Reflections on an amazing study abroad experience

Hey everyone!

Coming home was not as difficult as I thought it would be. Other than the long 25.5 hours I spent either on a plane or in an airport, the actual goodbye process was not too bad (surprisingly). After not living in America for 5 months, I had a very glamorized view on what it would be like to be home—Chipotle, ice cream sundaes, Wawa, friends/family, free internet etc. However, I somehow forgot the fact that I don’t have any money to spend on the food I want (especially since my computer is broken AGAIN), and it seems that being home has just been a constant argument between my sister and I about who gets the car (gotta love sisterly love!)—a first world problem, that after being in South Africa I shouldn’t even be complaining about.

And of course, I cannot forget to mention the reverse culture shock of being home:

  • You no longer stand out—as a foreigner you always attracted more interest to you
  • Being at home is unchallenging, and surviving another day no longer feels like an achievement
  • Your view on your home town is way too glamorized in your mind
  • You miss friends and a culture that you were always around for the past 5 months
  • In general, the whole adjustment from a third world country to a wealthier area in a first world country is just weird and doesn’t make sense
  • Lastly, you have to come to an understanding that most people will not understand your time in South Africa

With all this being said, I absolutely love the comfort of being home, and am so excited to catch up with friends and family! 5 months was just the right time to be away, and I am happy to be home.

If anyone is reading this who is going to South Africa or considering it (I know I stalked many, many blogs before I came—South Africa doesn’t seem to have a “25 things I learned/did in South Africa while abroad” type of article on Buzzfeed that European countries often do) be prepared for the best time of your life. South Africa is a hidden secret of study abroad destinations that should be more widely known about.

While driving through Namibia, Colleen, Juliana, and I made a list of the top things we learned in South Africa (in no particular order):

  1. South Africa teaches you to live in the now (or the “now now” as I like to joke…South Africa says “now now” instead of now)—Africa Time.
  2. Ostriches are the WEIRDEST looking animals and are EVERYWHERE in South Africa.
  3. If you want to become friends with Europeans, go to South Africa—I have honestly learned more about Europe and America than I did while in America. It is surprisingly hard to become friends with locals when abroad, especially if you live with internationals. We live in a global village, with much diversity even in our own country.
  4. Race is 100% socially constructed. This unfortunately often ends in racial profiling.
  5. It is ignorant to classify all of Africa into one group of people—there are 54 different countries with very, very, very unique and traditional cultures.
  6. There are poverties (not poverty).
  7. 70 degree weather= ugg boots and winter jackets. There is no heating (or air conditioning) anywhere in South Africa.
  8. The Rainbow Nation has come a long way in 20 years, but many changes still must be made (and will be made with the potential in the upcoming generations).
  9. Not being connected to wifi, makes you more connected to real life (as cliché as this sounds, its 100% true). Don’t make the mistake of missing some of the best moments of life because you are hiding behind a screen.
  10. Nothing is as big as a problem as you think it is. I am extremely lucky to call the United States of America my home. We do sometimes have a bad representation (and yes, the stereotype that we are a loud culture is incredibly true), but in the end we have freedoms that many, many people dream to have. Be grateful for what we are given.
  11. Evidently milk and eggs do not need to be refrigerated…(still questionable…).
  12. There is so much importance in human connectedness. What we chose to do everyday effects the people around us (and vice versa). You might be surprised to see just how similar people are in all cultures of the world.
  13. No shoes, no problem—really though, no one wears shoes in South Africa anywhere.
  14. As cliché as this sounds, I learned so much about myself in South Africa. My friend said in LSCE after reflecting on her time in South Africa, “I know who I am, and I like who I am”…I feel reaffirmed about what I want to do in the future, and I am extremely excited for that.
  15. Lastly, one of my favorite quotes from LSCE: “change the way you look at the world, and the world will change”—realize how powerful you are in creating your own happiness and success

And a list of my favorite experiences while in South Africa (and why other people should studying abroad here as well!):

