WorldTeach Namibia 2005: Staying Connected

WorldTeach alum Elisa Mandell participated in the 2005 year-long Namibia placement. Today, she is a special policy officer for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, proving her passion for international development is still alive. Below, she writes about her group's recent 5-year reunion in Boston and their steady connection to their experience and to one another.

"This spring, the 2005 Namibia WorldTeach group gathered in Boston for our five-year reunion. Five years – it’s hard to believe that much time has passed since we were all together, finding our way in a new country!  With a majority of the group living in Boston right now it was easiest for all of us to meet there, and people came from Portland, Seattle, Chicago and the New York area for the occasion.  We reminisced over shots of beer at a local beerfest, we talked and laughed over several meals at people’s homes, we walked all over Boston, and of course we had the obligatory dance party which is a mainstay for the 2005 Namibia group – complete with kwaito and Namibian rap.

It was an absolutely wonderful weekend.  There were several things that struck me as just incredibly special, and a true reflection of how meaningful the experience was that we all had together in Namibia five years ago.

First of all, it almost felt like no time had passed.  As a group we picked up right where we left off, and all of us were just so thrilled to see each other and have a chance to catch up on each others’ lives.  I suspect some of this had to do with the bond we developed through a year of intense ups and downs together – learning how to be teachers, adjusting to the norms of our villages, fitting into new communities as foreigners.  We spent hours over the course of the reunion weekend learning about each others’ lives in new cities, grad school, careers, houses, boyfriends/girlfriends/husbands (!), and travels since our time in Namibia.   And yet somehow it didn’t feel like five years had passed.  It’s crazy to realize that in the past six months or so, members of our group had been to Antarctica, Ethiopia, Haiti, Nepal, Korea, Vietnam, Patagonia and of course Namibia.    We clearly had a lot to catch up on!

Second, the laughter was still omnipresent!  This is just a fact of our WorldTeach group – we laughed together from the beginning and I guarantee we’ll laugh together til the end.  That’s probably part of what kept us sane throughout our year of service.  It was such a treat to realize we could still make each other laugh until our abs are sore.

Third, it was still so clear how much our experiences in Namibia have affected each of us – through our views of the world, our career paths, our taste in music, and our travel.  It is a bond that we all share, and I think it has contributed to keeping this group in touch over five years and will continue to keep us connected going forward.  During the reunion we told stories about our learners in Namibia, the connections we still have with Namibian friends and colleagues, trips that some were able to take to visit our Namibian homes recently, and the memories that will stay with us forever."

 sunset in Namibia [photo courtesy of Alana Vogl]

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