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By Brielle Powers

As my study abroad program ended a little over two weeks ago and I am now back in the United States, I’ve had the opportunity to reflect upon my experience in Cape Town. I was lucky enough to volunteer with Teach Out for the majority of the semester and gained valuable insights that I hope to take with me back to DC. However, many of the questions I have asked myself regarding my experience have yet to be answered. One of them being, what does it mean to be doing service or volunteer work in a foreign country?

Especially in a country such as South Africa, where the consequences of colonization are still very prevalent, the topic of Western volunteerism is very controversial. While many volunteer programs are successful because they are run and managed by locals within the community they serve, there are an endless flow of volunteers from Western countries that spend just days or weeks at a service site only to leave the community waiting for the next group of volunteers. Therefore, when deciding where to volunteer I wanted to choose an organization that wasn’t temporary. Teach Out is not only a permanent volunteer organization but it is primarily comprised of South African students who are dedicated to improving public education in South Africa.

With this in mind, and after having lengthy discussions in class regarding colonialism and it’s modern day implications, I began tutoring with Teach Out with an open mind. The other American students on my program and I would often talk with each other about “White Saviorism” and what it meant for us as white, Western women volunteering in South Africa. So, in the past few weeks I’ve been reevaluating why I wanted to volunteer while abroad in the first place and whether or not I felt I was able to make a difference while there.

Service has been part of my everyday life since high school. As a member of Epsilon Sigma Alpha at GW, most of my weekends consist of helping out at food banks or with National Park Service. So to me, doing a service project while studying abroad was a given. However, the more I reflect on my time at Usasazo High School, in ways I have never done after serving in DC, I wonder if I had any right to be there. What were my intentions? Did I want to volunteer just to make myself feel good? Was it out of guilt for my own privilege?

I still don’t have a clear answer. While I would like to think my volunteer work was purely altruistic, any of these motivations could be true. And as far as whether or not I was able to make a difference by tutoring, I believe my experience allowed me to be a small part of a large influence on the student’s lives. The UCT students who make TeachOut successful and who dedicate time and effort to the Usasazo students will surely continue to make a lasting difference in their lives. And having been able to be just a small part of the bigger goal of improving education in South Africa assures me that the work we did made a difference.

I think the most valuable thing about my the service I did while abroad are these realizations. My study abroad experience would not have been the same without Teach Out. I am eternally grateful for all that it has taught me and the wonderful relationships I was able to form through the organization. And even though I may have learned much more than I was able to teach at Usasazo, I still believe it was meaningful. I now have the opportunity to take what I’ve learned back with me to GW so that I can be a better, more conscious, volunteer and do more meaningful service in DC.

By Brielle Powers

Though I may technically be the “tutor” on Saturday mornings at Usasazo High School, I have become a student in so many ways during my time in South Africa. Beyond my classes at UCT, in every interaction I have here I am constantly questioning, absorbing, wanting to learn more. I’ve come to realize that engaging with the community is not always about the service rendered but about the knowledge gained.

As a TeachOut tutor, I can’t help but think I’m learning so much more than I could possibly teach. In the past few sessions, we’ve worked on figurative language, debating, and poetry. Since I studied the same concepts at their age, I try my best to employ the same methods and tricks my previous teachers used to help me. But some of these efforts are to no avail as I continue to struggle to relate to the students. However, I think I am making some progress and the students are becoming more receptive to me.

On one Saturday, there was a miscommunication about whether or not there would be a tutoring session and we had only a few students in each class. This made the session less intimidating than the ones in the past and it was nice to be able to have one-on-one time with the students.

As the students were completing their worksheets and we had finished reviewing the elements of a sentence, one of the Grade eight students raised her hand. She said she didn’t understand the difference between a direct and indirect object. So logically I told her how I remembered the difference -- through a rap I learned in the seventh grade.

