While studying abroad in South Africa involves hikes up mountains, days at the beach, and fun excursions around the country, it also involves taking classes and studying! My first week of classes included getting lost on this large campus, meeting new people, and learning how to immerse myself in the South African way of life.
One of the most challenging parts about studying abroad here was making my schedule. Classes here are not scheduled the same way they are back home. In the States, classes are scheduled to fall on either Monday, Wednesdays, and Fridays, or Tuesdays and Thursdays. In Stellenbosch, a single class can be at different times and on consecutive days. For example, my History class falls on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays — starting at different times. Finding the right schedule was extremely difficult, but I managed to figure it out before this week began!
My week started with a 30-minute trek across campus to go to my Learning for Sustainable Community Engagement (LSCE) class, which is from 8:00 to 2:00 on Mondays. Since this class is six hours long, there are two 30 minute “tea breaks,” where we are able to get food and relax outside under the hot African sun. While a 6-hour class may not seem ideal, so far it has been quite enjoyable! This service learning course has about 30 international students who are eager to learn about making a positive impact in South Africa. Every week there are multiple topics to discuss about culture, education, and development. Much of this course revolves around reading about the theoretical aspects of serving the community, and applying them while in South Africa. In addition to Monday lectures, Friday mornings we go to a local township and work with five and six year olds at iKaya Primary School. When we entered the gates of the school for the first time, we were warmly greeted by smiling children who were eager to give us hugs and high fives. I am beyond excited to apply what I learn in class as I teach these adorable Xhosa children English!
My second class is isiXhosa. This class is curated for international students to learn the local African language — and, yes, there are three different tongue clicks used in isiXhosa! isiXhosa is exciting and very challenging. It has been a while since I took a language course, so trying to speak an unfamiliar language in front of a whole group of strangers was quite humbling. However, despite my embarrassing attempt to say my name and where I come from in isiXhosa, I managed to make friends from Germany and France!
My third class is a mainstream world history class. Instead of taking another course geared to internationals, I am taking this class with about 200 South Africans. This class is quite different from what I am used to coming from Stevenson University. Stevenson University is much smaller than Stellenbosch University, meaning that I am used to classes with about 30 students, not 200. Walking into a large lecture hall with so many South Africans was quite daunting for me. However, after I found a seat, I soon found myself comfortable and laughing with the other students at my professor’s jokes and sarcastic remarks.
Here at Stellenbosch University, mainstream classes are often translated for students who feel more comfortable speaking Afrikaans. A translator sits at the front of the lecture hall and speaks softly into a microphone, while Afrikaans students with small devices and headphones listen. This is fascinating for me as an American because I am used to English being the only language used in class.
I am so thankful for this opportunity to be a global student. As I began this week, I expected there to be more differences between university life in the United States and in South Africa. While there were some differences, such as language, I realized that there is a lot more similarities between the States and South Africa. This week has taught me that indeed it is a small world after all, and that students from all around the world can experience life so similarly with the same feelings and desires. During the first week of classes here, students are just as nervous, excited, and perhaps even as confused as they are in the United States. Students have to adjust from their lives at home to university life, and find a balance between their work, school, and social lives. Clubs — or “societies” — are a way to meet people with common interests. Students enjoy sporting events, but instead of football, here it’s rugby. Students enjoy spending time together and experiencing new things.
Seeing the world from a slightly different lens shows how life can be simultaneously complex and simple. There is definitely so much more to learn about the culture and history here! And there is no shortage of things to see and experience here! So get ready, get set… here I come moving onward to another week of adventure!