There are many reasons why I loved studying abroad in South Africa. I want to share some of these with you.
1. South Africa’s concept of time — and lifestyle around time — is very different from the United States.
My experience in Stellenbosch helped me take a step back and enjoy the moment. South Africa’s culture truly values time and enjoying it fully. My professor once explained this by saying, “Say you are running late for an interview, and while walking to your interview you cross paths of someone you know. What do you do? Do you kindly say hello and rush to your interview? Most would, but most South Africans will willingly choose to stop and speak to their acquaintance and choose to be late.” Valuing others’ time and making interpersonal connections is a part of their culture.
One of the biggest struggles that my American peers and I had was when we went out to eat. We were so used to a relatively fast experience when dining out but at most restaurants in South Africa the server does not give you the check until you ask. It is assumed that you will likely dine out for about two hours at a time. Things that may seem very little may make adjusting hard for some people, but hang tight because it is worth the adjustment. Make sure to set back and relax, enjoy being in a culture that values time and embracing the moment.
A piece of advice on this topic: Embrace the people you are around and the memories that you share with others while abroad. My incredible Resident Director, Hestea, often encouraged us to put our phones away and enjoy the present moment.
2. So much quality time and effort is put into food.
South Africans love to have braais, which is very similar to a BBQ. Braais consists of everyone around a fire (you must use coal) and each person cooks their own food. It is a wonderful time to enjoy the people around you and the food is always so good! The quality of food can be seen at most restaurants that you go to! All the food is fresh and very tasty.
If you find yourself in Stellenbosch make sure to stop by the beautiful vineyards. My favorite was Oldenburg. I would also try out Hudson’s Burger Joint and The Fat Butcher, both offer great food and a fun atmosphere. The city offers a huge variety of food, as well, Most of the restaurants also have a second menu with both vegan and vegetarian options.
3. The diversity of the people, in many ways.
Another one of my favorite parts of South Africa is the people. Stellenbosch is diverse, so I was able to meet many different types of folks. I loved this aspect about studying abroad. While there, your perspective will likely change in some way or another, as mine did. Being abroad is is a very exciting time, but I do believe it is important to stay mindful and considerate of all the new perspectives and the opinions you will hear. I also think that this is a big part of initially studying abroad, to challenge yourself and come to understand the other ways of life that are out there!
Fortunately, I was part of the Learning for Sustainable Development and Community Engagement Service Learning Program. It truly allowed me to have a sense of introspection while in South Africa. This program offers students an incredible opportunity to become engaged in a township, to work with children and get a better understanding for a new culture. This opportunity may or may not come again, so I advice my peers to enjoy the new faces and places that will surround them.
In my opinion it is important to continue to challenge yourself and grow from the experiences you have. This is a great time to do the things you have always wanted to do. South Africa offers tasty food, beautiful hikes and very kind, humble people. There is a world that is meant for our eyes to see, and I am very grateful to have been able to study abroad in South Africa. Stay present and enjoy your experiences abroad.