Thanks to some technical difficulties back in the States, I am currently writing you all from an internet cafe called WOW in downtown Stellenbosch. I was originally planning on publishing a painfully sentimental blog post prepared on the floor of the terminal in O’Hare, and if you would like to get an idea of the emotional roller coaster I initially wrote, you can visit https://carol-feng.squarespace.com/blog/. I’ll also be updating that blog to supplement my posts here.
Instead, I thought I would cheat this pre-departure blogging process a little and share more about myself and the adventure that brought me to this internet cafe at 20:47 on a Monday night.
My name is Carol, and I’m a junior at Northwestern studying Cognitive Science and Global Health. Outside of classes, my involvement is largely rooted in social justice and community development. Because of this, when I was deciding on where to study abroad, the Public Health and Development program in South Africa was the first link I clicked on when exploring the Study Abroad website as an impressionable freshman.
A professor I really admire at Northwestern once sat down with me and shared her own experiences studying abroad. Something she said really sums up my hopes for my journey now in South Africa: “I understood America much better, seeing America from outside, looking back… I saw how two other societies solved certain problems that seemed to bedevil Americans.”
Especially in regards to health and the structures that inform people’s health access and outcomes, we can really learn so much from communities outside of our borders. As a global community, we are faced with glaring health inequities, and we cannot pretend that we are not faced with similar issues here in the States. Many of the problems we face here are similar to those others experience and sometimes deal with better than we do.
Of course, many of these common problems manifest themselves differently in other communities especially like South Africa, a country with an arguably richer and more nuanced history than ours. I really hope that the experiences and revelations we have here inform us of how we as a society are not just different from South Africa, but similar.
That said, I need to admit that I am woefully unprepared for what is to happen next. The 30+ hour transit period from Chicago to Dubai to Cape Town was laden with self-consciousness and anxiety. I have never traveled alone for such great distances, and I am proud that I have made it safely to my destination and am happily typing away in this internet cafe.
I was met at the airport by a Stellenbosch University graduate student who was an incredible first guide into this new city. (I must apologize ahead of time and say that I am horrible with names. Case in point: I also already forgot my roommate’s name. We will meet again, and then I can properly publicly thank you for your hospitality and guidance.) We had been discussing our studies, music tastes, and annoyance at the United State’s insistence on not converting to the metric system, but when we arrived on campus, he suddenly turned to me and asked, “How’s your Afrikaans?” In response, I just laughed nervously. His response: “Oh, so nonexistent. You will have an interesting time then.”
There is much to learn and adapt to, and I admittedly should have done more research and reading on South African history, politics, language, and culture. But I am here now. And all I can do now is keep my mind open, absorb everything, and reflect. I will end with a sentence I have said so (annoyingly) much while back home and even here, but I mean with it the utmost sincerity: I am excited.