I was huddled on a cramped seat in a lecture theatre at Glasgow University with some fellow wanderlust students one wet and cold Tuesday night in early winter 1998. I was there to hear the Work America presentation. This was where my BUNAC experience began.
If you are reading this you may be scanning through the BUNAC blogs because you are looking for an insight into the things people get up to on their trips before you go on one of your own. You may also be swithering about which programme to go on and how to get started. If you have come this far, it doesn’t take too much more to buy the plane ticket and take off! Find your inspiration, get organised, and go, go, go! It will be the best decision you will ever make.
My inspiration came from my two elder brothers who had both been on the BUNAC programmes before. Their first-hand stories helped me to imagine myself in America, made it less daunting and heightened my enthusiasm to go. Together with attending the Work America presentation, which was invaluable to understanding the practical aspects of the adventure, I was bursting to get things sorted.
That was nearly 13 years ago. Following the unforgettable summer of 1999 in the USA, it spurred me on to try another BUNAC programme to Ghana two years later. I guess I am writing this from a strange perspective as a fair bit of time has passed since my experiences and my memories may have been partially glossed. However, the friends that I made whilst on these absorbing trips have helped keep my mind relatively fresh.
And it is with these life-long connections that I have made through the BUNAC trips that I urge you to go on one. I regularly meet up with two close friends from the Work America trip, and I am godfather to one of their children. A bunch of BUNACers from the Ghana 2001 trip met up for our 10 year anniversary recently and had an amazing night recalling silly moments on our travels. It reminds me of a quotation by the American writer Richard Bach which I used in a letter to my Ghanaian host family on departing from their village, “A farewell is necessary before you can meet again. And meeting again, after moments or lifetimes, is certain for those who are friends.”
Our travel experiences are as unique as the individual that lives through them so get yourself out there and make some of experiences of your own! As well as the obligatory photographs, there are three things that I would encourage you to do when you are away:
Record the radio or buy some music from the time you are there. I still have the cassettes that I used to record Z100 “New York’s Hit Music Station” and also some of the local Ghanaian Bobobo music that transports me back to the days when I heard it.
Try and keep a little journal, nothing much, just a small notebook with daily or weekly reflections that you can turn to when you return home. It helps the transition back to reality and you can indulge in some personal nostalgia.
At some point during your travelling, there will be some “wow, I can’t believe I am here” moments. When these occur, take a mental note (simply close your eyes for a few seconds, remember how you feel, what you can hear (and smell..!). I did this at the top of the Empire State Building in the first week of being in America when the sun was setting over Manhattan with the blinking lights of the nocturnal city below me. In complete contrast, I also did this in a little Ghanaian town in the Volta region. I was waiting patiently on a hard wooden bench at a dusty bus station and the darkest grey cloud loomed on the horizon, accompanied by bright forks of lightening and cracks of thunder. Ten minutes later, raindrops the size of elephants exploded into the earth and created a temporary brown lake where once was a desiccated tro-tro park.
And now that the time has passed, these are two moments amongst many that I remember, with the help of the journals, music and friends. I haven’t been back to the USA or Ghana as yet. I have two young children now that occupy most of my spare time. I hope that if they decide to wander the world, maybe after listening to daddy’s American radio recordings or seeing my keepsakes from West Africa, they might follow in my footsteps. It will be a poignant moment as I know how much they will learn about themselves and how much fun they will have. I am drawn to the entry in my journal the day before I left for Accra:
“I’m getting that awesome, giddy, sick feeling that seems to appear when you are about to experience something very special, the anticipation growing each day until it arrives and when it’s here... in the moment you can’t quite believe it’s happening, that it’s real. You do all you can to embrace it, hold it, save it... because it’s so special you know that when the experience is over you will have memories that will never be repeated and can be reflected upon when you’re stuck on a packed commuter train on a wet and cold Tuesday night in early winter...”
If you want to experience that 'wow, I can't believe I am here' moment, you can find out more about the Work America programme, or request a call back to speak to one of the team.