We have one week remaining in South Africa, and only two more days of course work. The weather is transitioning from Summer to Autumn, and I’m wearing a sweater and jeans as I write this while sitting outside a café – an unthinkable prospect when we stepped off the plane in January into the blazing summer sun.
In one sense, I feel like I’ve finally started to acclimate to the idiosyncrasies of Stellenbosch culture. For instance, I know that flip flops are always preferable to shoes and bare feet are preferable to both (one of my classmates has been documenting this fact). I can recognize some spoken and written Afrikaans, my isiXhosa click consonants are getting better, and the South African accents are much more understandable to me than they used to be. I also have a good sense of the value of things without having to do an explicit conversion: 30º is hot but not unbearable, 19h00 is when it starts to get dark, R30 for a cappuccino is a little steep (even though that price would be a steal in the US), 20 kg is far too much for me to curl, and once your food hits 1500 kJ it’s moving out of snack territory and getting closer to a full meal.
Sometimes Afrikaans isn’t that hard to understand
In another sense, I’m still so very foreign. My American accent is impossible to hide, which at least helps people be patient with me when they ask a question and all I can give them is a blank stare in response. I cause a scene whenever I try to charge my phone, pulling out three separate adapters to convert the South African outlets into something my American electronics can handle. My lack of interest in (or knowledge of) rugby is mildly offensive, and elicits the same sorts of responses that I get in the US when I admit that I’m not a fan of [American] football.
Adapters for converting (from right to left)…
(2) The Euro plug to physically accept the USA plug
(3) The South African 240V/50Hz electricity into the USA’s 110V/60Hz electricity
I’m going to miss this beautiful country and its beautiful people, with all the problems and pain and promise and hope they contain. Rather than sadness, though, there’s a peaceful feeling of resolution and closure that has settled on me as I close this chapter. I dreamed of this experience since my first month at Northwestern, and in less than 7 days I will have completed both the trip and my degree. Neither were what I expected, but given the chance to redo my choices I would still pick them in a heartbeat. Thank you to everyone who has made my journey over the past 5 years possible: my teachers, coworkers, mentors, friends, and family. It’s been unforgettable, and shaped me into a drastically better person ready to embrace whatever is next in store.
non scholæ sed vitæ discimus