From the world of Harry Potter, a scammer in Ethiopia, a play in the West End and some serious academic reflection in Scotland – the Abe Bailey Tour was everything I had hoped for, writes Tevarus Naicker.
But it didn't come easily. I saw the e-mail about the Abe Bailey Travel Bursary in 2016, and immediately knew it would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. In fact, no other bursary offered the same opportunity, but I watched some of the top students at the medical faculty apply and I lacked the confidence even to try. I just felt I was not good enough. By 2017, I felt that I had grown in terms of leadership skills and that my confidence level had increased. I sent in my application, and got through to the interview stage – but no luck.
What I did learn from the interview was that my general knowledge wasn't quite what it should have been, and that my involvement as a South African citizen was somewhat lacking, despite being so involved at Stellenbosch University itself. Like many other people, I have a deep fear of rejection and now I had to face it head-on – I didn't get the Abe Bailey bursary. I decided to try once more in 2018, and was a bit more optimistic having had the experience of being interviewed the year before. I felt more ready than ever.
I still had my doubts as to my chances of success, but I felt that I should try and give the other candidates a run for their money.
I re-evaluated my role as a young person in South Africa and in the world. This saw me going places and doing things about which I was truly passionate – not just to add to my CV, but rather to be of service to the community around me. I felt that this would bring something different to the interviewing table, and I am happy to say I was right. I got the bursary! This tour has been an incredible experience on a professional, a spiritual and an emotional level.
The focus of the Abe Bailey Bursary is leadership development and the trustees wish the bursaries to be awarded to students who are academically strong and have shown exceptional qualities of leadership and service, with a good track record - not only on a campus level but also in a wider social context. It gives young university staff and students an opportunity to visit the United Kingdom, participating in educational tours according to an approved programme. The objective of the Travel Bursary is to broaden the views of young future leaders of South Africa, according to the website of the Abe Baily Trust.
This bursary allowed me to cross many barriers – barriers which we don't really need in this world. It has taught me to be confident about my opinions (even if they might be unpopular) without the fear of being judged. Simultaneously, it has taught me to be open to new ideas and opinions with which I do not necessarily agree. It has served as a platform for active listening and critical engagement while being respectful, tolerant and truthful.
It was to be the trip of a lifetime – with many highlights (and one or two 'lowlights'). The tour has allowed me to look at the world with fresh eyes. I was able to immerse myself in the history of the United Kingdom, and to dissect the influences this has had on Africa. In doing so I have been able to envision who I want to be in the realm of global citizenship.
I am passionate about being an ambassador for mental health, but I never really took time off to reflect on my own well-being. That is why The Burn (an academic retreat in Scotland) was so important – it allowed me the space to do some introspection and to think about things that have been toxic in my life. It was in the silence, during the misty morning walks and in the comfort of the fireside that I had several insights. In my final year of medicine, I feel as if a weight has been lifted off my shoulders, and that the fire I once had on my journey to becoming a doctor has once again been ignited.
During the trip I was almost scammed in Ethiopia, I found myself in the wizarding world of Harry Potter in London, and then felt the magic of Scotland in the icy cold that nothing could prepare me for. The weak exchange rate could not spoil my trip, as my expenses were mostly covered. That enabled me to do some fun things as well: a hot chocolate at the Christmas market, going ice skating in the park, experiencing London at night-time, watching a West End play and going on some thrill rides at Winter Wonderland. I managed to tick off some wonderful experiences, thanks to the Abe Bailey Tour Bursary.
I accepted this bursary with the idea that nothing was going to ruin the experience for me – nothing did! Instead, the experience was enhanced by coming into contact with bright people whom I believe will shape our future as South Africans. Before this trip, I would never have thought I would meet such incredible people. We are spread across the country, but this does not affect the friendships and bonds formed on this tour. This opportunity allowed me to meet people whose conversations challenged me, inspired me and stimulated new ideas, thought processes and dreams far bigger than I ever imagined. If anything, it was indeed the people who made everything worth it and the camaraderie we shared was magic.