Putting the “Study” Back into “Study Abroad”Cape Town, Fall 2012

I’m finally starting to develop a routine here. My four classes are scheduled perfectly to allow for afternoon trips to the gym, my weekends are free to search for sharks, and my nights so far have been wide open so that I can waste as much time on the internet as my bandwidth will allow.

Class registration is way different here than it is in the US. Instead of registering online you have to walk to, wait in line for, and beg each department head to approve you for classes that you weren’t pre-approved for. Classes are structured a bit differently as well, as each class runs about four days per week for forty-five minutes a day. This unfortunately means that I have class on Fridays for the first time since my freshman year. I can’t imagine taking five classes per semester like I do at Pitt. Considering the frequency of classes and the expectations outlined in my course syllabi, I’m starting to understand why Americans are perceived to be less intelligent than the rest of the world.

In addition to registering for classes, I also completed an overnight in Gugulethu Township. This was the most immersive experience I’ve had since coming to South Africa, as I was privileged enough to stay a night with Mama Titi, eat authentic South African food, and attend a church service. As a student of religious studies, it was interesting to observe how church services are conducted over here. They seem to be a lot more interactive and hands-on, as there is a lot more dancing and music than what I’m used to. After the mass we went to eat braai at a South African barbeque, which was one of the coolest things I’ve done since coming here. This “barbeque” (essentially a community-sized “Sunday Funday”) is a celebration after church services where people gather to unwind after a long week and eat some barbequed meat.

Despite all of these experiences, I’m still homesick. I’m more than a little surprised by this, as I spent the better half of a year preparing for my trip to South Africa. However, I’ve reached what I believe to be an important realization: studying abroad is NOT just about learning about another culture and seeing what life is like outside of the US. That’s a large part of it, but there’s another crucial component that comes out of leaving your home school and studying in another country for a few months: it also teaches you a lot about yourself. It tells you what’s important to you, makes you realize how lucky you are to have the people that you love in your life, and, most importantly, it teaches you how strong you are that you can leave all these people behind for so long. These revelations, in addition to the cultural experience of direct exposure to something so different from the US for an extended period of time, could make this the most valuable semester of my life.


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