As I was signing “a direct object is a noun or pronoun that receives that action of an action verb,” I could tell she was starting to understand and she was able finished her worksheet without assistance. Some of the other students like the song and I was able to go around the classroom with ease, seeing where they needed clarification.

Another one of the TeachOut tutors has been tutoring English at Usasazo for almost two years now and helps guide me as to how to explain the concepts to the students. She handles the class so well and is extremely passionate about helping the students pass matriculation, which is South Africa’s version of the GED, a standardized test that students must pass in order to graduate high school. She has taught me a lot about the South African education system and about how programs like TeachOut are integral for public school students who don’t necessarily get the extra help they need in overcrowded and understaffed classrooms.

While I have been making small achievements towards connecting with the students, I’m eager to do more, to get to know them better, and to help them pass their exams. I find myself spending a lot of my time talking to the other tutors. While the students take practice quizzes, I ask them about their high schools and why they started tutoring at Usasazo. I think exchanges like this are what makes community engagement so impactful. Having the ability to talk through and compare and contrast experiences enable us to learn from each other. We are all teachers and students and should take on each role by being open to learning new things, eager to ask questions, and willing to share our own experiences.

By Brielle Powers

The first time I volunteered as a tutor with TeachOut, it was my first time going to a South African township. I should mention that the night before my first tutoring session, I had also just spent the night in Camps Bay, one of the nicest (and wealthiest) beachside neighborhoods in Cape Town. A girl on my program was celebrating her birthday so we all decided to rent an Airbnb for the occasion. Since the exchange rate is about 14 South African Rand to 1 U.S. Dollar, it seemed like a steal for us to be able to stay in a beachside mansion for a night.

I mention this because it was the first time I was confronted with the gross inequality in South Africa. Despite having just spent the night in a beautiful extravagantly furnished home (did I mention it had a full pool?...amid the water crisis...AND heat?...a true rarity in cool Cape Town winters), the next morning I was on a minibus to Khayelitsha, one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city.

From what I had read before coming to Cape Town (and imagined from Trevor Noah’s accounts) I thought I had known what to expect entering a township. However, per usual, my expectations were off.

I pictured the townships as fenced-off, secluded communities away from the city. But as soon as I flew into Cape Town International and drove away from the airport, I realized this wasn’t true. In Cape Town, you can literally happen upon a township by taking a few wrong turns. There are fences (twenty year old remnants of apartheid) but they’re broken down, panels missing, giving the inquisitive passenger driving by a peek into a mini city.

There aren’t many of what an average American would call “homes” in the townships. They’re more like shacks, rectangular buildings held together by pieces of scrap metal and wood. Some with additional rooms added on, some stacked on top of others, some closed off with barbed wire fences. As we drive further in toward the school, we pass barber shops, food stands, braai (which is barbeque in Afrikaans) grills, and preschools. Goats and stray dogs mill around, digging through the trash on the side of the road.

Our tutoring sessions start early, around 9:00 am and despite it being Saturday, the streets in Khayelitsha are always busy with people milling around, kids running and chasing after each other, shop owners attending to their customers or rearranging their products. Once we get to the high school, we can usually see all the students in their uniforms hanging out before classes. My favorite thing about Khayelitsha is the strong sense of community you feel even just driving through it.

On the first day, I decided to tutor the English classes (as I haven’t taken a single math class since junior year of high school) and we split the students up into Grade 8 and Grade 9 sessions. Myself, along with another new tutor, took Grade 8 students first. When I walked into the classroom, I was first shocked by how many students were there. Though there were maybe only 10 or 15, it was crazy to me that high schoolers would willingly come to school on Saturday mornings just for extra math and English practice.

I remember once in high school when we had had too many snowdays and the superintendent was considering making us go to class on Saturdays to make up for the lost time. Everyone rebelled. Looking back, education is just another thing I’ve taken for granted my entire life, something I’ve seen as more of a chore or obligation rather than as an opportunity. Yet these students welcomed an extra chance to learn.

