Today marks three weeks since I left Wenatchee to come study abroad, and just a couple days shy of a full three weeks in Stellenbosch. It’s a relief to say things are starting to feel somewhat comfortable and normal here. I have my close friends, I know the immediate area, and at least my weekdays have finally taken some form of routine here.
A typical day for me starts around 7:30 when I wake up for breakfast which is served in the dorms from 7:30-8:30. Breakfast is usually eggs cooked differently depending on the day, some kind of sausage or bacon, tomatoes or mushrooms, and toast. I haven’t quite gotten used to when they serve cold hotdogs as the sausage (seriously, they are absolutely hotdogs), but I think they’re growing on me. After that I walk to class which is about 10 minutes away. Sometimes the morning is a little chilly, but I like the quiet stillness of campus in the morning. The local students are finally starting to arrive since their classes start in a couple weeks. I take one class each week, and it goes from 9-10:30, tea break, 11-1:00, lunch, 2:00-4/5:00. The days are long, but I really lucked out with my Biodiversity class last week since I only had morning lecture and then excursions in the evening. I got to see beautiful coastlines, a botanical garden, a commercial protea farm, and even penguins and a zebra during the outings.
For lunch, I go to the student center called the Neelsie. There’s this one sort of Indian restaurant there that has an amazing spicy-chicken and mayo toastie (toasted sandwich) that’s one of my favorites. Coffee is amazingly cheap here, too. After class gets out, I try and work on whatever paper is assigned for the class that week or do my laundry if it’s been a while. That usually doesn’t go well since I love socializing with the people here, and sometime around 6:00 I’ll go wander around town with a group to get dinner if there’s nothing planned. I still don’t love going out to eat every night, but I’m slowly getting used to it. Oftentimes they’ll have events a few times a week, like a movie night or bowling. Yesterday we had “4th of Ju-Braai” for the Americans. After dinner, I usually socialize a bit more, take a shower, and go to bed. Showers are not exactly relaxing, unfortunately. Firstly, the western cape is in a massive drought at the moment so we are supposed to keep showers below 4 minutes. That means turning the water off while you soap up and then on when you’re ready to rinse. As a result, it never really gets warm. As if a cold shower wasn’t already rough enough, the lights in the bathroom are on a motion sensor, but the sensor is outside of the shower stall. It’s not uncommon for the light to turn off a couple minutes into the shower if no one else walks by. So, most nights I can be found enjoying a cold, 4 minute shower in the dark. Then again, if that’s the worst part of my day then life is pretty great here.
I’m honestly surprised at how normal everything feels. It really didn’t take that long to feel comfortable here. I don’t entirely feel like I’ve done a great job meeting all of my goals. I have tried quite a bit of food (no bunny chow yet – that’s on the menu for this week once my cold finally goes away and I can taste again), but it wasn’t what I was expecting. I’ve said it before, but Stellenbosch feels very Western compared to what I was expecting. I’m looking forward to traveling to Cape Town this Saturday and around the Western Cape at the end of my trip to hopefully experience another side of South Africa. I haven’t really learned much Afrikaans either. Everyone around me speaks English all the time, so even if I learn a phrase I don’t get many opportunities to use it. I have been working on one of the Xhosa clicks in the meantime. I’m not sure to what extent I’m experiencing a typical Stellenbosch life. Especially since local students are on holiday, the international students are somewhat isolated. I do hang out a lot with my friends Venita and Sam who are local students, though, and they do a good job guiding me towards what normal life is like. I think I might have had the opportunity to connect with the community more if I’d either done a normal semester trip or the Service Learning summer program instead of the General Elective summer program. A full semester would have put me in classes with the locals, and there’d have been less americans to attach myself to. The Service Learning program sends students out in the community for work, so it’s easier to connect with individuals who aren’t students. I think if people really want to live the life of a local while abroad, it’s important to avoid going during their breaks and instead attend the regular classes. I also wish I could’ve stayed with a local family or college apartment instead of in the dorms with almost entirely Americans. Most of all – stay as long as possible!
With that said, I’m still thrilled with my experience so far even if things have gone in a different direction than what my initial goals were. Traveling is fluid, and I didn’t completely know what to expect here. All I can do is adapt to whatever gets thrown my way and continue to enjoy it. I’m also happy because I’ve certainly been living outside of my comfort zone with some of my weekend adventures. I tried to go shark cage-diving a couple weeks ago. I say tried because we ended up sitting on a boat all day but never even getting into the cage since orcas had been in the area and scared away all the sharks. Still a beautiful day though, and I got to visit Shark Alley and see thousands of seals lounging in the sun.
This most recent weekend was a getaway to Club Mykonos in Langebaan. I enjoyed good food, sunshine, the ocean, not having any real responsibilities, and most importantly, good company. I also got to go chocolate tasting on the way home which was absolutely lovely.
This next week I’ll be continuing my Ethics and Philosophy class that I started Monday. It has been interesting and thought-provoking so far, and I can’t wait to see where it goes. Yet again, I’m appreciating the brutal, fearless honesty Venita has in my class since it really pushes the discussion forward. I’ll be visiting Cape Town and hopefully hiking Table Mountain Saturday if I have time before or after the red bus tours, and then Sunday is a trip to Cape Point for some sight seeing. I can’t believe I’m only in Africa for 2 more weeks – the time here has gone by so quickly and I’ve been loving every second of it!