How 35 Kids Changed My Life

By Jessica Burkard — Prior to coming to South Africa, I imagined my field experience to be comparable to the ones I had in Milwaukee.

I taught English, spent time with students, and that was it. Never could I have imagined how they would change my life forever.

This past semester I received the most wonderful opportunity to get to know 35 beautiful individuals. We laughed, cried, and learned together. I taught them English and they taught me a little Xhosa (their mother tongue) in return. But more than that, they shaped the person I am today. The most important lesson I have learned in all my life came from my students. They taught me what it means to be human.

Leaving them was the hardest thing I have ever had to do in my life.

When I said goodbye, some left crying, some begged me not to leave, and some told me that they would be fine, and just to take care of myself. In a nutshell, it was heartbreaking. After saying goodbye to most of my students, I realized two of my students were missing—the one’s I had become most attached to. After a good ten minutes of searching the school, I found one cleaning and refusing to say goodbye, while the other simply side profiled me and said goodbye with tears streaming down from his eyes. In that moment, I realized how much I meant to them as well.

In all my life, I have never had a more difficult and emotional day. Never could I have imagined becoming so attached to 35 individuals. They are my heart and soul, and even now writing this, I find myself getting emotional. I am still having difficulty picturing my life without seeing them on a regular basis.

I love and miss them more than anything else. I couldn’t tell you what exactly it was that changed me, but I know that they did it. My guess is that it was their big hearts that welcomed me into their lives. Thank you so much, my loves. I will miss you so much.

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