Not that Different

I’ve been in South Africa over a month now and have enjoyed every second of it! From seal diving to hiking to safaris to museums, we have traveled from the Western Cape to Limpopo and learned so much about this beautiful country. With its beauty come many things that are different from home—for example, majestic elephants and massive mountains—but also many similarities.

Although the United States is a significantly older nation, it still struggles with many of the same issues South Africa is currently facing. You would think that with it’s age, the United States would have overcome many of the issues surrounding inequality and violence. However, we still see examples of racism and insufficient healthcare throughout the country. The police violence in Hout Bay reminded me of the violence you see on the news throughout the city of Chicago. The rape culture at Stellenbosch University mirrors similar situations in universities across the United States. All of these issues demonstrate that despite it’s age and power, the United States is not that different from South Africa and other nations.

The similarities also include many comforting reminders of home. My neighborhood in a small suburb of Chicago is incredibly tightknit and I always remember being close with all of my neighbors. During our homestay in Hamakuya, the neighborhood reminded me of my own. Children from various households coming together to play soccer, the neighborhood women helping our host mother cook, and the late night gatherings of laughter and music all reminded me of a summer’s night growing up.

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View from Lion’s Head

Baboon ate my Homework

Last Friday, all 20 of us and our program coordinator, Werner, and his assistant, Liezel, embarked on an adventure to Cape Town with some stops along the way. Our first stop was Cape Point (the Cape of Good Hope), where there’s a short hike before getting to a lighthouse from which there are beautiful views of the ocean and surrounding mountains. On the way up, we saw signs saying “Do not feed baboons,” but we were shocked to see baboons hanging around right on the trail! Of course none of us blatantly fed the baboons, but little did I know, there was a left over granola bar wrapper in my backpack. I turned around to take a photo, and before I knew it, I felt a baboon grab onto my backpack! I quickly decided to take off my backpack and retreat to safety, and everyone gathered around to watch the baboon go through my books, purse, scarf, headphones, etc., the whole time laughing at how this was actually happening.

Me watching helplessly as the baboon deconstructed my backpack

Me watching helplessly as the baboon deconstructed my backpack

In the meantime, the baboon’s mate and baby joined in, searching for any scraps of food (despite there being none), and eventually, we called up a ranger to scare them away. As soon as they ran away, everyone in our group helped me gather my baboon-scavenged things and we went on our way, warning people on the way down to get rid of all their trash!

We continued on the rest of the day to Boulders Beach to visit some penguins, none of which (luckily) stole any backpacks from any of us. This was a *small* reminder of the wildlife surrounding us here and the amazing things that happen here that would never happen back home!

The perpetrator

The perpetrator

Molweni baphulaphuli! Hallo almal!

After enduring a 22-hour trip and fighting jet-lag, we have finally made it to South Africa to start our spring quarter abroad! I know it’s the beginning of my fourth week here, but I personally have just gotten the hang of things around here – even though there’s still a lot left to learn.

An amazing view we have of Table Mountain.

An amazing view we have of Table Mountain.

 

For one, we all are making a pretty big effort into trying to learn some words and phrases in two South African languages, Afrikaans and Xhosa (2 out of 11 official languages!). These two languages (along with English) are the two most commonly used by people in the Cape Town and Stellenbosch areas.

Both have been pretty difficult to understand, since Afrikaans is a derivative of Dutch (sometimes called baby Dutch) and Xhosa is not of the same language family as English. Xhosa is by far the harder one for me to understand, especially when trying to use the correct accent. Xhosa is one of the African languages that uses click sounds for the following letters: C (alveolar click), Q (palatal click), and X (lateral click). Unfortunately, I can’t pronounce any of the click sounds—yet! – but I’m adamant on learning to pronounce at least one.

I feel that it’s very important to learn the language of the community, at the very least basic phrases, in order immerse yourself into the culture of the area, as well as be able to converse with those in the community to make them more comfortable. After all, it is their home.

I just hope to be able to perform a quick greeting and conversation with native speakers in these two languages by the end of our program, with a much better accent than I do now.

Living in a Vibrant Country

If there’s one word I can use to describe South Africa, it is”vibrant”. Even though we’ve only been been here for 2.5 weeks, there’s so much history, culture, and life that brings so much color and vibrancy to this fine country. On the surface, you see breathtaking views of the mountains, ocean, and vineyards. At night when the sun goes down, the town is teeming with students and adults spilling into the various restaurants, bars, and clubs and other spaces, giving life to the city.

Though there are huge disparities within the country (that my fellow blogger Emily has written about), many of the locals that I’ve engaged with don’t seem to live life passively. Rather, they are pursuing a life that is filled with hope and passion.

I was talking to a community health worker working in a public health clinic in Kayamandi (a township) and though she expressed some serious misgivings about their current President and the way he has been navigating this beautiful country, she has hope that one day, the people in the townships will have the same equality that more affluent people have.

We finally got placed into our service learning sites this week and I, with two other girls, are in an NGO that provides very basic training for women in townships to help get jobs. After listening to the women share who they were, I was moved. They’ve had so much pain and trials in their lives, but they still have hope and want to live a full and colorful life. They want to take ownership of their lives.