Our lesson plan for the day focused around sentence structure and identifying things like the subject, predicate, direct object, etc. Some of the kids seemed familiar with this already, so we took the opportunity to quiz them as a review. They were a little hesitant to participate at first, but I attributed that to typical high schoolers being “too cool” to be a teacher’s pet. However, it could also have been that they couldn’t really understand my accent when I asked a question.

One thing I’ve learned is that there is no one “South African accent.” In a country with over eleven official languages, a defined accent just doesn’t exist. However, most South Africans are taught British English and thus have very different pronunciations than Americans. To these students, who mainly speak isiXhosa at home and only learn English in school, my American accent was funny, something some of them only hear watching shows on TV. Although I enjoyed making them giggle and smirk, I instantly became aware of my foreignness, my whiteness, my alienation.

At this point, my biggest challenge as a tutor is making connections with the students. I think this stems primarily from language. It’s hard to feel like you are making a difference when you are not entirely sure the dozens of eyes looking up at you understand what you are saying. There are some tutors with TeachOut who live in Khayelitsha, who know isiXhosa, and who can show them that, yes, one day you too can go to one of the top universities in Africa. But for someone like me, who’s had a vastly different background, it’s difficult to find things in common.

In the next few tutoring sessions, I hope to work on this challenge a little bit more. By just putting in more effort to get to know the students better, to learn their names (and how to pronounce them correctly), and to learn where I can best help them academically I think I will have a much greater impact.

By Brielle Powers

Deciding where to study abroad was HARD. I knew this was my chance to finally to go overseas and leave the U.S. for the first time so I had high expectations. The thought of living in a foreign country for over four months was so exciting. A part of me got caught up in the possibilities of just earning stamps on my passport by going somewhere in Europe where I could travel every weekend. Having taken Spanish for seven years, the GW Madrid program was a logical choice. The opportunity to become comfortable in the language and experience the different cultures of various countries throughout Europe was appealing.

But another part of me, the part that always tells me to not do what everyone else is doing, said ‘Brielle, this is your chance to do something different.’ I thought of a seventh grade project where my teacher had us act as the heads of state of different countries. I represented South Africa and since then had read whole library sections of books on South Africa, wanting to learn everything I possibly could about its environment, culture, and politics. As a tribute to my younger self, I felt that moving to Cape Town would be a way of coming full circle.

However, my indecisiveness kicked in and I went back and forth between Spain and South Africa for months. It wasn’t until my mom surprisingly advocated that I go to South Africa that I was able to make a decision. Despite her concern over safety and distance from home, she knew it had always been a dream of mine to travel to Africa. Afterall, when else in my life would I have the opportunity to live there for four months?

So I applied to CIEE’s Arts and Sciences program in Cape Town, South Africa where I would be able study alongside South African students at the University of Cape Town (UCT). When searching for programs I knew I also wanted to be able to continue to do service. As a member of Epsilon Sigma Alpha, GW’s community service and leadership sorority, my weekends back in DC are usually spent serving at soup kitchens and elderly homes or picking up trash on the National Mall. I knew I wanted to make service and integral part of my abroad experience so I made sure CIEE had community engagement opportunities that I could participate in to better learn about the community I would be living in.

However, during orientation, a UCT student group presented a few opportunities for semester study abroad students to join community engagement projects. It was through them that I discovered Teach Out, a UCT student organization that travels to different schools in local townships almost every day of the week to tutor students.

Entirely student run, Teach Out operates as a non-profit and provides transportation for UCT students to the schools. Additionally, UCT students on the executive board of Teach Out create math and English worksheets and answer sheets for the tutors to provide for the students.

While Teach Out operates in different schools in different townships in Cape Town for all ages of students, every Saturday morning, I tutor Grade 8 and Grade 9 students in English at Usasazo High School in Khayelitsha. While I have already participated in a few tutoring sessions, I am excited to continue to build relationships with the students and fellow tutors throughout the semester.