  1. Bungee jumping off the highest bungee jump bridge in the world
  2. Skydiving in Cape Town (the city, mountains, the ocean, and sand dunes all in one view)
  3. Shark cage diving
  4. Seeing the big five animals without all the cages and crowdedness of zoos
  5. Traveling to countries like Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique
  6. If you go to Namibia: climbing the highest sand dune in the world (and being in the oldest desert in Africa, and possibly the whole world)
  7. Skipping winter in America!
  8. If you got to Stellenbosch, taking the Learning for Sustainable Community Engagement Program
  9. South Africa will be the most beautiful and most diverse country you have ever been too
  10. Doing adventurous things everyday–every crazy activity you ever dreamed of doing, you can do in South Africa
  11. Playing with ostriches (and riding them)
  12. Wine, wine, and more wine
  13. Staying cheaply in the most awesome hostels you could imagine
  14. Amazing and cheap food
  15. Africa time—you MIGHT check what time it is once a day (time just doesn’t matter when you’re abroad in South Africa)
  16. Internet might suck, but I promise not having internet often will contribute to an amazing experience
  17. Monkey’s everywhere
  18. Not caring at all about how you look because in 5 months, you will be back in America
  19. Meeting the most adventurous, aware, and fun group of people you can imagine—You will have the most deep conversations while abroad in South Africa, I promise
  20. Finally, seeing views like these:

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I couldn’t have asked for a better semester abroad!

Until next time South Africa,

Leah

 

 

 

Namibia and my last few days in the beautiful country of South Africa

Hi everyone!

As most of you already know, I spent the past 11 days traveling around northern South Africa and Southern Namibia. Compared to Cape Town and Stellenbosch, the further north areas are much more isolated—a lot more land and a lot less people. Namibia itself only has a population of about 1.7 million people (and if you were to look on a map, the country is fairly big). I know a lot of people picture Africa to be a bunch of open plains with animals all over the place (and clearly that is not an accurate description of Africa). However, Namibia is a much more “so Africa” stereotyped description of “Africa”—although once again, to categorize Africa as 1 entity is just wrong (I mean, you have South Africa itself which has a 11 different and distinct cultures). In fact, many people in South Africa will say they are their culture, before saying they are South African. For example, a local culture here in Stellenbosch is the Xhosa people (yes, one of the many different clicking languages in Africa).   Most people of the Xhosa culture will say they are first Xhosa before saying they are South African. The cultures really are fascinating, and are very traditional (for the most part—obviously, western ideas are changing traditions here and there). For example, many of the different cultures here have unique initiations. Often during the initiations, the individuals will be cut, etc. on their skin in order to show their affiliation. So sometimes, you can tell which culture they are from due to certain scaring on their face. The scaring is not abrasive or anything. I find it to be a beautiful part of a saved tradition.

Anyway, back to my travels:

After taking some time to explain that my license was not expired (in South Africa, they read 10/05/2014 as May 10th, 2014… of course, in America it would be read October 5th, 2014), we successfully rented a rental car this past Friday (the 23rd of May)— a Honda Jazz (which surprisingly held up pretty well on the Namibian roads). We left in the morning for about a 6.5 hour drive to a place called Kamiskroon (a little before the Namibian boarder). This was kind of just a stop-over place, but it was a very nice house owned by a very nice couple in their 70’s). The house was very old, and had antiques all around it. The power ran on gas, so we opted to use candles as lighting.

House where we stayed the first and last night

House where we stayed the first and last night

Eating dinner with candle lighting

Eating dinner with candle lighting

The following day, we drove through the Namibian boarder! After driving on the dirt roads of Namibia, we made it to our destination: Roadhouse Canyon. We camped here for 2 nights. It got cold at night, but we had a sleeping bag and two blankets each so it was not too bad. During the day it was in the upper 80’s, low 90’s. On Sunday we woke up at about 5:15 to go to the Fish River Canyon for the sunrise. Everyday except for two days, I woke up to watch the sunrise. The sunrise I saw at the Canyon was definitely my favorite of them all. Later in the day, we traveled to Ai Ais natural hot springs—basically a resort in the middle a nowhere that had pools that were created by hot springs. The pool was similar to a giant hot tub. The scenery was beautiful around the pools…a lot of mountains and stretches of land. On the way home from the hot springs we saw a snake on the side of the road. We got out of our car to take pictures of it. It turns out the snake was a Cape Cobra and just so happens is the cause of the most fatalities (by a snake) of humans in Southern Namibia (luckily, the snake was not in a defensive possession or anything).