Their testimonies challenged me to reflect on the many opportunities that I’ve had “fed” to me. Even writing this now, I’m still processing through and figuring out how I want to respond to all these new things I’m learning. So I look forward to experiencing more of this vibrant and complex culture that makes South Africa.

This is a stall in the Root 44 Market that I love going to.

This is a stall in the Root 44 Market that I love going to.

A not so candid picture of our group at the market. (I literally said, "Smile for the IPD blog!")

A not so candid picture of some of our group at the market. (I literally said, “Smile for the IPD blog!”)

Watching the sunset from one of the various mountains in Stellenbosch

Watching the sunset from one of the various mountains in Stellenbosch during a hike.

Seeing the Invisible

As I write this, we are ending our second week in South Africa and our first week of classes. I’ve tried to formulate my thoughts about my experience in South Africa so far, but it’s nearly impossible to put into words. We have gone from being amazed at the beauty of Cape Town from the top of Lion’s Head to being grounded by the poverty we observed when visiting Kayamandi, a township just outside the comfortable enclosure of Stellenbosch. It’s hard to know exactly what to feel—I love experiencing the natural beauty, but learning about the disparate inequalities that exist here is also an essential part of this experience. Though we’ve only had a week of classes, our professors have continuously emphasized the importance of seeing the invisible, whether that be poverty, discrimination, or health inequality. So, amidst the unreal and very visible beauty of Stellenbosch and Cape Town, I find myself looking for those invisible things.

View from the top of Lion's Head

View from the top of Lion’s Head

Part of the reason why I chose to study abroad in South Africa was for the seemingly stark differences between South Africa and the United States. However, after being here for nearly two weeks, the similarities have been far more common than differences. In Kayamandi, we saw children in their creches, the equivalent of preschool, playing games with each other and with their loving teachers. At a community health clinic, the empathy and care for each patient was overwhelmingly present. And, unfortunately, the racial divisions present in South Africa are shockingly similar to those at home. These first two weeks have been quite eye-opening, and I can’t wait to see both the visible and invisible elements of what the rest of the trip has in store.

Eyes open and Ready to go

My friends can probably agree with me when I say that I’m not really an emotional person. I don’t usually cry when I say “Goodbye” to my closest friends and family, so imagine my surprise when I found myself crying while hugging my family goodbye before I left. I also found myself panicking at the thought of being away from them, my friends, Evanston, and more generally my safety zone. It hit me then that this study abroad experience is going to be a completely different and challenging way of life for me. I’m so used to staying in my bubble of friends and activities, that I kind of bubble wrapped myself from trying anything new. So, as I was waiting in the gate for my flight out, I started to reflect on what I hope to accomplish in South Africa and realized I have two burning desires. 🙂

I definitely want to try new things. Whether it’s trying new foods or sharing with locals that I wouldn’t usually share until I’ve established a secure level of trust, I want to be open to experiencing South African culture and have no regrets when I return.

I want to follow up on current events in South Africa regarding Gender Based Violence. I, along with a couple other students, took the recommended International Journalism class about South Africa and had to cultivate our own articles focusing on a topic that spoke to us. After interviewing experts and reading up on much of the current culture surrounding this topic, I’ve developed a heart and conviction for South Africa. Even though I’m not a Journalism major, I’m excited to follow up and discover what it’s like in SA.

Well, until my next blog post! I hope you guys keep following me and the other bloggers as we write about our experience abroad! Until next time!

Katie

P.S. Here’s a quick article on GBV in SA! http://www.iol.co.za/pretoria-news/opinion/gender-violence-not-a-private-matter-1561579

Hello Spring

Fair warning: I’m not a great writer and this is my first time blogging. I will try my best to describe everything I’m experiencing and doing in South Africa to the best of my ability, but please bear with me.

This quarter I will be studying abroad in South Africa at Stellenbosch University. Before even applying to Northwestern, I was looking at its Global Health program and the various locations students could study abroad. As a freshman, I heard about the South Africa program from a senior in marching band who went the previous year. After listening to all of her experiences I immediately knew that this was the program I wanted to apply for. Her stories of safaris, hiking, and her homestay experience drew me to this program.

After a long winter quarter with organic chemistry, I am looking forward to traveling and experiencing all South Africa has to offer. I can’t wait to learn more about its history, culture, and study under professors at Stellenbosch University. Although I am incredibly excited about this trip, I am also very anxious. I have experience travelling outside of the United States but not really by myself. I have travelled to Kenya with my family and India with other students through GESI, but never by myself. This will be the first time I will be flying solo and I’m a little nervous. Although I’m a little anxious, I know that I will learn a lot about health, South African history, and culture in the classroom and through our experiences.

 

 

Study Abroad Starts…Now

Disclaimer to any readers: I have never written a blog ever. Like ever. So please bear with me as I try it out during my time in this new country. I want to share everything that I see, learn, and experience while in South Africa, especially since I know most of my friends and family members will be asking a TON of questions once I come back. I’ve already been asked so many before I leave today, but many of them I have answered with an “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure” because I don’t know how I’m going to react to the differences of being in South Africa and I won’t be able to change those answers until I get there.