By kenzconnors

I've been bouncing around Cape Town, South Africa for four days as of now. The first week of my SIT program is an orientation. On the first day the academic director, Stewart, actually dropped us off at a random place in the city and told us to find our assigned destination. My group was assigned the Greenpoint Stadium--the stadium that was built for the World Cup in 2010. We walked MILES to find our way there and introduced ourselves to the public transportation system in Cape Town.

When we got there, we noticed a very large crowd. There was a day-long performance competition going on to celebrate the freedom of the slaves. My small group bought a ticket for 60 rand each and had so much fun listening to the music and watching the performances. This first day was hectic so I was excited to be able to relax at Bloudenberg Strand (strand means "beach" in Afrikaans) and Buffelsfontein the next day.

I can't even begin to explain the beauty that was Buffelsfontein. We learned that this word means "Buffalo Fountain" in Afrikaans. Buffelsfontein is a wildlife reserve that we spent three nights on. My entire cohort of 24 people stayed in a home with glass windows that allowed us to see the animals roam the reserve around us. I woke up to the cutest family of zebras outside my window in the morning!

...continue reading "Wildebeests, Rhinos, Giraffes, OH MY"

By kenzconnors

As I sit in the gate of my connecting flight in Dubai, UAE, I cannot believe that I am one step closer to arriving in the city of Cape Town. I have never seen an airport this extravagant and beautiful. I can't wait until I get to spend a couple of days here in May after my program culminates! A couple of weeks ago I connected with another girl, Adeline, who is also from Massachusetts and in my program. Luckily, we had each other to figure out how to get around the bustling Dubai airport! Having her by my side has really been invaluable.

Without a doubt, my biggest fear has been the long flights to both cities (13 hrs to Dubai, 10 to Cape Town). However, with the help of feel-good movies, delicious food, and lots of shut-eye, the flight was incredible and exceeded my expectations. It was over before I knew it. It also didn't hurt that complimentary wi-fi was provided.  I sat next to an awesome couple on their way to Mumbai; they gave me tips and tricks on how to conquer international flights, which as an inexperienced world traveler, I was grateful for.

...continue reading "DuBAI America…"

By rbhargava

On Thursday Nov 13, Hunter, Jannis, Rita, and I left the Happy 2B Backpackers in Joburg for Polokwane. The bus ride took about 4 hours, and we arrived in Polokwane in the early afternoon. Not entirely sure how to get from the Polokwane train station to the airport (where we had rented a car from Hertz), we spent a few minutes trying to figure out how to get there before a random guy who appeared to be a taxi driver offered us to take us there. The man – Siyanda – turned out to be a very kind guy, although we were all skeptical whether or not he was actually a licensed taxi driver. His car had a “For Sale” sign in the back and seemed to be falling apart.

As the Hertz office in the airport, we came across the most incompetent employees I have ever seen, and spent an absurd amount of time trying to get our rental car at the price we had booked it at online. An hour or so later though, we were off on our way to Sabie – a small town close to the Blyde River Canyon (and also Kruger National Park). The drive, as every drive is in South Africa, was a beautiful one…and we enjoyed driving a large chunk of Limpopo and Mpumalanga. Driving through very small rural towns, we were surprised to find a massive mall halfway along the route at a town called Burgersfort. We stopped to eat there, and found the mall to be crowded and identical to any mall you would find in the states. It was quite a weird scene, although a few conversations and google searches later -we realized that platinum mining had made this previously tiny village into a well developed town of much wealth. It was a strange town to drive through in the midst of rural South Africa, but one that really captured the importance and influence of mining in the country.

