Expectations? I tried not to have too many! I was very openminded when it came to my expectations prior to departing for the program. I expected to be busy traveling between cities, as well as going on day trips for classes. I anticipated classes which would connect what we saw in the museums to a timeline and background. I also figured I would have to make time for both homework and for activities such as hikes, tours, shopping, etc. So far, I feel that all of my prior expectations are mostly accurate. We are certainly busy the majority of the days going on different academic tours, and the classes connect the pieces nicely. The one thing that I have had to adjust is making more of an effort to balance homework, fun, and relaxation times. My expectation went from thinking that it would be easy balancing time to actually planning specific days and times for homework assignments and activities.
These first few weeks abroad have been absolutely incredible. One big takeaway so far has been the importance of going outside of my comfort zone in order to become accustomed in my new surroundings. When I meet new people, I typically stay fairly reserved and quiet (at first). Except on this trip, there was not any time to waste! I had to be more outspoken and open in order to make the most out of my time here. Almost every day we are busy making plans for the week so we can do as much exploring as possible. I’ve also been going outside of my comfort zone by trying new foods. Making these quick connections and trying new things has been for the best.
A takeaway specific to what I have experienced so far in my program is just realizing how much hustle and drive South Africans have. We have had the opportunity to meet individuals who started businesses from practically nothing. Now they have restaurants, fashion lines, theater performances, and some even build houses for homeless individuals. It is truly inspirational how someone who came from the worst conditions can transform into an individual that’s making a difference. They want to do anything and everything they can to help their communities grow. Meeting these individuals firsthand was certainly inspirational, and it was a big “wow” moment for me.
A third takeaway from the study abroad experience thus far has been realizing there can, in fact, be a slight language barrier between two English speaking individuals. It especially hit me when we met with South African students from Nelson Mandela University. There are so many English words that we have different meanings for, and at some points, it was difficult understanding what they were trying to say. For example, they were explaining their different tests/exams, practical year (internship), and how they get diplomas. These words are all common for us to use, but the way they explained them was completely different. Also, we view colleges and universities as basically the same thing, whereas they are completely different in South Africa. It was a little shocking to me how much of a language barrier there could be between one language.
The classes have been very similar here to those that we’re used to at home. Our professors are from Pitt which is why there isn’t a big difference, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t need to make adjustments. On a typical day, we have history class from 8:15 until 10:30 am, and then we do a field experience outside with our geology professor. Getting used to an 8 am lecture again was an adjustment itself. So, getting homework done earlier and getting enough sleep was an important change that I had to make. Other than sleep and homework though, classes didn’t impose many challenges.
Overall, I have been loving every second of it here. It has been incredible learning so much about South African culture firsthand. I can’t wait to blog again next time to write more about my time here in Cape Town; talk to you soon!!