Fish River Canyon

Fish River Canyon

One of the hot spring pools

One of the hot spring pools

The beautiful sunset

The beautiful sunrise

The beautiful sunset

Once again, the beautiful sunrise

Canon Roadhouse

Canon Roadhouse

Cape Cobra

Cape Cobra

The following morning, we left for a town called Mariental. Mariental was just a little town in (once again) the middle of nowhere. We stayed in a guesthouse owned by a family. The guesthouse had a TV…so we all decided to watch an episode of Cake Boss and Say Yes to the Dress (since it was the first time we were able to watch TV since we arrived). We were not too sure what to do in Mariental (since it was just a stop-over town) so we ended up at this dam/nature game reserve thing. It was really random but entertaining nonetheless. Afterward, we went out to dinner and just sat around the table for a few hours until we were all tired. We woke up the next morning, went to a coffee shop, and were on the road again. Our next destination: Sossusvlei.

Mariental

Mariental

The random dam

The random dam

Sossusvlei has the highest sand dunes and is the oldest desert in Africa (and possibly the whole world as well). This destination was easily my favorite part of my Namibia travels. The desert was absolutely beautiful and was like nothing else I have ever seen. The sand was a red color, so it looked really amazing when the sun shined on the dunes. We camped out in Sossusvlei for 2 nights. We woke up on Wednesday (at 5:15 am) in order to begin our day in Sossusvlei National Park (the actual desert is called The Namib Desert). A tour guide drove us in a safari-looking car into the desert (our Honda Jazz, nicknamed by us Jazzy (short for jazzlyne), would not have made it on the desert sand). We drove through the park as our guide explained the animals and the land of the desert. At one point he began digging in the sand in order to pull out a spider (A White Lady Spider…I think that was the name). There were a lot of HUGE bugs in Namibia. I really really really really really hate bugs, so that was the one aspect to Namibia that I did not enjoy too much. We eventually drove to the highest sand dune in the Africa (and possibly the world). Our tour guide offered to hike up it with us, so of course we said we would. I didn’t realize how hard it would be to walk up the dune (it also turned out that out of all of the many years that our tour guide offered to hike up the dune to people, only 3 other groups said “yes”). It took about 1.15 hours to get up the dune. Walking on sand is difficult enough…so walking up a dune in non-sturdy sand was VERY difficult. But, we all eventually made it. The view was 100% worth it…sand dunes that went on for miles. My favorite part of the dunes (and I would argue my favorite thing I have done during my whole time here in South Africa/Namibia) was getting down from the dune. We just ran down the side of the dune…it was very steep and took about 6 minutes total to run down. The sand kind of pushed me forward, so it really felt like I was flying or what I would imagine what walking on the moon would feel like. It was so amazing and SO fun. After we ran down, we walked over to the dead trees…probably one of the most beautiful sites I have seen in Africa (maybe right behind the Lion’s Head hike view with the sunset). Once we returned from the dune excursion, we sat by a pool (once again in the middle of nowhere), and read. Later, we made dinner and smores around a campfire. It was really a perfect day.

The pool in the middle of the desert

The pool in the middle of the desert

Camping in a desert!

Camping in a desert!

Running down the dune

Running down the dune

oryx antelope

oryx antelope

Digging for a spider...

Digging for a spider…

The dead trees

The dead trees

The drive to the dunes!

The drive to the dunes!

On top of the highest dune

On top of the highest dune

Safari car!

Safari car!

The following day we drove back down south to a town called Keetmanshoop. We stayed in a very interesting rest camp. The rooms we stayed in really looked like bomb shelters or maybe an abstract looking planetarium.   There were mosquito nets on each bed. Namibia does not have problems with Malaria, instead the mosquito nets kept all the bugs out at night. While I was happy I didn’t have bugs on me, the mosquito nets did force me to acknowledge how many bugs there were since they were all crawling on it. The rest camp had cheetahs so we got to watch the owner feed them dinner (Springbok liver…yum). We were in the cage while they were being fed…it was really pretty neat. We also went to a park called Giant’s playground…basically a lot of giant rock formations, and a park where there were a lot of quiver trees (a really common tree in Namibia). The Bushmen people use the leaves on the quiver tree as arrows to hunt because they are a little poisonous.