As usual, the drive took much longer than we had anticipated, and we arrived in Sabie in the dark. After checking into our hostel, Sabie Backpackers, we searched for some food in town and soon realized that it was a very dead place to be. Almost everything was closed or empty, and none of had much of an appetite in this eery town. The next day we drove to Graskop, a town about 30 minutes away, checked into our next backpackers – Valley View Backpackers – and set out to see the beautiful Blyde River Canyon. The canyon is known to be the largest “green” canyon in the world – as no other canyon of its size has green vegetation within it. Unfortunately, when we got to the most famous viewpoint above the canyon – God’s Window – we were in the clouds and visibility was close to nothing. We saw none of the canyon…just never-ending whiteness. We spent the rest of the day driving around the area – seeing a few waterfalls, swimming in a natural pool, and walking around the small town. Hunter and I also went on a giant swing in the canyon, in which we jumped off backward from a platform and had a 3 second free fall before the swing caught us and swayed us back and forth. This was by far the highlight of the day, and the fact that the canyon was full of clouds made the fall into an abyss of whiteness extremely cool.

That night I became quite sick and vomited a few times…but thankfully I was fine in the morning! This turned out to be the only time the entire time I was in South Africa that I was “sick.” Quite an impressive feat!

The next morning, after a great breakfast in Graskop, we drove along the length of the canyon and finally got a view of parts of the canyon. It was beautiful, and through the canyon one could see Kruger National Park, and behind that Mozambique. From the canyon we drove back to Polokwane, stopping at the Echo caves for a tour of expansive caves that were inhabited thousands of years ago.

After dropping off the car at the airport in Polokwane, we struggled to find a taxi and ended up calling our friend Siyanda for a ride to the bus stop. We were in for quite the night as we had booked an overnight bus to Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. The last leg of traveling was about to begin!

Continuing on, on Saturday the 15th we took an overnight bus to Zimbabwe. The bus we took from Polokwane to Bulawayo – Eagle Liner – was full of Zimbabweans returning home…and was far from luxurious. At around 12:30am we arrived at the South African side of the border, where we all had to disembark the bus and get an exit stamp on our visa. The line was long, and we spent about half an hour there. Once on the Zimbabwean side, our bus waited in a long line of trucks and other buses until we were asked again to disembark. As foreigners – we had to wait in line to buy a Zimbabweans visa for 300 rand/$30, and then get our customs forms approved by a separate station. Thankfully, the bus operator helped us fill out the forms and get our visas. We thought we were all set to go, but then we were asked to take all our luggage off the bus for “inspection.” Three hours after arriving at the border, we were finally in Zimbabwe and on our way. The border crossing was quite an experience, and later in the early hours of the morning we came across a few roadblocks by what seemed like police officers. Every roadblock we passed seemed to be literally in the middle of no where – and our bus driver appeared to be bribing the officers at each roadblock to get through. It was quite strange…and I felt quite thankful we were in a bus and not driving our own car.

When we finally arrived in Bulawayo, it was Sunday morning and the city was completely dead. We took a taxi to the train station, where we planned on taking a train that night to Victoria Falls. The station was closed until the afternoon, so we decided to walk around the city. In the middle of the city is a massive power plant with cooling towers that dominate the skyline, and it made the city feel very eery as we walked around the relatively empty streets. Realizing there was little to do there the entire day, we decided to take a local bus all the way through to Victoria Falls. The bus ride was about 7 hours long and gave us a great opportunity to see much of the country. I was surprised by how undeveloped and empty it seemed, as there was very little to see besides small villages and huts here and there.

We finally arrived at Victoria Falls in the evening, checked into Victoria Falls Backpackers, and had a nice dinner at a completely empty Asian restaurant. It truly seemed like off-peak season. On Monday, we spent most of the day at the Zimbabwe side of Victoria Falls. We came at the driest time of the year, so although it was beautiful, they were underwhelming compared to what they are earlier in the year. The day itself was quite uneventful, and the next morning we took a taxi to the border crossing and walked over the bridge into Zambia. After checking into our backpackers in the nearby city of Livingstone, we booked a trip to the famous Devil’s Pool, where one can swim in a natural pool on the edge of the fall. The experience was absolutely surreal, and one of the highlights of my entire time in South Africa. A guide took us through a very marshy area to Livingstone Island, right on the edge of the waterful. Normally, one has to take a boat to the island, but because it was the dry season we could walk. From the island, we had to swim across the river, with the falls roaring down several meters to the left of us, to the natural pool. At the pool, there was little time to think and we were all swimming on the edge within a few seconds. The view was magnificent and to watch the water we were swimming in crash down beneath us was incredible.

