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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

The title seems broad, but months pondering this subject and I’m yet to come up with a better summarization of my feelings. White people here, are indeed, afraid of everything and everyone…it seems at least.

Stellenbosch is located in the Western Cape. It is 17% white, 49% coloured, and 33% black African. But I’m going to be perfectly honest. Despite my returning to the United States and everyone imagining that I spent my days surrounded by “black Africans”, I spend my days in Stellenbosch almost entirely interacting with whites and maybe, coloured people. Stellenbosch is an Afrikaans university, which is why it attracts that demographic. In fact, despite the Western Cape being 17% white, the most of any region in South Africa, Stellenbosch University is 68.5% white.

So great, we’ve established there isn’t much diversity here. But that’s not really my issue, as whether I’m here or at a small liberal arts college in the United States, I will probably find myself disappointed by the sea of white privilege—myself being a part of that. What I’m disappointed about is the connection it has taught me here between race, income and safety.

Last semester we experienced two girls, on their own during dark hours, individually get kidnapped on campus. It shook the campus. Suddenly students were saying there was a “crime spike”. Every kid who had his wallet stolen or was approached by someone weird contributed to this theory. Emails were sent out explaining the situation to parents, and to avoid another “incident”, evening exams offered bus trips for kids to and from the exam venue. I later received an email from the University president that “crime had been pushed to perimeters of campus”.

And I stood there, and I wondered what that meant. Crime had been “pushed” off campus? There was always crime in Stellenbosch. The kidnappings had just made people more aware of it. And there are reasons for that. Despite the university being, predominantly wealthy and white, the town of Stellenbosch itself is not. In fact, Stellenbosch is actually vastly majority coloured and there is a huge township, Kayamandi, viewable from basically every window at this university. Within a 5 minute walk from campus, you can find yourself in a very different world. Forget the tree lined streets and cute cafes, bring in the discounted expired-goods grocery stores and beggars on the streets.

As such, its not so surprising to me that Stellenbosch University would be a target for crime. Kids here have grown up in literal bubbles of gated communities which within themselves have 8 foot walls and security systems. They went to private all-boys and all-girls schools where they receive a world class education while other students in their country can’t afford books or even a school lunch. They walk around campus with I-Phones in hand and newly bought clothes. This is all not so different from my university at home. But what I’m saying is that the blatant display of class difference here would piss me off as someone not part of that social class, too. Though kidnapping is certainly extreme, for a large amount of robberies or theft to go on here is unsurprising to me, as from the outside it looks like these kids have everything- and could certainly live past losing a laptop or a sandwich.

It is also shocking to me that the university would promote its students to stay indoors during evening hours, to bus to and from exams, and to never walk alone. Perhaps living in DC has given me a thick skin, in which they text us to tell us of crime but don’t necessary guide us of what to do- instead assuming us mature enough to react on our own. I feel like promoting these things only keeps these already naive students in their bubble. Hiding from crime does not make it go away and these same students will one day be entering into the real world where crime still happens, and be equally as uneducated of how to handle it.

But that is one more caveat. I totally understand why the kidnappings shook this campus. That just doesn’t happen here and is incredibly unfortunate. However, aside from that students are convinced that Stellenbosch is incredibly dangerous. As they spread this message, as do professors and university officials, a general fear becomes ingrained in students. For example, I had a study partner tell me that she previously lived on another side of Stellenbosch and moved because she felt “unsafe”. I asked her why and what had happened. She told me that nothing ever happened, she just felt it. I asked her if there were more black people around her previous residence, and she explained yes. I’m not sure she caught my connection between the two. Students come to fear the outside world as if its going to eat them alive. It also creates an unnecessary fear of anyone who’s not a clean-cut kid. I was walking with a friend once who saw a black man carrying a chair down the road ahead of us. She instantly grabbed my arm and told me that we should stay away from him because he “looked dangerous”. I, naturally, laughed and asked how carrying a chair makes someone scary. I then explained that if it was a white person carrying that chair, they would assume it was just a student moving or doing something stupid. Suddenly it’s a black guy and you are in danger of the man-with-chair. It’s actually ridiculous.