Mosquito Net

Mosquito Net

Quiver tree

Quiver tree

yum!

yum!

The interesting room thing

The interesting room thing

Giant's Playground

Giant’s Playground

Quiver tree

Quiver tree

On Friday we drove back into South Africa to a town called Upington. We stayed in a little hut on the Orange River. Once again, the scenery was beautiful, and the vibe was very relaxing. On Saturday we went white water rafting on the Orange River. On the way to white water rafting I got to ride on the back of the pickup truck. The rafts were on the back of the truck, so I had to stand and basically hold on for my life as we went about 110 km/hr (pretty fast when you’re standing on the back of a pick up truck). In the evening we drove around in a safari-like car again in search for animals. When we woke up on Sunday we went to Arugabies falls (a national park with a waterfall in it). On our way back into our car from Arugabies, there was a monkey on top of our car. I put my coffee on the roof of the car and the monkey put his head in it (I’m not sure if the monkey drank it or not, so I just continued to drink it…I have not gotten sick yet, so I think I should be good!). Afterwards, the monkey almost jumped into the car, but luckily due to Juliana’s scream, it got scared away. The whole situation was pretty hilarious. From here, we drove back to our first destination in Kamiskroon for the night. We built a fire and just hung out as we talked about all the adventures we have had during the past 11 days and in Africa as a whole.

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Orange River

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Inside the hut

Just some more animals

Just some more animals

White water rafting

White water rafting

The next few days are going to be fast as I begin to say bye to my favorite parts of South Africa: restaurants, cities, friends, customs, etc. Today I went into Cape Town for the last time. We went to a famous bakery (named Charly’s Bakery), and then went to a neighborhood called Bo Kaap. Tomorrow I need to run around and get a few more things before I leave. Thursday we have out goodbye dinner/drinks with our resident director, Hestea. We are planning on just pulling an all-nighter so we sleep on the plane, and because it will be the last 24 hours where we will all be together.

Bo Kaap--Juliana's photo

Bo Kaap–Juliana’s photo

Charly's Bakery--also Juliana's photo

Charly’s Bakery–also Juliana’s photo

I leave South Africa on Friday and have about 24 hours of traveling before I am back home. The thought of leaving is very, very bittersweet. I am extremely excited to return back to the states and see everyone, but still, South Africa has truly been the best experience of my life (well, at least so far). When I was about to leave for South Africa, I was very ready to come. I was excited, I had done my research, and so I was 100% ready to arrive in this beautiful country. My time here consisted of missing people here and there, but I was never homesick. Right now, I feel sad to leave but I also know I am ready to be back home. I am very content with everything right now, and that really is an amazing feeling. I pushed myself out of my comfort zone, got lost a few times, but in the end I could not be more proud of myself. I wouldn’t necessarily say studying abroad “changed me”, it just taught me more about who I am, and I am forever grateful to South Africa for giving me this opportunity. I am proud to call this country my second home. I love you South Africa.

All the amazing memories in a journal

All the amazing memories in a journal

One last time from the incredibly beautiful South Africa,

Leah

P.S- don’t get too excited about not having to see me post millions of things about South Africa everyday on FB, you still got one more blog post coming your way

See you soon Philly!!

See you soon Philly!!

Week 17

Hi everyone!

This past week hasn’t been TOO crazy. I have finished all my South Africa classes/schoolwork, and am now officially a junior! Between my LSCE celebration of work and a few activities I did this week, I had a lot of homework to do (well, in terms of South Africa study abroad amount of homework that I usually have).

