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By rbhargava

I've got about 10 minutes left in Stellenbosch before I head out on a 19 day trip through South Africa and Zimbabwe, ending at Victoria Falls on the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia. The past few days have been extremely hectic between saying bye to friends, planning my trip, packing, and trying to fit in last minute hikes/trips/activities that I haven't had the chance to do before. Even though I've been done with all my classes for over a week now, I've probably felt busier the past few days than ever before. In a few minutes I'll be taking an overnight bus to Port Elizabeth, from where I'll be traveling with various groups of friends through the Wild Coast to Durban. From Durban I'll be taking a bus to Joburg and meeting with another group of friends. From Joburg, I'll be taking a stop in Polokwane in the northeastern part of South Africa before quickly traveling through Zimbabwe, crossing over the border into Zambia and then flying back to Cape Town for one final night at Stellenbosch. On the 20th I'll finally be heading back home. Quite the itinerary!! I'm not sure how much internet connect I'll have, and more importantly computer access (I'm not bringing my laptop), but I hope to have at least one blog post along the way. Looking forward to sharing some absolutely amazing stories in my next blog! Until then, although it is extremely bittersweet to be leaving Stellenbosch, I'm excited for the last leg of my memorable time studying abroad!

By rbhargava

Last week was my last week of classes, and my last week of the semester. Normally I would be preparing for exams now, but my three courses had their final exams/final classes last week. The first round of exams goes on until November 19th, so I could have hypothetically been taking exams until then. I got lucky! Last Wednesday was my final exam for Transitional Justice as well as my last CIEE class, and last Friday was our “Celebration of Work” for the community engagement course I am in. At the celebration of work we presented a 20 minute documentary on our time as part of the LSCE course. Although I helped with the editing, I think the documentary is a complete exaggeration of the “transformation” that it advertises, and romanticizes the idea of working with “African” kids. Nonetheless, it offers a great taste of what part of my life has been like the past few months. If you have the free time here is the link to watch it:

For the next week I’ll be hanging around Stellenbosch trying to fit in one last trip to my favorite restaurants and places, new trips to places I have yet to go to, and lots and lots of goodbyes to friends from around the world. Next Sunday I’ll begin a 3 week journey through parts of South Africa, Botswana, and Zambia and then head back home. Having finished all my classes last week, I’ve had some time to reflect and many of my activities nowadays are unfortunately labeled as the last time I’ll do XYX.

Last Thursday, CIEE organized a farewell dinner at Bistro13, a top restaurant in the area. Eating our last meal together as a group (the group is the program director Joe, our course convener Ruenda, and then the three students on the program), I realized how much time we had all spent together and the journey we went on. It is very strange to think the program is essentially over at this point and I won’t be seeing Joe and Ruenda regularly now. Over the past few months we have had countless meals and classes together, and at times felt more like a family than a program. We’ve spent time with the Joe and Ruenda’s spouses, traveled around the area with them, and even gone to a Heritage Dinner with them at one of their friends’ homes. Having only three people on the program has allowed for a very unique experience that I am extremely lucky to have been part of. I’ve referenced this many times before in this blog, and I’ll say it again – the experience that CIEE offers at Stellenbosch is like no other – because you quickly forget you are an exchange student and become deeply entrenched into regular day life here.

Speaking of regular day life, almost all of my weekends have been abnormal since I’ve tried to see and do as much as possible. But this past weekend was an exception as I stayed in the Stellenbosch area for both Saturday and Sunday for the first time in a long time. Both days I ended up going to the Jonkershoek Valley and spending time with two of my closest friends here. On Saturday I went with my friend Callee to the Jonkershoek Nature Valley with the intention of swimming in the dam, but that failed and turned into us walking through a stream in the valley and finding nice little pools along the way to relax in. The next morning I returned to the valley by bike with Nadine (a Dutch friend!) and we biked through the valley – stopping at a beautiful bikers cafe to enjoy the valley one last time. In total, I’ve now gone through the valley/hiked in the nature reserve 5 times. It’s returning to your favorite places again and again that make you really appreciate the place you are in, and I am definitely going to miss all the great memories I’ve made biking and hiking in Jonkershoek.

Just this evening a South African friend living in Metanoia – Natali – invited 6 of us internationals living in Metanoia to her house in Durbanville for a braai. It was a fantastic time eating some great food and meeting some of her family and friends. It was a fantastic way to end my last full weekend in Stellenbosch. Only after dinner when Natali was dropping us all off back at Metanoia did we realize we may leave Stellenbosch before she would come back for her exams. It was a sad wake-up call to the ever-nearing end of my time here! I think it might already be time to start planning another trip here.

By rbhargava

Earlier this week I realized all my classes will be complete by October 24th, which is unfortunately in only 12 days. Two more weeks of class and I’ll be done with my studies here at Stellenbosch. I’ll still be in the area traveling around until November 20th, but the close proximity of the end of classes means many goodbyes are soon to come, which deeply saddens me. I’m hoping the next two weeks of class will be the best yet, although they will probably be the busiest too.
Besides coming to terms that my time here is almost over, I had another excellent week highlighted by a Saturday drive around the Cape Peninsula, which included my third time going to Cape Point and my fourth time going through Simonstown. I’ve now visited Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope more than most local students here, but I’ve enjoyed every trip there. This time, I went there with the same friends I went with on my spring break trip (with one person swapped). Thus the day trip reminded me much of our trip in early September, which feels like it was only yesterday. As the navigator for the day, I was pleasantly surprised by how well I have come to know the roads and regions in the area. More than ever before I feel comfortable here in Stellenbosch and have realized I’ve become more knowledgeable of many of the big attractions in the area than many South Africans who take these places for granted…just like any local would. I’ve been so lucky to have had such an opportunity to get to know the Western Cape so well, and am really hoping now to come back some day…possibly for a Masters degree or even a job.
Speaking of feeling at home, I’ve been lucky enough to make some amazing friends here, including an English South African who lives just outside Cape Town in a suburb called Claremont. After going around the peninsula, I went to her house along with another American friend for her 21st birthday party. The party was Under the Sea themed, and her house was beautifully decorated to fit the theme. I went with a pirate hat and an eye-patch, and over the course of the night got to meet many of her friends from both high school and Stellenbosch, as well as many of her relatives. It was a fantastic party, and in the end I really felt like I was a part of the community and everyday life here. From hearing stories and following along with friends who have been and are currently abroad, it seems like many never really go past being long-term tourists and connect with their host country at a deeper level. I’ve been very fortunate to have made such amazing friends who are from South Africa and have connected with South Africa so much so that I often forget that I’m only here for a small period of time. Study abroad by definition is a very temporary experience, but my goal is to come away with new perspectives as well as long-lasting friendships a relationships. As my trip comes to an end, I am starting to anticipate the challenges of going back home and retaining those perspectives and friendships while life moves on.