It has only been the first week of classes, but I have already learned so much. Not necessarily about the courses that I am taking, but more about the people and culture that I am surrounded by.
Talking to the students around me in my classes, bible study, and other random places; I have quickly gotten a sense that this is not just about “going to school” for most students.
This is about something bigger.
“What do you want to do after you graduate?” is a common question that I like to ask students when talking about their major(s) and learning more about them. Most of the students that I have spoken to have explained to me how they want to earn money and receive proper training, so that they are able to take home that experience and capital and make their home country a better place. Whether that is as an accountant from Namibia or an architect from Zambia, many students have a similar goal of one day being able to help their family and community back home.
This is a stark contrast to the typical American student’s response of wanting to get a job that hopefully makes a lot of money to buy fun things and have a prosperous life. And it is not hard to see these differences in the approach to University.
Sitting in a lecture hall of over 300 students, I’d expect to have a lecturer talking at me the entire class period, as this is the reality that I experience at my home university of the University of Minnesota. But in Cape Town, it is an entirely different story. Students are attentive in lecture, they ask questions (even though there are hundreds of other students listening in), and they participate in debates and conversations with the lecturers. It is a very enriching experience that has already allowed me to have a better appreciation for the education that I take for granted at home.
Yes, students complain about studying and how a lecturer wasn’t very good, but they also have a much more motivated view on what their University experience is going to be like. It’s not about the freedom and individuality that we strive for in the U.S., but instead about working towards something bigger, to help the greater good.
I think this is reflective of not only the students in Cape Town, but also the larger community as a whole. Most people are not satisfied with the way the city is and see the changes that need to occur.
And they are actively trying to achieve these changes. Being surrounded by this culture is inspiring. I think it is one of the many things that makes this city so beautiful and vibrant. I can’t wait to explore more of this city and to continue to learn about the culture and people around me.