So the other day, I was talking to a few other people in the program about our upcoming trip to the Garden Route (along the southern coast of the country). We were wondering about the weather in that area, and I found myself saying pretty naturally, “Well it’s south of here, so it’s probably a bit colder.” Immediately after saying that, of course, I realized how backwards that is from what we’re used to in the US. But even so, I hardly had to think to switch around the whole Northern/Southern Hemisphere thing. I was pretty proud of adjusting to this small part of everyday life, and it’s gotten me thinking about what else I’ve adjusted to in the past six weeks. So here’s a list!
THINGS I’M USED TO:
1. Apparently, the fact that north is warmer and south is colder.
2. The weather. Honestly, not too hard to adjust to the gorgeous sunny-with-a-light-breeze days. Although now that it’s becoming “winter” (60-75 degrees during the day, sometimes with rain), we see a lot of students walking around in heavy coats and boots, which is hilarious. Yesterday I saw a girl wearing mittens.
3. Walking on the left side of the sidewalk (finally got it!).
4. Casual conversations about race, gender, and politics. One of the coolest things about South African culture is how open and knowledgeable people are about political issues.
5. Taking my time with just about everything. Going out to dinner consistently takes two or three hours. There’s hardly any fast-casual dining – even a lot of coffee shops are basically sit-down restaurants. So the pace of life is much more relaxed, which is actually kind of nice!
6. Load Shedding. It’s complicated, but the national provider of electricity is unable to meet the demand for electricity. So they’ve instituted rolling blackouts, where the power will shut off for 2.5 hours at different times in different parts of the country. It’s not a huge deal, but it definitely takes getting used to. It’s crazy how much we need power for – cooking, using the internet, doing anything at night, etc. Our blackouts are often from 6-8:30pm, so it’s too dark to do much. We usually play cards, sleep, or watch TV that someone has saved to their computer ahead of time.
These are all pretty small parts of everyday life, but I think it’s these little things that make up part of the culture of a place (although some of the things on my list are probably more important culturally than others). On the surface, Stellenbosch looks a lot like any American college town, but there are definitely differences here that I’m getting a feel for. And a lot of these little differences will probably change how I view life in America – politics might be treasured a bit more, life won’t be so rushed, and consistent electricity will never be taken for granted. But one thing hasn’t changed: the word “winter” will always be reserved for days much colder than 60 degrees.