Our first week in Stellenbosch was a whirlwind. Getting myself set up in a brand-new city was fun, and weird, and at times, kind of terrible. Though I thought IPD prepared me pretty well for the program as a whole, there are a few things you’d only know from actually going through the program.
Here are some tips I would have found useful that first week:
- Buy an ethernet cord and Mac adaptor (if you have a Mac). As of Spring 2017, there was no WiFi in Concordia, the international students’ dorm, except for in the lounge area — and the lounge WiFi was sometimes unreliable. The adaptor was around $50 USD at electronics stores at the nearby Eikestad Mall, but it was Worth It. Trust me. Soon, you’re going to want to be able to use the Internet in your room to do research for papers, watch YouTube videos and stream Netflix shows all night. And don’t even think about sharing an adaptor with a roommate. Maties WiFi, the university network, has a security feature that only allows you to register one computer with each adaptor.
- Go to the mall for groceries. It’s super close to campus — about a 10-minute walk, if that, from Concordia — and has everything you need to get off on the right foot. The two grocery stores are Food Lovers’, which has more of a Trader Joe’s feel and great hot meals, and Checkers, which is more like Jewel Osco. Get pinotage wine, rooibos tea and lots of rusks for a South African wine/tea experience. Each Condordia dorm has stovetops, a toaster oven, a sink, a hot water heater and lots of refrigerator space, so go crazy!
- Get AirTime, minutes, data and/or a Sim card at the mall. The two outlets that we used were Vodacom and Cell C, and have comparable rates. AirTime is a flexible form of cell phone currency that can be used as talking minutes and/or data, and can be purchased at grocery store and convenience store check-outs — but buying data/minutes at the actual Vodacom and Cell C stores have slightly better rates. NOTE: if you have Sprint or T-Mobile, don’t bother! You get free data abroad.
- The ABSA bank down the street from the mall is the only closeby bank that allows you to trade US currency for South African currency. BRING YOUR PASSPORT. I found this out the hard way, after visiting too many other banks, forgetting my passport and making way too many back-and-forth trips between the dorm and the bank.
- Find out when the Stellies are playing rugby! On our first day, we found out from Esther, the Concordia manager, that there was a game that day. We walked through campus in a huge group like we were freshmen again, marveled at the beautiful sunset at the stadium and tried to figure out the rules of rugby. It’s a crazy game.
- Do the short hike up the mountain behind the Stellenbosch gym. This was a really fun way to bond with the group — we asked icebreaker questions, like first-kiss and prom stories, while surrounded by beautiful scenery. Plus, icebreaker questions are a lot less awkward when you have a reasonable excuse to avoid eye contact — like when you’re trying to avoid tripping and falling down a mountain, for instance.
- Host a braai. A braai is basically a South African BBQ, and Concordia has a braai pit in the courtyard outside! We tried to host a braai, but since we had no idea how to do it, we brought s’mores stuff instead, which is also fine. You can buy charcoal, chocolate, crackers and marshmallows at the Tapas store/restaurant right outside of Concordia. Try inviting your Concordia neighbors so they can teach you how to actually braai!
Your first week will definitely be hectic, but try to relax. Your professors, administrators and TA’s are your best resources, and will give you tons of advice about anything you might possibly need. Enjoy yourself!!