Learning by Experience: Studying Abroad (the actual school part)

Despite much of my time being spent outside of the classroom in Cape Town I have found that my time in the classrooms have been integral in shaping my understanding of my experience here and of South Africa as a whole. 

I am currently taking two courses, South African Literature and Film and Photojournalism. Both are classes that I would take within my English major yet there are significant differences between the South African and American classroom structure. I have found that for the most part my courses in South Africa are much more hands on then the traditional American courses I have taken are. Discussion and experience are highly valued.

During my time here in Cape Town I have attended multiple class excursions that complement in class lessons. For example in my South African Literature class we visited the Slave Lodge in the city center where we learned about the history of slavery in South Africa and how even today people of South Africa are recovering from such systems. This was a very emotional experience and captured a particular essence that class readings or discussions could never have the power to do. The second excursion done in this course was a trip to the theatre! I loved this trip. The production we saw was titled “The Unlikely Secret Agent” and featured 5 actors who played numerous roles. I never thought I was someone who enjoyed plays but after this experience I learned the importance of theatre in understanding particular subjects, especially when speaking in the context of South African history and culture. Overall, my South African Literature and Film class was crucial to developing my understanding of South Africa and ultimately led me to have a much more meaningful experience with the community around me. 

Photojournalism was much less focused on the history of South Africa and allowed me to explore my creative side. This class was also very experiential and we traveled to two off site locations for class as well. The first was to Lwandle which used to be a migrant labor camp and today is a developing township. This excursion was my favorite out of the four I got to experience. It was a perfect way to interact with community members that I would not have had the opportunity to interact with otherwise. It provided insight into the history of migrant labor and how people today struggle under the same systems in which essentially enslaved their family members for generations through apartheid. Members of this community were so welcoming and what was once uncertainty was replaced with gratitude for their warm welcome. The second excursion for this course was a visit to a local sustainable dark room where plants are used to develop photographs. At the time of our visit their was an exhibit opening and we got to have the first look. This exhibit was a series of photographs taken only with plants, light, and sustainable chemicals, or developers… no cameras. The artist was brilliantly talented and taught us about the process and her inspiration. She even let us create our own plant photographs!! Very much like my South African Literature class, Photojournalism provided me with opportunities that helped shaped my perception of South Africa.

In summary there are differences between American and South African class structures but I have found them to be quite a mind expanding change. I had thought coming into my study abroad experience that my classes would be more of an inconvenience to me than anything else but upon leaving South Africa I can’t imagine not have them to ground me in this new space! 

A Day in the Life Studying Abroad in Cape Town

Every day in Cape Town is different, which makes it super exciting. Spontaneity has been very important in this experience but I have found it necessary to establish a routine while I am here. Creating a routine while traveling long term has provided me with a sense of normalcy and comfort even when things are a little uncomfortable. Some things I have tried to imbed into my spontaneous days to make my time here more sustainable/meaningful include going to the grocery store, going to the gym, journaling/reflecting on my experience, and leaving room for myself to just relax when needed.

Enjoying some journal time at Camps Bay

On the weekdays (Mon, Tues, Thurs) my day begins with class at 9:00 a.m. I usually meet up with some of my friends around 8:30 to walk to the study center together. The walk is usually nice and starting my day with some fresh air always makes me feel good. Class finishes at 11:30 and by then I am usually starving so I head back to make food or I go next store to Prashad (a vegan Indian restaurant) for a cup of tea and my favorite meal, Aloo Gobi. During this break is when I will usually hit the gym or exercise outside on the rooftop green space. Then if I have time I do some homework before my next class at 4:00 which goes until 6:30. Afterwards I head back to have a chill evening, usually meeting up with friends or ending the night talking on the phone with my family.

My View Leaving the CIEE Center at 6:30

Casual Evening with Friends

Sunset From the Roof Top Green Space

My days off are packed with adventure! On Wednesdays we usually have a CIEE coordinated co-cirricular activity and Friday through Sunday is up to us to plan. Coming into this experience I did not expect to make the connections I have, however, the friends I have made have had a real impact on my time here. They are friends I will have for a lifetime. We have done so many amazing activities ranging from hiking to wine tours. Sharing these experiences with like minded people is something truly spectacular. Below I have attached some photos our favorite adventures thus far, as I feel like words could never do them justice.

Waiting for an Uber after a Sunset Hike

Safari Selfie

Sandboarding at Atlantis Sand Dunes

Wine Tour in Stellenbosch

Climbing Waterfalls at Jonkershoek Nature Reserve

I have found my schedule to be the perfect balance between being a part of the community in Cape Town and adventuring! As I write this I only have two and a half weeks left of living this way, then I will move on to experience something new. Until then I will enjoy each and every day I have.