I am yet to feel unsafe at all in Stellenbosch, any more than I am in DC. I feel that if you look like you know where you are going, what you are doing, and look people in the eyes you are doing yourself the largest favor. I’ve walked at all times of day and night, alone, and have rarely been approached. When I have, I have acted calm and nothing has happened to me. I think that by the time you are in college you should not be hand-holded of how to function day-to-day and unfortunately dealing with crime is part of that here. And even if crime, predominantly theft, does happen, can you really blame them?

By clairemac93

This is the second time this has happened to me abroad, or rather, the second time it’s been this intense of a feeling. It is always towards the end of my stay in another country. You have built up your friend group, a community, your favorite places and foods, and at this point, can fully function in another language. As amazing as it is, midway through your stay your eyes blur slightly in that you don’t see the “specialness” of things anymore. You no longer consider even a trip to the grocery store a “cultural experience” and in fact standing this weekend at a baptism for a mutual friend, I found myself thinking it was just an ordinary day baptizing someone in the ocean. You stop remembering how amazing this is and that other people won’t ever get to witness the things you did. You simply stop thinking, which is part of the experience too.

And that’s where this moment comes in. There is a moment where I am suddenly hit with how absolutely extraordinary my experience is. How thankful I should be for not only every minute, but every second that I am granted here. Perhaps it’s that strategic time before I leave- where I can feel the end coming but have just enough time to savor the flavor of this country.

My moment came about while staying the weekend in a neighboring town called Somerset West with my best friend Helen. It’s the fourth time I’ve stayed with her family for the weekend, and every time I feel closer with each family member. Every time the greetings are more personal, it’s easier to have one-on-one conversations, I know my way around the kitchen better, and I feel more at home. Even the dogs seem to remember me by now. I was sitting around the farm-table with home cooked food made by all 11 of us, telling stories of our midadventures, laughing and poking fun as both family and friends late into the night. I found myself realizing how my year had worked up to that moment where there are no invisible walls, no awkwardness, no foreignness. This felt like home and family. And in a large way they are in my life here. It was the moment you take a mental step back to see the wonderful life you built somewhere and you wish that you could remember every detail of this picture in your mind so that you can savor it forever. I want to remember the grooves in this table from how many years its been used and how many generations have sat here. I want to remember the warmth of this kitchen, and the smell of the fire burning. I want to visualize Helen’s mom smiling, as she does so sparingly. But you know that is impossible, so instead you sit back and enjoy and let it sink in the best you can. If my memory serves me correct, moments like those- even if the details are lost- will stick with you for the long run if not just in a general feeling it gives you when you think back on it.

I’m confident that I won’t leave without having more moments like this, though that one will particularly stick out. I think that it’s a nice reminder, that in those moments of the day that from an outsider perspective may seem boring or mundane- to find that light to realize that the company of the ones you love is such a gift. As corny as it is, with my leaving this country within the month, I can’t help but have a feeling of nostalgia of all I’ve experienced here. It’s hard to admit that it’s ending and it’s hard to know I won’t be able to remember all of it.

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

This past week was another memorable one, with the highlight being my weekend at Rocking the Daisies. As the largest music festival in the Western Cape, and Rocking the Daisies is an event many students in the area eagerly await for every year. Located on a large wine estate in Darling (about an hour north of Cape Town), the venue is absolutely beautiful and attracts crowds from all over South Africa. Between the seven stages and three days I was there, I was able to listen to countless South African artists as well as a few internationally famous bands such as Crystal Fighters and MGMT. Listening to great music out in the hot sun was definitely a great way to start my last month as a student at Stellenbosch. Although several thousand people attended the festival, I felt very much at home as I ran into familiar faces and friends from Stellenbosch every few minutes.

