To those that are young and eligible for most foreign correspondent programmes and fully-paid scholarships across the globe, get a passport and start applying. File image
"The world is a book and those who do not travel only read one page,” said St Augustine. These words came to mind at the weekend as I made my way from OR Tambo International Airport, on a 19-hour flight, taking my very first overseas trip, to write another chapter of my life.

However, I’m well aware that travelling is a luxury many people cannot afford, especially overseas. We can barely afford to commute between two cities for a month.

Nevertheless, I have also realised that not all travelling experiences should come at a cost of money, some come through seizing opportunities that life presents to us in different forms, like fully-funded scholarships or correspondent programmes.

But we must start somewhere.

In 2015, I was a junior employee who couldn’t even afford to go home every month, or spoil himself with a KFC Streetwise-Two meal just five days after pay day. But I made a promise to myself that no matter how little money I can save, I’m definitely getting a passport, and it was quite costly at the time, at least for me.

I knew I couldn’t afford a trip over any South African border or exit, but I had a curious mind that is always looking for opportunities.

Fast-forward to 2018. Today I’m in Helsinki, Finland. This village boy has just undertaken his very first overseas trip. I may not financially afford an opportunity to travel the world, but the universe finds a way to create opportunities that will see one live one’s dreams.

So, when the Finland Correspondent Program (FCP) was presented to me, I wasted no time to apply. Imagine, I will be spending almost the whole month in Finland.

I have travelled to a lot of countries through reading books that reflected their authors’ countries of birth, especially African authors. I am a voracious reader. Of recent, I read NoViolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names. Through her style of writing, I immediately grew interested in visiting Zimbabwe soon.

I also read a lot of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s work, the late and amazing Chinua Achebe, through whose pens and eyes I have an idea of what Nigeria looks like.

I have saturated myself in Bessie Head’s work, books such as When Rain Clouds Gather and Maru, which gave me a picture of what Botswana looked like.

Fortunately, in 2016, I had an opportunity to visit Jwaneng, approximately 120km west of the capital city, Gaborone. This, too, was an all-costs-covered trip for a weekend. That was the first time I exited the borders of South Africa.

I encourage people to read. Literature is enriching. The reading juxtaposed with seizing opportunities will take anyone places, at times literally.

Today, I’m in a different country, with a different time zone, and I get to see the sun from 3am to 9:30pm in the summer of Finland. The feeling is priceless.

There are pictures already on social media that serve as evidence that I’m really in Helsinki, but there is a metamorphosis taking place within me that validates that travelling is essential for one’s growth and development.

This is a great opportunity for me to learn a new language and to experience a different lifestyle.

I know we all cannot afford to explore the world beyond our South African shores, but to those that are young and eligible for most foreign correspondent programmes and fully-paid scholarships across the globe, get a passport and start applying. It will cost you nothing, but a few motivational letters and your time.

Young people, let’s travel and explore the world, because it’s not about the money.

* Kabelo Chabalala is the founder of the Young Men Movement (YMM), the 2018 Obama Foundation Africa Leader, and the 2018 Finland Correspondent Program (FCP) participant. Email,[email protected]; Twitter, @KabeloJay; Facebook, Kabelo Chabalala