On Wednesday I hiked Lion’s Head Mountain (in Cape Town) again. The view was even more amazing than the last time I hiked up. We watched the sunset over Cape Town, Table Mountain, and the ocean…it was very serene. Also, on the top of the mountain there were about 30 sorority girls from Lehigh University (pretty awesome because I’ve never seen anyone from around where I am from here). Also, I have learned that Pennsylvania is thought of as a very random state if you are form the Southwest/west/ etc. of the United States. Basically, my friends from California, Texas, etc. view Pennsylvania as we would view Idaho or something.

Lion's Head

Lion’s Head

Lion's Head

Lion’s Head

Lion's Head

Lion’s Head

After setting up for our celebration of work at Lynedoch for 4 hours (and then waiting in the rain for another 1.5 hours for a train),  we had our farewell dinner for AIFS (American Institute for Foreign Study…the program I came with) on thursday.

AIFS farewell dinner

AIFS farewell dinner

On friday I had my LSCE celebration of work. Basically, we displayed all the learner’s artwork, sad our final goodbyes, watched the documentary we made (if you want to watch the documentary, the link is below), and ate lunch. Leaving LSCE made me understand how difficult it will be to leave the country. I leave in 2.5 weeks…the time has gone by SO fast! The process of leaving is very bittersweet, but I have many things I am excited for at home as well. When I came to South Africa I was ready to come, and was surprised that I didn’t have THAT difficult of a time adjusting to a new lifestyle. Similar to how I felt leaving America, I feel that I will be ready to go home in 2.5 weeks (although I am not prepared for the intense amount of culture shock I know I will experience when I am back home).

Grade 5 teachers!

Grade 5 teachers!

Grade 5 artwork

Grade 5 artwork

Part of the wall we painted for Lynedoch Primary School

Part of the wall we painted for Lynedoch Primary School

Documentary Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NH2T-NT1diA&feature=youtu.be (You can only watch this on a computer…it wont work on a phone)

On Saturday my friends and I went to Cape Town with the man who is organizing our trip to Namibia. We went to a market called Old Biscuit Mill, and then went to a rugby game (South African Stormers vs. Australia’s Western Force). Stormers won! Following the game, we went to a restaurant and got dinner. Saturday was probably in the “top ten” of favorite days since I have been in South Africa. It was a beautiful fall day, and I really enjoyed going to the rugby game. While we were driving to Cape Town, Adrian (the man who took us to the rugby game) was explaining more facts about the nearby townships (also known as locations)…always interesting to hear about.

rugby game

rugby game

Rugby game

Rugby game

Today my friends and I had a potluck brunch, and this evening we are all going out to dinner together. I leave for Namibia on Friday and return next Monday (June 2nd). Just a heads up to everyone, I will most likely not have any internet reception for the 11 days, and therefore will not be able to contact people. Just if anyone is curious, Namibia is basically a huge desert. While there we will visit the 2nd largest canyon in the world (River Fish Canyon), Sossusvlei dunes—the oldest desert and highest sand dunes in Africa (possibly in the whole world), Augrabies Falls, and some other really awesome places. The trip is basically the king of all road trips (will travel about 3-4 hours per day, for 11 day). My next blog post I will write all about the amazing adventures of Namibia! And, it will most likely be my last blog post while I am in South Africa. How crazy!

I miss all of you back in America, and I hope you all are having a great start to your summer :)

Until next time,

Leah

Week 16

Hey everyone!

I only have a few more blog posts till I am back in America! With less than 4 weeks left (and this week being my last full week in South Africa) everything has been really, really busy. And of course, I actually have homework due. Today was my last “real” class. However, Friday I have a “celebration of work” for LSCE, and then I will finally be a junior!

This past Wednesday was Election Day in South Africa…marking 20 years since the first democratic election after Apartheid ended! On Tuesday, when I was sitting outside working on some homework, I was able to hear some “why you should vote” advertising going on. At one point, there were South African students taking turns explaining why they were voting into a microphone. It was fascinating to listen too (and gave me a reason to stop doing homework). One black college student stated that she was voting because she was sick of hearing people tell her “she doesn’t belong” in certain bars on campus. Relating to her experience, I actually have heard of people getting kicked out of bars here on campus because of their race (or because of an interracial relationship)—absolutely ridiculous. Anyway, the ANC (current party in power) won but with a smaller majority than last election (what was predicted).