In this week's blog post I want to focus specifically on an issue that I have been meaning to cover for weeks now - violence and crime in South Africa. South Africa is consistently ranked as one of the most violent societies in the world, and this culture can be clearly seen in everyday life here. Anywhere you go, buildings are surrounded by tall electric fences and security precautions can be seen everywhere. Here in Stellenbosch, stories of muggings and robberies are very common. Earlier in the year, there was an attempted kidnapping of a student, which has since prompted the university to bulk up its security and create a Green Route that is heavily patrolled by security officers. When I first arrived here, the general recommendation was to never walk alone during when it is dark outside, and to avoid carrying or displaying valuables in plain sight. Public transportation specifically is often seen as a very dangerous space and most white South Africans will either have never taken the trains here, or will highly recommend finding alternatives. Thus far, I have become quite comfortable here and have thankfully had no incidents. However, for most South Africans - violence and crime is inevitable.

To elaborate on that, I've come across many stories and first-hand experiences that can help paint a picture of what crime is like here. When I first arrived, one of my South African friends told me about a time where she was robbed at gunpoint directly outside of her house in Cape Town. Robbery at gunpoint is quite common here, but I can't imagine what it would be like if that occurred right outside my house. About a month and a half ago, this same friend was a few blocks away from the center of campus when a man assaulted her and tried to rape her. Fortunately, she was able to force her way out of the situation and run to safety. The fact that something like this could happen so close to campus makes one acutely aware of how bad the situation here is. One exchange student friend who lives off-campus in a student accommodation with high electric fences has told me that people have broken into her complex multiple times since she moved there in July. Another group of exchange students were held up with knives during a hike just outside of the town and were robbed. The incidences continue to grow, but it seems that this kind of pervasive crime will take generations to push out. From my conversations with students here, it seems like the situation has gotten worse in the previous several months. I truly hope the trend reverses, as South Africa and more specifically Stellenbosch continue to be held back because of this "culture" of crime that keeps people paranoid, separated, and in the end suspicious of their fellow South Africans.

By clairemac93

When I came to GW as a freshman, I had switched schools every year since I was 13. In fact, coming back to GW for my sophomore year was as much of a foreign concept to me as starting at a new school is for most people. In each new location- Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Germany, and elsewhere, I faced that first day of school and the acquisition of friends with a deep breath, a lot of humility, a sometimes forced sense of humor, as well as walking in the doors with the bar set low.

Doing this abroad takes that much more hutzpah, as in the chaos that is cultural differences and language changes, you sometimes find yourself going mute. I once was quoted that I felt like Ariel from the Little Mermaid abroad, where in exchange for this wonderful experience I lost my voice. But it’s no sob story, rather just a phase in the cultural adjustment pattern of living abroad. Due to my many start-overs in new places, I’d like to suggest some tips for becoming integrated into a new community and how to make friends abroad.

  1. Join organizations, but only ones you actually care about: There is an emphasis on the latter part of this statement, “only the ones you actually care about”. Though I agree that, especially abroad, its good to try new things and go wherever there are people to meet, I also know that I get along better with people who have common interests. I’m also not the best version of myself if I’m doing something I think is a waste of time or not my jam.
  2. Invite people, don’t expect to be invited: I know, it sucks when despite you hitting it off with classmates- you seem to never actually be invited to things. You only hear about them after-the-fact. I also know that inviting yourself to things is both uncomfortable and unsustainable. Rather, instead, invite people. Going to a class at the gym? Invite a friend from class to go with you. Friends on a budget? Host a dinner at your dorm. Want to see a tourist attraction? Invite a local instead of a fellow foreigner. The worst people can say is no, and by way of experience, that “no” rarely happens.
  3. Don’t travel in large groups of Americans: I love me some America, but I’ll be honest in saying that many drop the ball in meeting locals via the simple mistake of moving in large groups of Americans. You are completely unapproachable in a group, and much more approachable on your own. Additionally, recognizing staying among Americans as a crutch of sorts, or a safety blanket, might help you branch out on your own. Why travel if you create your own America abroad?
  4. Capitalize off of your foreignness: I’m not saying you should buy a megaphone and sing the national anthem in the streets (in fact, avoid that very thing) but do let people know you’re interested in learning the culture and ask them to show you what they like most about their own countries. Remind people that you’re only around for a short time. Additionally, find locals who are interested in travel, international relations, or who have gone abroad themselves. They will be the most likely to want to pay it forward and take you under their wing.
  5. Start early: What a shame it is to hit it off with someone only to find yourself with a few weeks to go of the program. Rather, reach out right away, join things immediately upon arriving, and don’t wait until you lose momentum later in the semester/year.
  6. Don’t get discouraged and reach out if necessary: An unfamiliar culture may mean that you just don’t hit it off as easily with people as back home, don’t quite understand their humor, or maybe have less in common. Don’t give up. It’s a hard process to find friends, and it’s the easier option to just settle on foreign friends. But making local friends is a huge part of why you’re abroad, and how you can both learn about the country and teach about your own. So keep trying! Keep putting yourself out there. However, if things start to feel lonely- reach out. Call someone for coffee, go to the movies, skype with a friend back home. Just because you’re struggling to make friends doesn’t entail forced social deprivation.

