Elephant at sunset

What expats can learn from Africa’s Big Five

Of course, these mammals make up a small portion of what we have to offer in terms of our fauna, but witnessing one of these five in the wild is an exhilarating experience. Being proudly South African and a fierce lover of the breathtaking beauty of our abundant wildlife, I have come to find that in an increasingly complex world, sometimes we need to take a step back and see what the simplicity of Mother Nature can teach us…


  1. African elephant: Elephants are highly social creatures, sometimes showing affection and acceptance by intertwining their trunks upon meeting.

African elephant

One of the most daunting aspects of moving abroad is finding a way to make new friends in an unfamiliar environment. In my highly emotional state upon leaving South Africa, I envisioned myself wandering the streets of France alone, doomed to a life of solitude with only croissants and pain au chocolat to ease the pain. Okay, perhaps that’s a tad hyperbolic, but you get the picture 😉 It is an unavoidable truth that our quality of life is deeply affected by the relationships that we have with other people. Whether it’s family who are thousands of kilometres away, or a fledgeling friendship in your new country of residence; these relationships have the ability to influence your happiness. I would suggest that rather than allowing this reality to intimidate you, let it fill you with courage and determination. I know you might be nervous or even a little scared, but be like the elephant…venture out of your comfort zone! Be social! Your effort will be appreciated. And the best part of all is that the differences that exist between yourself and the people around you seamlessly slip away as you realise your shared ideals, values and passions.


  1. Cape buffalo: Buffalo are not an easy target for prey. Rather than running away, they will group together and try to stand their ground in an effort to defend their young and each other.

African buffalo

Integrating oneself into a foreign community is a major challenge. Yes, it is exciting and rewarding, but oftentimes I also felt frustrated, lonely or even sad. Of course, these contrasting emotions are normal when assimilating to a new culture, as long as you don’t become overwhelmed by the pessimistic thoughts. And who better to understand this precarious balance than other expats? Through French lessons, I met a group of terrific people hailing from all over the world who were now in the same boat as me. Together, like a herd of buffalo (if you will), we could provide one another with support, a helping hand and a sympathetic ear. As they say: “A burden shared is a burden halved.” So let’s be like buffalo and have each other’s backs, expats!


  1. African lion: Lions roar to communicate their position to other prides. A lion’s roar is the loudest of any big cat and can be heard up to 8 kilometres away.


Even though you are eagerly embracing life abroad and forging new relationships, moving away from family and friends is never easy. I often wonder if the day will ever come where I don’t feel like a part of me has been left behind every time I leave my beloved home country. However, once you realise that the most important things in life are intangible, it doesn’t matter what the distance is between yourself and your loved ones. This realisation dawned on me pretty quickly. All it took was a few words of encouragement, or an “I miss you” or “I love you” for me to feel meaningfully connected to my family and friends back home.  And all the technological wonders have certainly made establishing this connection very easy! All you have to do is roar.


  1. African leopard: Leopards have the widest range of habitats of all the big cats, which has allowed them to survive in many different geographic areas. Perhaps the most extreme example is the snow leopard which lives in the Himalayas.

African leopard

Everybody who decides to live in a foreign country will need some time to adjust to their new surroundings and adapting won’t be easy. Most of my first year in France was such a culture shock that I felt like I was living amongst the Minions from Despicable Me, unsuccessfully trying to decipher their language and behaviour! Over time, however, I came to understand and even speak their “Minionese”. I found myself singing along with these yellow, melodious creatures and even purchasing a few pairs of overalls and goggles. The reason for this is that we humans are a lot like the leopard – able to survive in many different geographic areas. Even though the adaptation process isn’t easy, adapt you will, even if it’s in the Himalayas with the Abominable Snowman 🙂


  1. Rhinoceros: Rhinos are large, thick-skinned animals. A rhino’s skin is around 1.5 – 5 centimetres thick.


Moving abroad is a double-edged sword. Yes, the opportunities for learning and personal growth are exhilarating, but they can also serve as a stumbling block if you shy away from them out of fear of vulnerability or failure. Certainly, at times, your efforts will be met with impatience or even rudeness, or you may find yourself in an embarrassing or distressing situation. Nobody said that it would be easy. What you need to remember is that by making the decision to immigrate, you have already demonstrated that you are one tough cookie: you don’t crumble easily. You have a thick skin, like the rhino. So instead of shying away from the challenge, embrace it! I believe in you.


“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.” – Lao Tzu 

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