This is what I said every time abroad came up for the last 2 1/2 years at Wofford. I even went on an interim trip last year as a “test run” (Italy with Dr. Alvis) and though I loved it, it was further confirmation that I WOULD NOT be able to study abroad for a semester.
So, how did I find myself in Cape Town, South Africa for 19 weeks? I think that it was a genuine mix of boredom and fleeting moments of bravery that inspired my decision. I was at the beginning of the fall of my junior year at Wofford, feeling burnt out working two jobs, being an officer of my sorority, and on Campus Union. I was simultaneously ready for a break and an adventure.
I also had recently had a change of heart in my chosen career path (previously I wanted to do neuropsychology, but last summer I decided I’d be better suited for the field of Public Health) so studying abroad would give me an opportunity to study Public Health on an international scale, as well as take some courses that Wofford doesn’t offer.
I did know that if I studied abroad, I wouldn’t be able to go to Europe. Their cold and dark weather did not entice me, and my (although limited) experiences in the fast-paced city life of Europe were enough to tell me I wouldn’t be happy there. So this essentially left me with choosing a non-traditional location. South Africa happened to be one of the places with a Public Health program, and as an added bonus I would arrive during their summer.
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Perhaps the most important part of preparing to study abroad is obtaining your visa. Pretty much if you want to go anywhere in the world for longer than 3 months, you’ll need one. This meant I got to go to New York City to visit the South African Consulate there to obtain my visa. Yes, the Embassy is in DC. No, I wasn’t allowed to go there (despite being geographically closer). But– was I happy about it? Completely. I went to DC on a field trip in 8th grade and don’t feel too much of a desire to go back. But New York? I’d never been to the city, so this meant I planned a trip right after finals to visit for the first time.
My mom and one of my best friends joined me, and on our 4-day trip, only one hour was dedicated to getting my visa. This was somewhat surprising, after having spent the better part of October and November getting all the materials together for my visa application, including an x-ray confirming I didn’t have TB. Thankfully, that gave us time to do the “touristy” stuff in NYC!
All in all, a stressful process leading up to getting my visa ended with a pretty simple resolution. Despite being told I might have to wait 6-8 weeks for my visa, it arrived about a week and a half after I returned home from New York.
This was the main reason I did not intend to study abroad. The thought of leaving behind my family made me sick to my stomach. Leaving Wofford wasn’t so hard– as I said, I was ready for a break. But my family is a different story. Between leaving my mom, my aging dogs, my brother, and my grandmother, I struggled with knowing I’d probably miss some big life events.
My mom knew this, and in her infinite motherly wisdom, she slipped a few envelopes in my suitcase to open on important dates or when I’m missing my family. I’ve already opened one on my birthday (which was 3 days after I arrived in South Africa!) and on Valentine’s day. So now, I have pictures of my favorite people (and dogs) on my wall directly in my eye-line as I’m typing this post.
On a slightly different note, not only did I have to say goodbye to my family, but I also had to say goodbye to my therapist. I regularly go to counseling in the Wellness Center, which has been invaluable during my time at Wofford. Though I’m taking advantage of the counseling available through my study abroad program, anyone who goes to therapy knows that once you find the right person, it’s hard to switch things up. That’s something I’ll definitely be adjusting to here in Cape Town.
This might come as a surprise given that I spent over 24 hours traveling to South Africa, but I am not really a fan of flying. Ideally, I like to avoid long flights. It’s partially because no matter what I do, I CANNOT fall asleep on a plane. The remaining distaste comes from very little about air travel being in my control beyond picking my flight.
Since it’s impossible for me to sleep on a plane, that means sitting in the window seat to have a place to rest my head is of no use to me. So, I’m an aisle seat gal (so that I can get up as frequently as I like). Luckily, I ended up with an empty middle seat on my row, which was enough to warrant some relief about the longest leg of my trip, a 14-hour flight.
There were actually 19 students from IES on my flight from Newark, NJ to Cape Town, and it was pretty easy to pick those students out. In fact, one girl was sitting in the window seat on my aisle! It definitely made for a better plane ride, being able to talk about what we had to look forward to. In the end, I arrived in South Africa with absolutely nothing to complain about.
I’ve been in Cape Town for exactly 3 weeks now. Some parts of being here feel sort of like I’m at summer camp, if you know what I mean? That’s the only way I can describe it. Since 19 of us were on my flight, we were picked up by IES in two vans and taken to our respective housing.
I live in a single person apartment (it’s basically a dorm room with a kitchenette), and I’ve finally settled in– I bought an extra pillow, I have the pictures up that my mom sent, and a fan to help sleep at night because there’s no air conditioning. I’ve found my favorite grocery store, and despite not having Cheese-Itz, I think I’ll survive on the food here.
I’ll save going more in-depth about academics in a different post, but my first 2 weeks of classes went well. I’m directly enrolled in classes at IES, so I don’t have the added complication of figuring out a new college campus. My program itself only has 9 students in it, so it’s very similar to the atmosphere I’m used to at Wofford.
One of my concerns about going abroad was that I’d regret it after I arrived. Luckily, I haven’t experienced that yet. I know living here for the next 16 weeks will have its challenges, but I know I’m resilient and will be able to handle whatever challenges come my way– and I’m proud of that!