Home South Africa Making the Familiar Strange: Adjusting to Study Abroad Life in Stellenbosch

Making the Familiar Strange: Adjusting to Study Abroad Life in Stellenbosch

by Maya Byrne
stellenbosch mountains south africa travel study abroad

It’s been about 10 days since I left my familiar and hot Rhode Island summer. The excitement and anticipation leading up to my journey left me with such a whirlwind of emotions as I was saying goodbye to friends and family. When I arrived in Stellenbosch after a very long day of traveling, it quickly became clear to me that any expectations I had would not be the reality. While packing for my adventure, I was convinced that although it is winter here in South Africa it would not be very cold because hats and scarves were the farthest thing from my mind while I was sweating in a tank top and shorts the day before I left doing last minute errands and packing.

My first semester of sophomore year, I had a professor who gave us a lesson all about “making the familiar strange.” This phrase keeps coming to mind as I experience new things here in Stellenbosch.

For example, something so familiar and routine as crossing the street every day is now strange to me because the cars drive on the opposite side of the road; you have to re-learn how to look both ways before crossing the street. Little things like this leave me feeling so refreshed at the end of the day because it has really helped me look at the bigger picture. Coming from the smallest state in the U.S. it was so easy for me to get trapped in my little bubble and forget that other people and other places exist outside of the small, close knit community I have called home for the first 20 years of my life.

The seasons are another example of this: I was convinced that since I usually spend July sailing and spending time at the beach, it would be the same here. Meanwhile, people on the continent on which I was about to arrive were snuggling by the fire wearing warm coats, hats and scarves. This quickly became my reality and yet again made me realize what used to be a familiar July was not the case here in the midst of a South African winter.

I have only been here for 10 days but I feel as though I have already learned so much and I have truly fallen in love with the town and the ways of life here. I have been updating my friends and family with pictures on Facebook and I keep getting comments back with phrases such as “you look so happy” and “I have never seen you smile so big.” This is not to say I was not happy before I got here, but there is something about the energy and the vibrancy of South Africa that just makes me feel like I am completely in my element, and somehow or another I belong here.

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