Hopefully some of these tips are helpful. It is no easy process making local friends, but I think its just as much a part of studying abroad and sightseeing and learning the language. I was lucky enough to make my two best friends during my first couple weeks here through our common interest in German language. See here:

New Friends: Helen, Liz, and I
New Friends: Helen, Liz, and I

By rbhargava

Just a few minutes ago I arrived back from my week-long spring break vacation. Along with 5 Germans, another American, and a Chinese student I went on an epic road trip through much of the Western Cape and parts of the Eastern Cape. We drove two sedans over 3,300km and having just gotten back, I am quite speechless about the experience. I hope to capture some of the thrills, adventures, and joys of this trip in this blog post.

The trip started last Friday afternoon when we all left for the Cederberg Mountains, a few hours north of Stellenbosch. We camped in the mountains that night, and wow does it get cold at night. On Saturday we hiked the Wolfberg Cracks, an amazing hike in the mountains that takes you through very narrow cracks in the mountain, many of which you have to squeeze through by going sideways through cracks, climbing over rocks, or even sliding below small openings in the rock formations. Following the hike we drove several more hours to our campsite right on the beach in the Namaqua National Park. Our campsite was right below a beautiful lighthouse, and we arrived late at night so that the eerie beachside campsite was covered in fog, with the only light coming from the lighthouse right above us and a bright moon approaching its full moon stage. We spent a day in a half in Namaqua, going to completely empty beaches, seeing flamingos in a tidal pool, and visiting the famous Namaqua wild flowers which are only in season for a few weeks (but our trip was timed perfectly during peak season). What a sight it was to see fields and fields of blooming wild flowers!

After two nights of camping right on the beach and baring the cold nights far away from civilization (the campsite only had a "enviro" running water, to indoor facilities, nothing...), we took another long drive to the Augrabies Falls National Park.  The falls are known to be the 6th largest in the world, and we were lucky enough to camp in another beautiful sight just a few hundred meters away from the fall, so that even in our tents we could hear the roaring of the waterfall. At Augrabies we were able to drive our cars through a game reserve, relax in a swimming pool, hike around the waterfall, and even go on a night game drive run by the national park. Coincidentally, we ran into other friends from Stellenbosch at Augrabies, a pleseant reminder that South Africa is coming more and more like home to me, where no place is too unfamiliar that I won't recognize a face or two. We ended up running into even more friends much later on the trip, but that story is for another day.

After two nights camping in Augrabie, sleeping in the cold (again) and waking up to baboons raiding the campsite and dassies (rock hyraxes), we left for Witsand Nature Reserve. Witsand is part of the Kalahari group, and famous for sand dunes that "roar" in the wind. With only half a day to enjoy Witsand before our next destination, we walked across the great sand dunes and went sandboarding down one of the largest dunes we could find. The experience was like no other, although my few trips down on the boards always ended with a wipeout, one of which was a face first crash into the sand. A few of us ended up finding much more pleasure in rolling down the sand dunes and picking up a ridiculous amount of speed before crashing at the bottom. Once again, we camped at Witsand, and the Kalahari night was, no surprise, quite cold.

