I am so excited and blessed to have the opportunity to be across the world in South Africa. I have been in South Africa for about a month and a half now, so perhaps “So it has begun!” is a more appropriate title for this post!
South Africa’s academic semester begins at the end of July and ends at the beginning of November, so I have had a chance to settle in and live like a South African…or at least try to…for a little while now.
Many students travel to Europe or Australia and I believe that we, as Americans, are generally much more familiar with these cultures. When people ask me why I chose to come to South Africa, the best reason I can give as to why I came is this—to experience a continent, culture, and history that I was completely unfamiliar with. That being said, I want to cover some initial impressions and misinterpretations myself and many Americans may have about South Africa.
First and foremost: it’s cold here. Yes, it gets cold in Africa! Of course, I did some research into the weather I would be experiencing. I found that it would be winter here when I arrived but still much warmer than the Minnesota winters I am used to. So, as my roommate back home and I sorted through my clothes looking for what to pack, we looked at all my winter clothes and thought, “This is Africa, how cold could it possibly be?” My first week here, when it was 40 degrees and rainy, answered that question for me.
The next misconception that I find quite funny is the idea that we have lions and elephants walking around the streets here. To be fair, this does occur in some rural towns in South Africa, but not mine. South Africa is like any other country in the sense that there are large, bustling cities, but it only takes a half hour drive to arrive in vast areas of wilderness. This makes it a great place to study for those that love the culture and vibrancy of the city, but still have the craving to get off the grid and see some animals every once in awhile.
Lastly, nothing could prepare me for the culture and diversity here—it is truly something that needs to be experienced first-hand. The United States and South Africa have both been through their fair share of racial conflicts, but apartheid is much more recent. That being said, I believe that race is not as taboo in South Africa as it is in the U.S. The terms “white,” “black,” and “coloured” are used in everyday discussion and are not necessarily meant in a derogatory manner. With apartheid not so distant in the culture’s history, the nation is in the midst of trying to figure out who they are as a people. It is a time of forgiveness, development, and nation building. Of course, I am no expert on South African history and culture, but it is certainly interesting to learn about the transformation this nation is going through firsthand in my classes and by talking to locals.
I am excited to share my adventures that lie ahead here in South Africa as I continue to explore this beautiful country!