Tremendous Mountains and Endless Oceans

The natural beauty of Cape Town was undeniable as I drove into the city from the airport. Table Mountain greeted me through the window of my apartment building as I began to get settled in. The size of the city was overwhelming as I drove in and I began to feel anxious about all of the possibilities of living in a “big city”. What if I get lost? What If there are too many people to form connections? What if this isn’t the place I thought it would be? Staring up at Table Mountain though I felt oriented and this one peak would become somewhat of of a focal point during my time in Cape Town.

Settling in continued to be somewhat difficult for me, I felt lonely the first couple of days and nervous for my experience ahead. It wasn’t until myself and some of my new friends decided to take a hike to watch the sunset that I felt like I belonged here. The view from the top of the hike was marvelous. I could see the whole city and somehow it felt smaller. The sky began to fade into deep oranges and swollen purples and with the deepening of each color I began to feel myself relax. With the (surprisingly cold) wind hitting my face and the view of the endless ocean I remembered what this experience was all about. Moments like these. I was ready to begin my journey.

Although the sunset hike helped me get over the mental hurdle I struggled with during the first couple of days of my trip there have been some things that have certainly been tough getting used to! The number one challenge I have faced in Cape Town is having to work around loadshedding (periods of no power). South Africa is in the midst of an energy crisis which leads to widespread power outages that are often planned but have been occurring twice a day for roughly two and a half hours each time since I arrived. This means no charging electronics, poor wifi connectivity (if any), closed stores, dark rooms, and no refrigeration. This makes grocery shopping particularly difficult because meat/produce/dairy will go bad quickly. Alternatively eating out is a good value for your money, usually ranging between $7-$30 USD for an entire meal! I have done more eating out then I initially thought I would, however, it has been a great way to insert myself into South African culture and try new things.

Additionally another challenge I have been struggling with is adjusting to the immense inequality that I see on a daily basis. Learning about the apartheid rule has been extremely difficult and seeing the effects even in a post-apartheid society has been emotional to say the least. While above I highlight the beauty of Cape Town it is also worth noting that while driving in from the airport I passed multiple townships, which are communities where Black Africans were forced into under the apartheid rule and still live in great poverty today. Cape Town remains one of the most unequal places in the world and understanding how to navigate a society where there is this amount of racial and economic inequality is something that I will probably never adjust to. It is one of my goals while I am here to learn about Cape Town’s history and how that history translates into today.

Photographer Johnny Miller highlights divide between Cape Town's rich and  poor with aerial photos - ABC News
Photograph Done by Johnny Miller highlighting Cape Towns economic inequality

So far this experience has been full of beauty I could have never imagined and people who are unforgettable. I feel welcomed in the city of Cape Town and ready to soak up every ray of sunshine I can.

How Should I Feel Leaving Home to go Abroad?

Hi everyone : ) My name is Erin Lachance and I am an upcoming Senior this year at Wofford College majoring in English and minoring in environmental studies. This semester I have decided to study abroad in two locations through CIEE’s Open Block Campus program. I will arrive in Cape Town, South Africa this coming week and after six weeks of living there I will be traveling to Rome, Italy for an additional six weeks. I look forward to sharing this journey with you all. Stay tuned for some honest writing, good photos and to hear about so many of my exciting adventures!

Studying Abroad has always been a dream of mine. The excitement I feel when I am visiting a new place and experiencing new things is something that can’t be replicated. Therefore, the idea of studying/living in a place where this excitement could be possible every single day was something I desired to pursue long before the opportunity presented itself. For me studying abroad was a no brainer, a must, and I spent months preparing for this very moment. Why then do I not feel overwhelming excitement as I am about to board my flight to reach my first destination?

The question I pose in the title of this entry is one that I have been grappling with for the last 48 hours. While I prepared for every possible scenario, packed strategically, and am leaving informed nothing could have prepare me for the roller coster of emotions that I feel as I sit here writing this today. While the study abroad experience undoubtedly will be full of highlights I have come to quickly realize that it is extremely important to recognize the challenges that will lie ahead of me. It will also be important for me to be graceful with myself as I work through these emotions, especially when it comes to leaving home and being away from the one’s that I love.

Making the most out of my experience is extremely important but I think that for me this means allowing myself to feel any way I want! From here on out I am not putting any pressure on myself to feel a certain way. If I am feeling sad about leaving home then I am allowed to be sad, if I feel scared I am allowed to be scared, and if some days I just want to pack up and go home that is okay!! For all of those bad days there will be days where I feel liberated, strong, and excited. These emotions are all part of the process and will make up both the highs and lows of my experience. While being comfortable at home feels great it is experiences like this that will ultimately push me to become stronger, more independent, and better educated. Before these past 48 hours I had minimal reservations. Now, however, I am most nervous to be lonely and that adjusting emotionally will be particularly difficult for me without my strong support system that I have at home. That being said, however, I am ready for these challenges because they will make me stronger.

“Life will only change when you become more committed to your dreams than your comfort zone”

I am committed to this dream of mine and this process because it truly will be life changing. I couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity I have ahead of me and for all the people who have been supporting me through this process. It may be a bumpy ride at times but nonetheless it will be a beautiful one.