Our next stop on the trip was Camdeboo National Park in the middle of the Karoo, a 7-8 hour drive from Witsand. We spent the entire day driving, and arrived at our campsite within the national park as the sun was setting. The next day we drove up to the Valley of Desolation and saw some amazing rock formations on top of the mountains. We then left for the final leg of our trip, the popular "Garden Route" along the south-western part of the South Africa coast. With only a day and a half free before needing to head back to Stellenbosch, we squeezed in a canoeing trip upriver to a waterfall, some hiking, and brief whale watching on a cliff, although unfortunately none of us spotted any whales.

Coming back to Stellies, I'm now much more appreciative of a mattress and sleeping indoors, having spent several nights in a row sleeping in 40-45 degrees on sand, gravel, rocks, and any other uncomfortable surface one could imagine. I've also come to really appreciate and love South Africa as the country is so vast, and almost every landscape you drive through is breathtaking. We covered over 3000+ kilometers in one massive circular drive, but have yet to cover the surface of what there is to see in this country. The trip also made me feel more and more drawn to Stellenbosch, and all those cold nights camping made me think about my bed at my "home" in Stellenbosch rather than my home back in the states. It's great to be back in Stellies, but I can't wait to get back on the road when the semester ends and continue venturing around the country.

By rbhargava

This past week was another fun packed week with a many memorable events including a bike ride from Stellenbosch to the Jonkershook Nature Reserve, watching a movie at the student movie theater on Palestine as part of Gaza Awareness week, attending my dorm's House Dance on Friday, going to Cape Town on Saturday and visiting friends from GW at the University of Cape Town (UCT), hiking the frontside of Table Mountain on Sunday, and going to a movie screening of Unearthed (a movie on fracking in the Karoo) in Cape Town and meeting the director of the movie! As always I continue to keep myself busy and take advantage of all that Stellenbosch and Cape Town have to offer. This week I want to talk about two things, the House Dance on Friday and my time in Cape Town over the weekend.

Practically every student residence at Stellenbosch organizes a fancy ball for all its residents called Huis Dance or House Dance. Living in Metanoia, I was fortunate enough to attend the event and enjoy one of the most looked forward to event of the year. This year, the residence had its dance at the Town Hall, a beautiful building in the center of town. It is hard to compare the dance to anything like that at home, but the closest comparison would be a fraternity or sorority's formal event, but slightly almost like a high school prom for college students. The guys buy the girls flowers, and only after arriving at the venue did I realize my grey suit and purple shirt was a bit too casual for the event. I was lucky enough to attend the event with a South African date, and sat on a table with a few other international students from Metanoia. We all enjoyed the experience of being at such a formal event in Stellenbosch and one that very few international students have the chance to attend. The night was also full of Sokkie dancing, which is the traditional Afrikaans ballroom dance. Just for the Huis Dance, Metanoia had organized a lesson a few nights earlier, so I was able to learn the basics of the dance and slowly pick it up during the Huis Dance until I was relatively competent in it (I think). The entire experience reminded me how lucky I am not only to be at a university with such a rich student life and culture, but also to be living in a dorm that allows me to get involved in these events.

Moving on, this past weekend my program - CIEE - set up a weekend in Cape Town where the three of us on the CIEE program in Stellenbosch were able to stay at the Alrge apartment building in Cape Town that hosts about 200 CIEE UCT students. On Saturday I was able to run into two friends from back at GW,  which was a nice change of pace as they were the first two faces I had seen in South Africa that I actually knew from home! It is quite interesting to think that for the past 6 weeks I've solely been interacting with people I had never met before. Not too often one has the chance to do that! Talking with my friends from back home,  it was great to discuss our time in South Africa and compare our experiences at UCT and Stellenbosch. I am definitely happy to have chosen to go to Stellenbosch, where my program is all of 3 Americans, whereas their program at UCT has somewhere around 200. I can't imagine coming to another country to study abroad and living in an apartment building solely for Americans. What a waste of time!

