Ordinand Fergus Butler-Gallie reflects on his placement in Grahamstown, South Africa, with the USPG Journey With Us programme…
My Journey With Us story starts and ends with a perceptible sense of warmth. It was at the start of the Summer Term in Cambridge where I had been training for ordination in the Church of England and, as I entered the final term of my formal academic degree, my thoughts began to turn to what I would do with my third and final year. Cambridge was basking in that year’s unseasonably warm May; all sunbathing and drinks parties. It was as I was enjoying the sun (and, I think, one of the drinks parties) that the Principal, in charge of my formation, approached me and suggested that I go abroad for my final year. The idea immediately appealed- I had spent time in Eastern Europe during my first degree and thoroughly enjoyed living, working, and making friends there.
The question was where to go. Part of my training reports had suggested I gain some experience of teaching and I was eager to make some long lasting links with fellow Christians in a part of the world I didn’t know. Eventually, through contacts at my college and after having some invaluable conversations at the USPG discernment weekend, it was arranged for me to spend a semester and a half teaching at the College of the Transfiguration in Grahamstown, South Africa. I was a little apprehensive, having never visited South Africa (or, indeed, anywhere in Africa) before. However the USPG preparation course in Birmingham covered every conceivable scenario and so, later that same summer, I departed for the Eastern Cape remarkably well prepared.
After nearly 24 hours worth of travel I arrived in Grahamstown in the middle of the worst weather they’d had in years- quite the contrast to the balmy England I had left behind. In stark contrast to the cold and wet weather was the warmth of the welcome. From day 1 I was thrown into the hectic round of college life. From contemplative meditation in chapel at 6.30 am to raucous and laughter filled supper time twelve hours later- every day spent in the college had its surprises. I taught a Church History class and assisted with teaching some Greek and a module on Anglicanism. Free time was spent with patient students conversing with me as I made faltering attempts at isiZulu. The teaching experience was invaluable and an opportunity that would have been simply impossible back in the UK. I am sure that I received more instruction (in everything from the traditions of the students’ families to how to survive the rolling water shortages) than I possibly could have imparted!
Both students and staff made sure that it wasn’t an exclusively pedagogical experience- they took me on trips everywhere- from the beach to the mountains, from cathedrals to townships. I was also able to travel across South Africa, ending up in amazing Cape Town for two weeks after term was finished. The whole experience was, quite simply, transformative. The professional experience, the views seen, the services attended and, most importantly, the friendships made will stay with me for the rest of my life. As I finally boarded the plane in the baking heat at Cape Town airport just before Christmas, I was warmed by something much deeper- a newfound love for a country and the people, now friends, who lived there and from whom I had learnt so much.