Seema Botz’s Story
As retold by Anthony Koro and Rodney Summers
Walking through winter, I walk quietly, boots crunching in dry snow. The bitterness of wind bit my cheeks and knuckles. It is a mild winter for Michigan, barely below freezing and not entirely cloudy, yet I miss the Arizona-like dryness and warmth of South Africa. Passing under a tree, I look up at the bare branches to glimpse at something scurrying away, a blur of pale limbs and a long tail. I know it must have been a raccoon, but it somehow reminds me of home, where it could just as easily have been a vervet monkey.
Next to me, a door opens, releasing my fellow college students out into the cold. Through the door I imagine my South African home, remembering the warmth and fun of going on safari in the summer, working on a game reserve, and of my family, inviting me into their warm homes at any time. I pull out my phone, dust off a few snowflakes, and pull up a photo of my husband and two boys. I think of my mother, who would have loved to meet her American grandchildren before she died. I miss home.
At a crosswalk I pause to let some cars go by. The cold air hits my unprotected fingers as I reach into my backpack and pull out a pair of thick mittens. As I put on the mittens, my keys jangle in their dislodged corner, and I realize I might have forgotten to lock my car door. I decide to risk it in order to get to class on time. I feel safe here, in this school, this state, this country, this moment, of all the places I can safely build the life I have always wanted for my children and myself.
I cross the road as the traffic clears. My path ends at the entrance of a snow-covered building. Another student holds the door open for me, and as I walk inside I hear something familiar, the quiet singing of a brown-black house sparrow perched above me on the eaves. I have heard that song before in another hemisphere. I smile a little, remembering I am not the only one with family both in Michigan and South Africa.
But I am the only one with this sojourner’s story . . .
My grandparents moved to Johannesburg, South Africa from India many years ago and that is where my family has lived ever since. South Africa has 11 national languages and I speak 5 of them. As I was growing up, college was always on my horizon. I got my first degree at a technical school in Johannesburg to study in the hospitality industry more than eight years ago. It was a three year program and 1 year of it was spent working in the field doing internships like working at a hotel or a catering facility in the city. I, however, spent my first internship on a beautiful resort located on a game reserve near the east coast of Africa and the Indian Ocean. This game reserve had a history more than 100 years old and has been guarding and protecting the wildlife for more than fifty years. It is one of the oldest game reserves in the country and the third largest in S. Africa. This game reserve has many different kinds of animals including lions, giraffes, leopards, rhinos, zebras, and elephants as well as more than 300 species of birds.
The animals were always very close by and I had many opportunities to enjoy them. I learned something special when the monkeys came in through the window and would take leftovers off the counter and the rhino’s would graze in the front yard. I learned that we need to preserve the wildlife and live in harmony with them and it will be beneficial to us all. This internship was a wonderful adventure and I am glad to have had such an experience. I have great memories of touring the reserves with my friends after hours and when it was over I was sad to leave.
I signed up for another internship through a company in Florida. I was picked among other students from South Africa to work at an extremely upscale retirement village on PGA Boulevard in Florida where I lived and worked for 1 and 1/2 years. It was very beautiful with sparkling pools, lavish lounges, beautiful dining rooms, golf courses, sports classes and a gym. Only the richest people lived there. It was just like living in Hollywood. I had a wonderful time the whole time I was there.
While I was there I shared an apartment with other students in a building that was right next to the retirement village so we could walk to work every day. I got to meet a lot of great people while I was there including other students from various countries including Argentina, Mexico, Switzerland, and Australia. I also met famous people like the first lady to pose for Playboy magazine as well as the first lady of the Pirelli family of the Pirelli tire company. But the most important person I got to meet was a culinary arts student that one of my friends introduced me to because this person was the one I would eventually fall in love, become engaged and spend the rest of my days with.
After my internship was over and my visa expired I returned home to South Africa. After I left, my fiancé and I continued to talk on the phone, and after several more trips between South Africa and Michigan, we got married. Once we married I had to wait a year for my U.S. citizenship and then we both came to live in the United States. We both graduated from college and got our first degrees and have started a family. Currently we are very busy with two small children, full time jobs and once again college is on my horizon as I work on my degree in Nursing.
No matter where I have journeyed in the world, I have always felt at peace with my place in it. Like the lesson I learned from my experience the game reserve, living in harmony will benefit all of us.
-Anthony Koro -Rodney Summers
This story originally appeared in Facing College: Immigrant & International Students’ Stories, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by Mott Community College in Flint, Michigan.