting Zimbabwe soon.
I also read a lot of Chimaera Ngozi Adiche’s work and the amazing Chinua Achebe, through whose eyes I have an idea of what Nigeria looks like.
I have saturated myself in Bessie Head’s books like When Rain Clouds Gather and Maru, which gave me a picture of Botswana.
Fortunately, in 2016, I had an opportunity to visit Jwaneng, approximately 120km west of the capital city, Gaborone, for a weekend. That was the first time I exited the border of South Africa.
The Batswana I met were a reflection of the characters in Head’s books. That is why I say I have travelled to a lot of places through books, and I encourage people to read.
Reading, juxtaposed with seizing opportunities, will take anyone places, at times literally.
Today, I woke up in another country, with a different time-zone, and I get to see the sunlight from 3am straight to 9:30pm in the summer of Finland. I’ve never seen anything like this.
The feeling is priceless.
I realised that travelling is about seeing places that are different from where you live and that broadens your world-view and understanding. I got to experience traditions and cultures completely different from those I am accustomed to in the country of my birth.
There are pictures already on social media that serve as evidence that I’m really in Finland. There is a metamorphosis that is taking place within me that validates that travelling is essential for one’s growth and development.
This is a great opportunity for me to learn a new language and experience a different lifestyle. I’m already exposed to a different climate, the topography is different, the cuisine is different and humility and kindness remain common denominators that get one around meeting new people.
We cannot all afford to pack our bags and explore the world beyond our South African shores, but I urge the young who are eligible for programmes and paid scholarships across the globe to get passports and start applying.
You could be an application away from having your chance to travel. Take it from me, it costs you nothing but a few motivational letters and some of your time.
Kabelo Chabalala is the founder of the Young Men Movement, the 2018 Obama Foundation Africa Leader, and a 2018 Finland Correspondent Program (FCP) participant. Email,[email protected]; Twitter, @KabeloJay; Facebook, Kabelo Chabalala.