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When two cultures meet…

Karolina Kielbania, Public Health and Development  in South Africa, Spring 2014


As week 4 is coming to an end, South Africa continues to surprise and amaze me in the best possible ways. I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of this country with its beautiful views, kind people, rich history, and so on. How will I ever leave? It’s interesting, because as much as I love it here, I do not think I could ever consider South Africa a home after living near Chicago the majority of my life. In Chicago, I am just like any other local with my supposed Chicago accent (I don’t hear it, but everyone keeps telling me I have one), my mannerisms, and even my style of dress. However, here, in Stellenbosch, I am an “American,” and, surprisingly, this is quite noticeable to all of the locals here. So, naturally, like with most study abroad experiences, I want to start feeling more like the locals and students here. Slowly, but surely, I have begun doing this in a few ways.

A few of the other students and I had quite an interesting experience when attending one of the student Catholic masses at the university. It was a typical mass, nothing out of the ordinary, until it came time for the announcements towards the end. The priest mentioned that there were some American visitors in the crowd (one of us emailed him earlier that week to figure out transportation), and then he looked straight at us, “It’s you guys, right? I could tell.” We were so surprised, and somewhat entertained, by this. How could he tell so easily that we were all American? Sure, we typically travel in larger groups and talk in a funny accent, but we just couldn’t decide how our outward appearance makes us look “American.”

With this in mind, along with other things, some of us decided to join a few sports and activities on campus in order to get more of a student experience. I, including some of the other students, decided to try out social tennis, which was really fun with the first practice we went to. Unfortunately, since we are kept so busy, we have not been able to attend many of the other practices. A few days ago, we attended a braai (a South African Barbeque with LOTS of meat) at the dorm where we are staying. This was another great way to meet some of the other students and feel less like a foreigner.

It’s definitely hard to feel like an actual student when you’re in a foreign country for a short span of 11 weeks. So far, I have been feeling much like a tourist especially considering the fact that we go on many excursions and travel in large groups. However, some aspects of South African culture have been starting to rub off on me a bit, such as taking my time with things (dinner is at least a good two hours here). South African time is a lot more relaxed and chill than “American” time. All in all, as the weeks go by, I feel myself acquiring a so called “third culture” where certain aspects of my home culture intermingle with aspects of this new and foreign South African culture. I am sure this will strengthen even more throughout the program. But, now I must pack for our week long Garden Route trip which I am super excited for and will definitely post updates once I’m back!

P.S. My NGO placement is at House Horizon for the remainder of the program. It’s really an awesome organization and you can read more about it here:

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