That night we had a fantastic meal at a local restaurant called Cafe Zambezi, and celebrated the end of our trip. Late the next morning, Hunter and I had to say goodbye to Jannis and Rita (who were continuing on through Zambia and to Malawi), and left for the airport to return back to Stellenbosch. It was another sad goodbye, and I was quite jealous that they were to continue traveling. Nonetheless though, Victoria Falls was a perfect place to end my travels. I could not have imagined swimming in Devil’s Pool months earlier when I arrived in southern Africa, but what an experience it was! Already looking forward to coming back for another round.

By clairemac93

I pour out the contents of the folder that perched in my cabinet for the duration of my year in Stellenbosch. Not once sifted through. I cast my memories into this folder- ticket stubs, notes from friends and roommates, pictures, and brochures. On day one, I started with my plane tickets; this being my longest journey to a new country. However past that, it’s blurry where this odd assortment can be placed in the space and time of my year. Concert wrist bands from that Afrikaans festival where we dogpiled in public and danced to music not even on-par with the worst of wedding bands. One labeled “Balkan dance rave” where, unsurprisingly, I lost my phone and from what I can remember, there was a dead pig hanging from the ceiling. A receipt from the Cape Town city tour bus, where in the pouring rain, alone, I spent an entire day seeing everything I’d put off the previous semester. Stormers tickets. A recipe for Fettkook. Knicknacks from an off-season Karnival hosted by the German Society. A secret note passed to me in class by my best friend in Stellies during the first week we met, “Hoe gaan dit mit jou Afrikaans?” Each item turning my brain a new direction, making me think of different people, making me remember how I felt at that moment.

I’m aware that most of the reason that I kept these things, mostly pieces of paper, is to remind myself that this year happened. As much as I now have moments which so influenced me in how free, or happy, or moved I was that I have a clear, still-frame image in my mind of that moment…I fear that given enough time that image will fade, or be forgotten. And scarier still, I fear that I’ll forget the feeling I had along with its image. These items consequently help me physically and mentally piece together where I was and where I am now.

To be perfectly honest, I was waiting to write this last entry until some morning that I woke up after coming home, when the lessons I learned in South Africa would suddenly be made clear and I would write my feelings down and feel satisfied for an easy summarization of my time. And yet, 3 weeks in, and I’m yet to have that moment. South African culture was much harder to pin down or understand than other countries I’ve visited. Each family I stayed with, each town I visited, was so starkly different that each time I walked away with even the basic facts I thought I’d learned about the country shattered. So often did this happen that eventually I gave up on trying to draw any generalizations across people. In many ways this was part of the excitement- always questioning, always confused, always open. But in other ways it made living in Stellenbosch frustrating, as a town relatively monochromatic and privileged, as I had to make a concerted effort to put myself into the unfamiliar.

This being said, I left my year as exactly who I wanted to be. I saw Johannesburg, jumped off the highest bridge in Africa, did two homestays in local townships, traveled to Namibia and along the Garden Route, met my South African relatives, and hiked my fair share of mountains. But at the moment, to be frank, I hardly need to factor those bits into my year. I walked away from South Africa a much better, and purer version of myself, than who had left. I learned to stand up for myself, to focus on others, to live in the moment, and how to verbalize my feelings to those who made me feel used or hurt. I found that life is as simple or complicated as you make it. And I learned to address, via the behaviors of others and myself, the person I want to be and how to honor that via my actions and inactions. And that, is what I’m most proud of from my year.