On Friday I had my last LSCE theory class. It was the first of what is going to be a lot of good-byes in South Africa. The class itself was probably my favorite LSCE class but was definitely the most challenging (mostly because I just had so many thoughts running through my head). We began class with our check-in. While completing the check-in, we did a drawing activity. Basically, everyone chose a symbol that they felt represented them at the moment. We passed around each other’s paper until everyone had each student’s symbol on it. Afterwards we all took some time explaining the symbol. When we were done explaining, we began a more “deep” activity. Basically, Grant (my teacher) called out randomly one person to sit in front of the class. Then he would randomly call someone out to explain what the person’s “gold” was (basically, the strengths of the person). Lastly, Grant randomly called on someone to write down all the strengths the person was saying. So, one by one we all sat in front of the class while someone explained his or her strengths. The activity was so amazing because of the group of students in LSCE. I realized from the activity that I could have been told to give strengths to any of the 24 students and I would not have had a problem. As I said earlier, on Friday I have my celebration of work. Basically, faculty of Stellenbosch University, the LSCE students, and the Lynedoch teachers all get together and yeah, celebrate our work. Some LSCE students made a really awesome movie so we will show that (and I will eventually have it on YouTube so you can all see it!), and we also have to exhibit all the learner’s artwork from the semester. We also began with a giant check-in with all the guests and LSCE students (of course). Lastly, we give out presents, awards, etc. We also get one last amazing meal from Grant’s mom, Colleen.

LSCE last theory class symbols

LSCE student’s symbols

On Saturday, I finally made it to Robben Island! For those of you who don’t know, Robben Island is where Mandela was held in prison for more than 20 years. We took about an hour ferry ride to get to the island. The ferry ride was definitely the most dangerous boat ride I have ever been in…but also SO much fun. Some friends and I stood on the front deck on the top of the boat and hung onto the railings the whole time while the boat flew up and down and right and left. There were honestly a few times where I thought I might have died on that boat—which would have been kind of ridiculous given the fact that I have been near lions, jumped off a bridge, swam with sharks, jumped out of a plane, etc. Once arriving to Robben Island, we toured the island. It was way bigger than I thought. Afterwards, an ex-political prisoner at Robben Island gave us a tour in Mandela’s maximum-security prison building. It was so interesting to see Mandela’s cell and the amount of history that was created there.

Ferry to Robben Island

Ferry to Robben Island

Nelson Mandela's prison cell

Nelson Mandela’s prison cell

On Sunday I went with AIFS to Cape Point (most South Western point of South Africa—very precise). The mountains were so beautiful (as always) and it was such a nice day out. Following Cape Point, we went to Simon’s Town and got lunch. From there, we went to see penguins! They were just walking around the beach…I even was able to get about a foot away from one! It was really neat…penguins are pretty funny animals.

Cape of Good Hope

Cape of Good Hope

Cape Point--Happy Mother's Day!

Cape Point–Happy Mother’s Day!

Cape Point

Cape Point

Cape Point

Cape Point

Cape Point

Cape Point

Penguins!

Penguins!

Today I had my last LSCE lesson with my grade 5 class. The grade 5 learners taught me a lot, and have given me a whole different perspective on a lot of different situations. While teaching is definitely not my forte, I have gained lots of valuable experiences and memories that have currently influenced me and will continue to in the future.

LSCe Grade 5!

LSCe Grade 5!

This week is going to be VERY busy. I have a take-home test that is pretty time-consuming. But, what I am dreading doing most is my final profile for LSCE…I just cannot stand Word formatting. I have done about half of it and am already at 80 pages. Besides work, I am climbing Lion’s head again on Wednesday and on Thursday I have my end of the semester dinner with AIFS. On Friday I have my celebration of work. And on Saturday I am spending the day in Cape Town and then going to a South African vs. Australia Rugby game. Lastly, for those who do not know: I am leaving for Namibia next Friday for 11 days! When I return it will be June 2nd, and I will only have 4 days left in South Africa. Time is flying by!

Until next time,

Leah Fein

Week 15

Hellloooooo!

