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Guest Blog: by Lujia Zhu – in loco International Workshop participant

Preparing for a possible bad 10-day experience….

I had to make a presentation on Lesotho and rise International for my protective parents in order to get the permission to join the workshop. I pulled images from Google and screenshot traveling tips from various embassy websites.

Surprisingly, it was easier to convince my parents than myself. Africa, very much generalized in my mind originally—regardless how many countries there actually are, is both romanticized by literature and tarnished by media. The culture, the weather and the living circumstances are something that I was the least familiar with. Up until I boarded the plane from Johannesburg to Maseru, I was mentally preparing myself for a possible bad 10-day experience.

I fell asleep as soon as I sat in my seat, and woke up shortly before descending. Outside the window, beige rocky hills, cliffs and canyons stretched out beyond the horizon. Riverbeds flowed across like serpents and were occasionally interrupted by square shadows of tiny houses. For me, it felt like viewing a kingdom of the Grand Canyon from a bird’s-eye view and immediately, I knew I had made the right choice to come here.

First impressions of Lesotho

Right away, I was welcomed by the staff from rise, other international students and local people on site. Everyone had a great sense of humor and very unique characteristics and personalities. The defensive barrier I always wear while traveling quickly vanished and I felt I had found a new family.

With little previous experience on a construction site, I was encouraged and greatly assisted to start hands-on tasks on day one. One of the biggest lessons I learned was how to adapt to a resources-limited working environment. I was very much spoiled by the shop technicians at school where everything was organized so well that all parts and pieces had their own spot and all the bits and blades were sharp. On site, however, when all twenty people were fighting for three tape measures and two hand drills, I found myself easily getting stuck and not knowing what to do without the tools. And quickly I learned to think outside the box and approach things differently.

Freedom of religion and free thinking

Among one of my many favorite facts about this program is that rise International was not founded on top of any religious beliefs. I have long since been looking for volunteer programs in low-income countries and often got fed up by people trying to convert me to believe in their faith. I don’t mean to offend anyone or be disrespectful, but I appreciate that rise simplified the entire mission to a design project. They see a problem, and they are trying to solve it through design and architecture knowledge, whether it is to build a dorm for an orphanage or something else. And that is all I asked for—to put my energy as a recent design graduate into projects that I am passionate about.

Memories for life….

In just ten days, I met architects, filmmakers, artists, engineers and recent graduates who had brilliant ideas of what to do in the future. I went to workshops, lectures, brainstorm panels, and listened to people who have travelled half of the world and work between continents sharing their thoughts and stories. Even two weeks after the trip ended, I still think back on this amazing experience. Everything I heard and saw will certainly influence my decision-making in the future, and will always be treasured in my memory.

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