I am of the opinion that a year abroad is in the end just another 12 months in your life, which is made spectacular and life-changing by the fact that there is a clear start and end date, as opposed to other years in which that blurs. Though I continue to struggle to figure out what this year meant to me, while simultaneously having to evaluate where my life goes in 6 months when I graduate, I am thankful for having had a year to gear all my energy towards shamelessly questioning, exploring, laughing, and wondering - things I often lose sight of in the bustle of the city.

Thank you to everyone who read my blog, to the friends from home who kept me consistently motivated and giggling, to my grandma for always being my most avid and engaged reader and my always inspiration for traveling, to the families who let me into their homes, and most importantly, to my parents for dealing with my visa problems and tendency to wander.

“For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return.”

~Leonardo di Vinci

By clairemac93

Having lived in two locations abroad for a year each, one time in high school (Germany) and the other in college (South Africa), I can’t help but think of what I would change or tweak if I could do them over again. Though I would never regret anything I’ve done, most of the advice that I would give my younger self, or anyone studying abroad, are things TO do, rather than NOT TO do.

As such, I’ve compiled a list of tips or suggestions as to how to get the most out of your study abroad experience!

  1. Try all of the nomz. I’m a firm believer that food tells you a lot about a culture, and also gains you respect with locals who see you branching out. Though some cringe at my having eaten a sheep’s face in South Africa, it can’t be any grosser than a hotdog from the United States or McNuggets at McDonalds, of which I have no idea what the origins of the food are. At least with the sheep’s face I knew it came from a real animal as I was looking at its face, and I shook hands with the man who cooked it in front of me. Just take a deep breath, remember this may be the only time you can try this, and eat it. As a caveat to this- do not, under any circumstance, reject food from someone. If someone is making the effort and spending the time and money to cook a meal for you, they are trying to show they care. So please, if I can eat chunky sour apple and carrot purée to show my respect for someone’s mom trying to feed me, you can eat the unfamiliar food too.
  2. Do a homestay, or create a homestay. I know, I know, some friend of yours told you some story about her sister’s boyfriend’s uncle who had a weird host family who locked him in a closet or something. However, 99.99% of actual host families are volunteers and nice, welcoming people who are eager to learn about your culture as well as share theirs. Homestays mean home-cooked meals and an intimate look at the everyday lives of locals. You can be a cultural authority on everything from a traditional family holiday meal to what type of toothpaste locals buy. If you can’t stay the entire time with a host family, ask a friend if you could go home with them for a weekend. Then do it with another friend. This will help you to gain a more representative picture of the culture and also potentially free food and a comfortable bed for a weekend.
  3. Put your camera/Smartphone down. Now, this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and I don’t mean you shouldn’t take any photos. But a lot of times I find that people are so focused on capturing the moment that they end up missing it. Forgetting a memory is not the most horrible thing to ever happen- and the events that most moved you will remain in your memory, whether they have a picture of them or not.
  4. Make a concerted effort to stay away from your countrymen. I hate to say it, but it’s a comfort blanket. I couldn’t tell you how many students abroad I’ve seen whose pictures from their entire stay are not only just with other Americans, but only with Americans from their home university. But I totally get it- a lot of programs house everyone from the program together, sometimes you don’t speak the local language, and it takes some time to make local friends. But whether it be joining a rec soccer team, a choir, getting a job as a waitress or bartender, or just hitting up a study buddy for a drink—make sure that when you look back at your week, you can pinpoint times when you put yourself out of your comfort zone and reached out to locals [As a side note to this: traveling in large groups of Americans is a surefire way of preventing locals from talking to you. Big groups are unapproachable and scary. Try going to a café on your own or going to a bar with just one other person]
  5. Make your own opportunity. This is a new one for me, but one I’m hoping to bring home in full-force. I’m used to being the person who waits anxiously until another person asks me to do something with them, and sometimes, that means I never become friends with that person because they never ask. So instead, you create your own event. For example, hosting a dinner. You can cook the first time and ask people to bring refreshments or snacks, and then to continue it, you can ask if someone’s willing to host it the next time. This way, at least the first time it gets people to come over, incentivized by the free meal, and hopefully by the end they’ll think you’re awesome. Or host a movie night with hot chocolate. My French friend hosted a wine and cheese event in her room. I suggest these things as someone (and I know I’m not rare) who has been very comfortable in their friend group back home that I’d forgotten how to make new friends and had to relearn. So stop waiting, and create the opportunity!
  6. Don’t accept it’s the end, until it is the end. I’ll explain this, as I’m guilty of it myself. You get to the last month or two of your program, and you can see the end in sight, but you still have a fair amount of time left. Instead of spending it like your first month when you bounced around doing everything, you get wrapped up in the idea that you don’t have the time for things, or become sad over leaving. But there’s no reason to be sad until you are actually leaving, or back in your country. You’ll end up regretting time spent not making new friends or having new experiences or being sad about something that hadn’t even happened yet.
  7. Take your lessons home. Again, this is something new for me but one of my biggest take-aways from South Africa. I often did things, such as stay in a township or try new restaurants or go exploring an area that I wasn’t yet acquainted with, and I caught myself wondering why I didn’t do these things at home. Additionally, when meeting new people in South Africa or their families, I found myself asking them about their parents, grandparents, where they grew up, what their house growing up was like, etc. Then I returned home and realized I’d never even asked my Dad what his grandparents were like. Why am I so curious abroad and yet so complacent in the familiar back home? So as a challenge to yourself, try to explore your home town like you did the town you studied abroad in. Haven’t eaten at that restaurant? Go eat there. Haven’t ever been down that street? Go there. Pretend you are an exchange student in your own town and see what you can find.