I am officially under 5 weeks till I go home. I feel that everything is getting a bit rushed, and for the first time while being here I actually find it hard to live in the present. My friends and I have talked a lot about how it is challenging to live in the “now”, and we have come to the conclusion that we’re just anticipating home more—I mean, it is a month away. But as my teacher Grant says, we must finish as strong as we began. So with that, I had a very good and pretty eventful week.

On Wednesday, one of the girls in AIFS (my program) organized a beer pong tournament with one of the Stellenbosch residences. All the Americans lost (even though beer pong is American…). But it was still really awesome, and pretty cool to see a residence. The beer pong tournament took place in the residence’s bar (yes, the residences here have bars).

Beer Pong Tournament

Beer Pong Tournament

On Thursday I planned to do homework, but that did not happen. I ended up going to a restaurant with a few friends and just hung there for a while. When my friend and I were walking back to our dorm, we found a TV with Spongebob playing in our student center. Since we have not watched anything off a TV in four months (and because Spongebob was on), we decided to sit down and watch it. Really productive day, I know.

On Friday, I had my last real lecture of LSCE. I will really, really, really, miss LSCE. We have class this Friday, but we are doing something different (I am not really sure what though). I figured I would explain exactly what LSCE is, and why it has taught me so much. On Mondays we teach the children based on lesson plans that we wrote earlier this semester. Working with the children on Mondays has taught me a lot, but my favorite part of LSCE is our Friday class. Beyond LSCE, Grant (my teacher) is also a Social Work professor at Stellenbosch University. Grant has a wealth of knowledge that he so openly shares. The class itself is very discussion based, and every comment is 100% accepted…sometimes starting heated debates (which get extremely interesting given the select group of students in LSCE). Anyway, we begin class with a “check in”. Basically, Grant gives us a question to answer and we take about 10 minutes or so to draw a picture of our answer. Then one by one (in any order we want) we stand up and explain our drawing and what it means to us. Grant always adds in his comment to all of our pictures. For example, (relating to my first paragraph in this weeks post), last week the question was “where are we at this point?”. Below is a picture of my answer (and of course, I messed up the coloring on the SA flag…even though I painted about twenty South African flags on the student’s faces the previous week).

LSCE Check-in

LSCE Check-in

Anyway, when explaining this picture I said how I feel happy and very proud (I really do feel so proud of myself… anyone who studies abroad should! It is not always easy) of my time in South Africa. And while I cannot wait to see friends and family once I am home, I also am so excited to see the person who I have become when I return. It is kind of hard to see how much I have changed when everyone else is changing with me. Don’t worry, this isn’t any “new country, new me” kind of thing, I promise. I am still the Leah, you all love (maybe). It’s like when I finished my first year of college and I thought to myself, “wow, I am so independent!” (even though everything was still basically being done for me). Studying abroad is that feeling times a hundred, and with a lot of other adjectives as well. Anyway, that was kind of a long tangent. The check-in’s can get pretty emotional, deep, etc. and last about an hour and a half. From there, we have three presentations given by students. I never was disappointed by a presentation as they are all interesting topics and are discussion based. Some examples of topics were politics of food, cognitive justice, sustainable agriculture, ethics, etc. After everything is over, we have a check-out. The check-out is way shorter than the check-in, but the concept is the same. Instead of a question, we are open to say basically what ever we want to. Also, I cannot forget to mention the AMAZING lunch we are given. Grant’s mom cooks us lunch every Monday and Friday, and it is definitely the best food I have eaten here.

In general, completing LSCE means we receive a community development certificate. A major aspect that we focus on is sustainability within the community development context. Learning about the process of community engagement has broadened my own perspective on the social work field. I am excited to merge the idea of sustainable community development with the area of social work I want to enter.

Anyway, after LSCE on friday I went out to dinner with some friends.

Friday night dinner

Friday night dinner

This weekend was a really nice weekend. On Saturday, Colleen and I decided to spend the night in Cape Town. We took the train into the city in the morning, and then took a second train to Muizenberg (where we went one of the first weekends here). It was a really nice day so we walked down the beach and ended up in a town called Kalk Bay. The town had a hippie vibe to it, and had a lot of cool shops. We ate lunch in a restaurant that was in an old train. It reminded me of American diners. Afterwards, we walked around town and explored a little. Around 4 we took the train back to Cape Town and took a taxi to our hostel. We went out to dinner on Long Street (the popular street in Cape Town). Our table overlooked the street, so it was an awesome view. After hanging out on Long Street for a little, Colleen and I went back to the hostel and just relaxed there.