I’m going in with an open mind and an adventurous attitude to make sure that I can take in everything that I can while I’m there and also to calm some of my nerves. It’s a little nerve-racking to go to a completely different country (on a whole other continent!) to be immersed in their society, but it’s so exciting to be able to do so as well. It’s a country and culture that I’ve been attracted to since I developed an interest in Global Health. It’s an opportunity of a life-time and I’m so grateful to be able to take advantage of it. I’m excited for the adventures that I’m about to embark on with my NU classmates and for the chance to tell you all about it.

And don’t worry mom and dad, I’ll be alright.

In With the New

I feel like I should offer a warning to potential readers: I have never blogged before. I have never written in a journal before (except for my first-grade journal, which I fondly recovered while packing earlier this week). So, reflecting and sharing my thoughts on paper (or in this case, online) is new to me. While currently sitting in my family room with my two dogs on either side of me–AKA, a very comfortable, familiar setting–I find myself to be thinking about a lot of the things I’m about to do that are just as new to me as blogging.

Things I’ve Never Done but am About to Do:

  1. 1. Travel outside of North America
  2. 2. Be more than a 1 hour drive away from my family for more than a few weeks
  3. 3. Live outside of the Chicagoland area
  4. 4. Fly across an ocean
  5. 5. Go to Europe (albeit only in an airport)
  6. 6. Go to South Africa (!)
  7. 7. Do fun, adventurous things in South Africa (i.e. skydiving, swimming with sharks, etc.)
  8. 8. Journal
  9. 9. Blog

As many of my friends and family members know, I have been mostly nervous for this upcoming adventure. I’ve wanted to study abroad in South Africa since I found out about this program my freshman year, but all of the new, unfamiliar things have intimidated me. But, I know that I will be surrounded by an amazing group of students and professors, and now–finally–I can’t wait to leave on Monday. Join me as I not only learn how to blog but also learn to experience new and unfamiliar things. See you later, Chicago!

 

Hard to say goodbye to this pretty view, but I can't wait to see the mountains in South Africa!

Hard to say goodbye to this pretty view, but I can’t wait to see the mountains in South Africa!

The Whole World in the Cape

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Happy Kriti with her picks of samosas.

Oh, Cape Town.

This city had it all — mountains to climb, beaches to spend days on end relaxing on, craft villages to haggle for (hopefully, but probably not) low prices on souvenirs, and even markets to explore.

People who follow any one of us on Facebook or Instagram have probably seen at least three out of the four of those displayed proudly on social media, but I wanted to take this last “in-country” blog post to go into depth on the last one and indulge in some of our more touristy moments. The Evanston Farmers Market has a lot to work towards after experiencing all that Cape Town has to offer.

V&A Food Market
One of our later discoveries, but still a good time. Here, you’ll enjoy some artisan (read: hipstery, but so hipster that it denies being hipster) foods from around the world. Some in our group picked up some Chinese food after craving this since we did not have much access to Chinese food in Stellenbosch. A lot of us took advantage of this amazing spread of samosas — making our vegetarians on the trip particularly happy. And most importantly: MEXICAN FOOD. Good ol’ burritos. We had never seen any sort of Mexican food until this moment and we counted our blessings. (I’m also technically allowed to talk about the honey liquor in chocolate cups that we had, but we already mentioned wine, so why not?)

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Greg, Kaley, and I being generous with our bubble tea and sharing it with Desmond, F.W., and Nelson on the V&A Waterfront just outside the Food Market.

Eastern Food Bazaar
Though we struggled to find this little gem for a while, we ended up coming here twice during our time in South Africa. Amazing cheap for the quality and amount of food you get. Falafel lovers will rejoice, and you will find anything from hummus plates to Indian curry and tandoori. The real winner was quite likely Kriti’s bunny chow — something distinctly unique to South Africa. Originating from Durban (a city we unfortunately never had a chance to visit), bunny chow is essentially a hollowed out loaf of bread filled with curry. And it was SO good. My only regret is not buying one to call my own.

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Iheoma and I having a divine belgium waffle with ice cream and other toppings I cannot remember because my taste senses overwhelmed everything else.

Old Biscuit Mill
Last but not least, the ever popular Old Biscuit Mill. Super crowded every time we went, but rightfully so. Bring lots of rand with you to enjoy some of the craftiest chocolates, drinks, sandwiches, fresh juices, jalapeño poppers, paella, coconuts to drink from… The list is endless and so creative. It was a little overwhelming to navigate the huge crowds that filled every block of Old Biscuit Mill, but sticking together helps a lot. There was also live music and a ton of stores on the other side for those wanting to stuff their closets and not their stomaches.

But watch your cellphones, friends! Mine was pick-pocketed in the middle of a heavy tourist crowd… I remember it all too vividly. Keep your belongings safe and in a bag that zips closed, please.