During the weekend, I had a chance to experience the famous nightlife of Cape Town on Long Street, which has very similar architecture to New Orleans. We also hiked up the front side of Table Mountain on the Platteklip trail that was an extremely steep, but direct hike to the top. The hike was an intense 2.5 hour trip up, but the views from the top were stunning, and made me appreciate the beauty of Cape Town on an entirely new level. There's not a city like it! On one side of the mountain you could look down and see the city bowl, Robben Island, and all the iconic places of downtown Cape Town. On the other, you can see the beaches of Camps Bay and the mountains that stretch down the peninsula until Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope. After the hike, we attended a film screening of Unearthed, a movie about fracking in South Africa, at the Labia Theater in Cape Town. The director was also in attendance and it was extremely interesting to see fracking from the South African perspective, especially since that is a topic that I have studied in detail at GW. The film was very similar to the American film Gasland, and we had a chance to talk to the director briefly after the movie. Quite cool to talk to her as she is at the forefront of the fracking debate in South Africa. It's one thing to study abroad and experience living in a new place, and it's another thing to slowly become involved in the issues that you are passionate about back at home in that new country. It's exciting to become increasingly involved in the community here and feeling less like a tourist.

The Quad at the University of Stellenbosch

It’s hard to explain how it feels to have just finished the first week of my second semester here at Stellenbosch University. After a long semester break, of which I stayed in town to save money and explore, I was happy to see the town slowly fill back up again with excited students greeting each other and catching up. For us here in South Africa, our academic year runs from January-December, with this semester being the second of the two.

South Africa has the top three universities on the continent- University of Cape Town, University of Pretoria, and the University of Stellenbosch (where I attend) as well as seven of the top 11 universities in Africa. The closest top tier universities are in places like Nigeria and Egypt. As such, students from Southern Africa flock here for their studies, making for a diverse population of students from places like Namibia, Botswana, and Lesotho, as well as South Africa. This being said, both the University of Stellenbosch and University of Cape Town are predominantly white- with 68.5% of Stellenbosch and 38.6% at UCT. Many of the universities have historical racial relationships, as universities such as the University of Witwatersrand, or Wits as they call it, was created for black students to study at, University of Western Cape was for only coloured students (mixed-race), while universities like Stellenbosch only admitted white students.

Seeing as policies regarding which racial groups could apply to which colleges only changed in the last several decades, the university’s demographics remain largely the same nowadays. However, more and more non-white students are attending college here every year.

Students doing the same major at university take a set sequence of classes each semester and each year. This makes it a little difficult for someone coming from the looser American system, in which I can take a second year course, fourth year course, general education requirement, and an elective all within one semester. Additionally, different degrees take different amounts of years, so college is not considered a 4-year process, but rather dependent upon degree (no surprise here- science degrees take longer than humanity degrees). Seeing as the South African university system was set up by their lovely colonizer, England, schools concentrate on lateral learning as opposed to rote memorization- something I appreciate coming from a system which many times focuses on regurgitation rather than engrained knowledge.

Unfortunately, South Africa- like many developing countries, has a problem with “brain drain”. With only 12 of every 100 high schoolers in ZA qualifying for university, and university drop-outs outnumbering graduates, there is a lack of highly skilled labor in South Africa. Even still, those who are educated rarely remain in the country, opting instead to work in places like the UK or various places in the developed world. In an interesting read by Business Future’s in 2010, it is stated “The African human resource pool is continuously depleted as the educated choose to emigrate and apply their skills abroad. It is estimated that since 1990, some 20,000 skilled professionals have been leaving Africa on an annual basis, depriving the continent of the doctors, nurses, teachers, and engineers it needs to break the cycle of poverty and under-development” (Roux 2010). It sort of connects ZA having such good universities and yet poor leadership, eh?

The bibliotek at the University of Stellenbosch
The bibliotek at the University of Stellenbosch

This being said, universities are universities, and college kids are the same everywhere. Between hazing first-year students, to professors who seem to have it out for you, to the library having an exponential population spike just before exams- it’s really not so different than back home. For me, it’s mind-blowing that one semester here has already come and gone, but I am so happy with how it turned out. My first semester was full of exploring cities, making friends, and attending events ranging from competing in a cooking competition to a masquerade ball at the student theatre. Based on this week, I am confident that my second semester will be no different!