With only two weeks left, this blog serves as a reflection of the past four or so months and the impact that this experience has had on me. Sorry in advance for the length, but it’s worth it in my opinion.
From the end of January to now I have spent my days in a foreign country while taking classes at the University of Cape Town. Figuring out how to balance class, hobbies, new experiences, and so much more has been a learning process- one that I wouldn’t trade for anything. Below I have described this experience in greater detail from expectations to final thoughts. Enjoy!
Expectation: Cape Town and UCT would be more racially diverse.
The reality check: Though this area is definitely more racially diverse than the predominantly white countryside of Germansville, Pennsylvania, the majority of students who attend the University of Cape Town are white. This is due to the corrupt education system of South Africa and to the lasting effects of Apartheid.
Expectation: Before coming to Cape Town, I had this unrealistic expectation that I would spend everyday adventuring and exploring, experiencing new things. I mean, I believe that deep down I knew that this wasn’t true but wouldn’t that have been nice.
The reality check: Even with all the new experiences to embark on, you still have to attend classes and complete your assignments. Don’t get me wrong, I did have my fair share of adventures and good times, but I also remembered to study hard.
Expectation: I thought that it would warm during my entire trip for the most part. I was warned that it got chilly at night and a friend of mine had regretted not bringing enough sweaters when he visited two semesters before, but I took it light-heartedly.
The reality check: In reality, the cold nights came very soon, and the cold days came about half-way through the semester. Though it got cold early on, I thankfully packed a decent number of jeans and a few sweatshirts. Sadly, someone stole my coat right out of the dryer when I was doing my laundry the first month we had been here.
Expectation: As anyone who comes from a small, private school, heading to a school such as UCT would be a different experience.
The reality check: It was very different. I knew the class sizes would be different, but I didn’t realize the impact that each assignment would have on my final mark for the course. All that extra fluff back in the States such as participation points, random assignment points and anything else besides the exams and major papers doesn’t really exist.
It sounds cheesy, but every day is what you make it. Whether you decide to get an early start to your day or sleep in, whether you choose to eat every meal out or cook your food, and whether you choose to hang out with your friends or have a day alone… all your decisions add up. It also depends on your perspective and attitude. A rainy day inside can turn into a fun day spent with your gal-pals watching movies and drinking wine. Every situation has a bright side, you just need to find it!
Listening to your body is super important and that becomes very evident throughout my time here. From having a root canal done to possibly having the flu… I had my fair share of doctor visits. It’s important to listen to what your body is telling you. If it’s telling you to rest, make sure to rest. Eating healthy and regular exercise also helps you maintain good health and to feel better overall. No, it’s not the cure to a bad day or what have you (please equal pay attention to your mental health), but it’s a great addition to your daily routine.
That spontaneity can be a great break from routine. If you know me at all, you know I’m a major list maker. From grocery shopping to school assignments that are due to potential future races to books of the Bible to read… I have a list for everything. Lists help me to stay organized and focused in my very chaotic life. I’ve learned though that being spontaneous keeps things fresh and adds a little spice to life. Saying yes to a spontaneous road trip or to a blind date or to an impromptu surfing lesson can be just what you need to break out of your routine and relax.
One important lesson that I have learned is that you don’t need as much “stuff” as you think you do. Traveling with only one checked bag and one carry-on bag, I can speak to the liberation that is felt by having less rather than more. Learning that I could survive the semester with only a few school supplies, one family photo, a couple of shirts, jeans, shorts, etc., my laptop, phone, a few books, and some miscellaneous things put into perspective how much I had at home and took for granted on an everyday basis. I feel driven to go home and donate a lot of my clothes and other unused things to those who are not as fortunate.
A few dollars can go a long way. Unfortunately, many people believe that in order to experience new things and to push out of your comfort zone that you need to break the bank. This, however, is NOT TRUE. Yes, there are a lot of experiences such as snorkeling with seals, going on safari or cage-diving with sharks that cost money, but there are also experiences such as hiking up Table Mountain, visiting museums, attending festivals and markets, etc. that don’t cost nearly as much. I am a firm believer in that it doesn’t matter as much what you are doing but who you are doing it with that makes all the difference.
For a more in-depth description of what I have learned, refer to my blog post titled Live and Learn.
Here are a few of my goals once returning to the States:
I cannot wait to see my friends and family, but also to hug my dogs and cats. And oh how I have missed driving around in my car with the windows down and the music blasting. In summation, I cannot wait to enjoy my last summer break before post-undergraduate life and big decisions.
Though I may have struggled at times with being home-sick, which never happens, I am going to miss Cape Town and the experiences I have had. South Africa is so beautiful… from the mountains to the oceans to the people and to the food, South Africa has stolen my heart.
My time here has taught me the importance of balancing school, relationships and experiences. It has opened my eyes to my own personal strengths and weaknesses, giving me the room I needed in order to grow. I am grateful for the opportunity I have had.