Every country, in one way or another, is misrepresented by stereotypes that people hold all around the world. South Africa, in particular though, may be plagued with more ignorant stereotypes than most—and if this trip has taught me anything, it is that you should never visit a new place with unfair preconceived notions on what that place is like, because you will quickly be proven wrong. Though I find myself to be a fairly open minded individual, I too came to South Africa with a mind full of unfair stereotypes. Before leaving for my trip, I received questions like, “How close will you be living to the lions?” or “How are you going to deal with the disconnect from technology?” Both of these questions implied that South Africa (or Africa, generally) is a place where man and wild animals live together or that there was a large difference in technological advancement compared to the rest of the world—and although I did not necessarily believe either of these things before hopping on the plane, the questions did make me second-guess my own understanding of South Africa and what I had signed up for. Of course, both of those questions became irrelevant as soon as I arrived. South Africa holds some of the largest cities on the African continent and boasts some of the world’s best hospitals and universities—and that’s just on the superficial level. When I had the opportunity to sit down and speak with the locals, I found that many were far more globally aware on political, economic, and social issues than almost anyone I knew back home.
There are major issues though. For one, income inequality and economic segregation is a massive problem here. It is something that cannot (and should not) be ignored. Within minutes of leaving the airport, you will find yourself driving past what are called townships. These are tragically underdeveloped communities that are brimming with homemade shacks that use corrugated metal sheeting for walls and roofing. Plumbing does not usually exist in these areas and electricity is usually stolen due to the lack of infrastructure. Within minutes from these communities, it is not uncommon to drive through a neighborhood of multimillion dollar beachfront mansions. The polarization of resources is debilitating to many in South Africa, and it’s shocking and humbling to see as a visitor.
The accumulation of broken stereotypes, realizations of social and economic inequalities, as well as learning something new and unexpected each and every day is what has brought me the most culture shock—because it all comes unexpectedly and at different times. I’m incredibly thankful that I was given the opportunity to experience the beauty and differences that makes South Africa the country that it is today. I hope that with my remaining time here, I am able to learn and soak up as much culture and knowledge as I can about everything this amazing country has to offer.