25 Things I Learned Studying Abroad In South Africa

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When I first decided to study abroad my freshmen year of college I latched onto the idea of going to South Africa and never let go. And after my semester abroad I’m so glad I didn’t listen to all the negative things I heard about South Africa. Here are 25 reasons that you should ignore all the negatives you hear about “off the beaten track” study abroad destinations and go for it.

1. Ostriches are the weirdest creatures. They are everywhere in South Africa and just run along the road. They are the funniest looking creatures I’ve ever met.

2. In South Africa I learned so much about not only South Africa but also the United States and Europe. The people in my AIFS program were from all over the states and I didn’t realize how much diversity we had within my own country. In a similar fashion Stellenbosch has a strong international student body. I expected to learn about South Africa but I learned so much more about the global village we live in.

3. Race is 100% socially constructed and this often ends in racial profiling.

4. Africa is a continent, not a underdeveloped land mass. I feel that I was so uninformed about Africa before I came. We aren’t taught the history of the 54 countries that make up Africa, instead we end up with a one-sided view of Africa as poor and undeveloped when this is not always the case.

5. I am financially stable but not rich in all areas of my life. While in South Africa I learned about poverties. The children I taught at Lynedoch might have material poverty but they are richer in many other areas of life, such as community. There are many different types of poverty and those of us in 1st world countries can still have poverty in our lives.

6. South Africa truly taught me who I am. I know its clichéd but its absolutely true. Being abroad has taught me how I am and what I can do. Before this semester I never knew how calm headed and collected I was but being in South Africa helped me to know myself.

7. I learned about the importance of building relationships during my time here. One of my biggest fears of going abroad was not being able to make friends but the relationships I made here are some of my absolute favorite. Study abroad is like friendship on crack because we have such little time together but we truly made the most out of it and were forced to have quality instead of quantity tie together.

8. The rainbow nation has come a long way in the past 20 years and still has many years to go. But there is so much hope and potential brewing in South Africa, it is going to continue to grow into the beautiful nation it is.

9. Not being connected to phones makes us more connected in real life. I had little wi-fi and spotty phone service and to be honest I didn’t miss it. Life happens while we are hiding behind our screens.

10. Milk and eggs don’t always have to be refrigerated. I still think its questionable but I never got too sick!

11. Nothing is as big of a problem as I think it is. Being in a developing nation put a lot of my life into perspective. It’s hard to get upset over something stupid when there are millions of being living in townships in shacks with no running water and little ways to climb out of material poverty.

12. 70 degrees is Ugg and coat weather. Most places in South Africa don’t have central heating and although we may not have believed that it would ever get cold in the beginning, my last couple of weeks were freezing.

13. Culture shock is real. And reverse culture shock.

14. Material wealth isn’t as important as being happy with who I am and what I’m doing.

15. The importance of living in the now. Throughout my time in South Africa so many people taught and emphasized living in the now. Yesterday is gone, tomorrow isn’t here yet, all we have is this moment.

16. Now now, just now, and now all mean different things but all have the same end meaning, it will get done at some point in the future. African time is a thing.

17. Everyday is a learning experience. I feel like the even the days I didn’t really do anything I was still learning something. The nights we went out were just as meaningful as the nights we stayed in and had deep conversations and drank wine. Life is full of adventures and some adventures don’t even involve leaving our residence.

18. Our generation is going to be a game changer. Being around my peers in LSCE and seeing everyone that was in South Africa I truly believe that our generation is unique, we don’t take anything for face value and are willing to make waves to make change. I believe that my peers in LSCE are going to make a difference in our world.

19. Coffee is more than just coffee. I went to the same coffee shop multiple times a week. By the end they knew my story and my coffee order. Everyone you meet has a story and it’s up to you to get to know it.

20. The unknown is scary but if I never try I will never know what it out there. At the beginning of the semester we were afraid to ride the train. We had a weekend trip to Muizenberg planned and we almost didn’t take the train. I’m so glad we faced our fear and got over the horror stories we had heard about the train. If we had only stuck to what we knew we would have never left Stellenbosch and had the adventures and freedom that we had.

21. Self reflection is crucial to growing. Throughout my time I had to learn how to be reflective so I could learn from the mistakes I made and grow as a person.

22. That I am lucky to be able to call the united States my home. Before I left, I was not as grateful as I am now to be an American. Even if we sometimes have a bad reputation, talking to other people from around the world I realized how lucky we are. We can travel without many restrictions and have freedoms that others dream of. At International food night we had so many people come up and ask to take a picture with us so that they could be American too.

23. How to be flexible. In South Africa sometimes plans did not go as planned. But I learned how to roll with the flow. If something didn’t work out there was always another plan and sometimes the other plan worked out better than the first one.

24. How interconnected all humans are. We may feel like we lead separate lives but my actions affect those around me and vice versa. We all feel the need to belong and it’s up to each individual to make sure that that we include those around them. Even the simple act of asking someone how their day was can make a difference.

25. That I am incredibly lucky that I choose to study abroad in South Africa. Although I faced discouragement at time and got asked on multiple occasions why I didn’t choose a “safer” option like Europe I’m so glad I preserved and choose Stellenbosch. I could not have asked for a better semester or better friends to spend my time with. Totsiens South Africa! See you now now. TC mark

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