Being in Stellenbosch, South Africa was the most incredible experience. I hiked Coetnezburg Mountain, learned endless amounts about South Africa’s history, had amazing food, and made some life-long friends. I’m so beyond thrilled with my experience!
As the days went on, however, I found myself saying “man, I wish I would have brought (blank)” or “I wish I could have known (blank) before I left.” So, here’s a list of things I wish I would have brought, could have done more research on, or should have been generally more prepared for:
1. I wish I brought warmer clothes.
I knew it was winter in South Africa. It’s on the opposite side of the equator, so while back home it’s pushing 95 degrees, we’re lucky if we hit 50 in Stellenbosch. Being from Pittsburgh, I thought I was prepared for the cold. I really wasn’t. Layers help, but I definitely needed to spend money for scarves, gloves, and a hat, all of which I had at home. The upside is that I have decided to donate these things when I get home!
2. I wish I researched the weather.
This goes hand-in-hand with #1. If I had spent more time researching the weather for Stellenbosch, I would have known to pack warmer clothes.
3. I wish I packed socks, socks, and more socks.
You can never have too many. When you study abroad, odds are you are going to be walking A LOT. You’d be surprised how quickly holes appear in the bottom of your socks. Again, this also ties into the whole being cold thing, but even if you’re going somewhere warm, you should be prepared to walk, whether that’s packing additional pairs of socks or the proper footwear.
4. I wish I had researched the currency.
Nothing says “Hey! I’m not from here!” like handing over the wrong amount of money after spending ten minutes digging through your bag to find the right coins. With the Internet, it’s so simple to understand the type of currency before you even leave the States.
On that same note, make sure you research the exchange rate and the average costs of things where you’re going. The exchange rate from South African Rand to the U.S. dollar worked in my favor, but that might not be the case where you’re going. Be aware of how much you’re spending; it might sound like a great price, but if you can’t do a quick conversion in your head, you might be losing out.
5. I wish I investigated the culture more.
Now wait, I know what you’re thinking: “but Nichole! That’s why I’m going to (insert country here).” And I totally agree. BUT (and this is an important but) you want to be respectful. You don’t want to play into an American stereotype. I thought I knew enough about South Africa to get by, but every day I learn something new about this amazing culture that makes my experience so much better. The more you know, the better off you’ll be.
6. I wish I had packed thank you cards.
There are so many wonderful people who have made my trip incredible so far. My professors, my program coordinator, the people at Stellenbosch University, and the social programmers, just to name a few. I’m endlessly grateful to these people, and I wanted to be able to express that to them before the end of my trip. Luckily, after 40 minutes of searching at the mall, I was able to find thank you cards, but it would have been much simpler if I had just brought them from home.
Ultimately, every country is different and may require different things. The most important thing to remember is that you can never be too prepared. And you can always donate things that don’t fit in your suitcase on the way back!
This post was contributed by Nichole Johnson, who studied abroad with AIFS in Stellenbosch, South Africa in the summer of 2016.