And my last piece of advice, is just to have no regrets. Accepting that not every part of your study abroad experience is going to be positive is part of the deal. You never know when you’ll get to travel like this again. So when things start to suck, which is as common to happen abroad as in 6 months months back home, reach out and get out of it as fast as you can. You are so lucky to live abroad- an opportunity that many don’t get. So have fun, do equal amounts of smart and less smart things, branch out, and enjoy!

By clairemac93

The Gods Must Be Crazy. Though an appreciation for British humor was genetically lost on me, this film is worth a view in other ways. It takes place in Botswana, supposedly, but shows the experience of a Khoisan man, or “bushmen”. Khoisan, as written about previously, are the oldest “people” or ethnic group in the world and we can all draw our ancestry to them. I have been to the Khoisan reservation in South Africa three separate times, and each time have learned something new about their way of life, and especially how this group is adapting to ever-encroaching development. When visiting they showed me things like how to find medicine from basic bush plants (including delicious wild mint you can chew on), how keeping the camp area clean is a way of seeing if a snake is in the area by the disturbance of sand, and mating rituals within the tribe.

Aside from the Khoisan, this film is a nice display of, whether they meant to or not, varying viewpoints on who is the outsider in this world. So many look at tribes like the Khoisan and believe them to be underdeveloped or uneducated- as if they are at a disadvantage living their lifestyle, and that their natural progression should be towards a life more like the West. However, they may, and probably do, look at you as the dumb or weird one. I mean, from a personal perspective, I can’t even sew on a button let alone start a fire, and if dropped into the wilderness I would probably be running around trying to catch rabbits with my hands (in fact, as a child my cousins and I used to lie on the deck and dunk our heads in the water to try to catch fish with our bare hands, and were continually disappointed by our lack of success. There was literally no learning curve) In the end, does it make you smarter to be able to use technology and read a book or to be able to provide basic human needs for yourself? Whether it be tribes like the Khoisan, or low-income individuals all over the world, there is a high probability that they know how to do a lot more practical tasks than an “educated” person from the city or the western world, because they’ve had to learn how to do that.