Halk Bay

Kalk Bay

Kalk Bay

Kalk Bay

Kalk Bay

Kalk Bay

The Train Restaurant

The Train Restaurant

Halk Bat

Kalk Bay

Halk Bay

Kalk Bay

Kalk Bay

Kalk Bay

Today (Sunday), it rained. It has probably rained about 5 days out of the 4 months I have been here. We were supposed to go to Robben Island with my AIFS group, but since we have to take a ferry the trip is weather dependent. So since all the AIFS students were already in Cape Town (and it was raining), we decided to go to the Aquarium. After the Aquarium, we walked around the Waterfront for a little, and the came back home.

"The cure for anything is salt water--sweat, tears, and the sea"

“The cure for anything is salt water–sweat, tears, or the sea”

That’s all for now!

Until next time,

Leah

Week 14

Hi everyone!

This past weekend has been very fun, and a little more cultural (kind of). Today (Monday), I do not have school because yesterday was South African Freedom Day (a public holiday that recognizes the first post-apartheid elections…since it is the 20th anniversary, this year is  pretty special). The general elections are in 10 days (May 7th), and I am very interested to see what the outcome is. From what I have researched, the ANC party (the party that Mandela fought with, and the current party in power) will remain in power but with less of a majority. Unfortunately, there is a lot of discontent with the ANC… well, more so the actual people in power with the ANC, not the actual party (but I guess that’s politics). Also, an interesting fact: this is the first election where the “Born Frees” are able to vote—people who were born after apartheid ended. Only about 1/3 are registered to vote though.

Anyway, this Friday I went to a poetry slam in a township called Kayamandi. Kayamandi is in Stellenbosch, and you can even see the area from my friend’s window. Some students who go to Lynedoch Primary School are from Kayamandi as well. The poetry slam was held through a group called Amazink (part of Kayamandi where they have shows, dances, etc.). I have never been to a poetry slam, and especially have never been a fan of poetry—it just never made sense to me, and just frustrates me. However, (even though I had a difficult time following what the poems were saying)I really loved the poetry slam. There were people of all backgrounds and wealth. There were poems in Afrikaans, English, and Xhosa, and the poems were by white, black, and colored people. I was amazed how talented everyone was. My favorite part about the poems were the topics—most were about racial issues, and general issues that are common in South Africa. The fascinating topics, plus the passion in the their voices made the poems so powerful.

Kayamandi

Kayamandi

On Saturday some friends and I went to a wine and cheese festival in Stellenbosch. This festival was different than the rest because it was set up more like a fair, and was a LOT bigger. There were free samples of cheese everywhere, and was a great place to people-watch.

Wine and Cheese Festival

Wine and Cheese Festival

On Sunday, some friends and I went to Mzloi’s—kind of like a block party in a township. The township’s name is Guguletho, and has about 45,000 residents. Mzoli’s is a well-known out-door braai restaurant. Since it was Freedom Day, there were a lot of people everywhere. It was the first time that I really felt like a minority, and the whole event was definitely a little out of my comfort zone. However, I did have a good time, and learned a lot from it. I gave up on trying to get food while there though, so I didn’t eat from 8 am to 9 pm (kind of a ridiculous thing to complain about when I was in a township though). I was happy when I did eventually get home, and could be in a less crowded area, and could eat.

Before going to Mzoli's, we went to a bar in Kayamandi

Before going to Mzoli’s, we went to a bar in Kayamandi

Mzoli's

Mzoli’s

Gugulethu township

Gugulethu township

Mzoli's

Mzoli’s

Mzoli's

Mzoli’s

Lastly, my computer is back and funcitoning! (Like I said,  everything works out in the end)

Until next time,

Leah

Week 13

Hi everyone!

I hope you all had a great Passover and Easter!

This past week went by very fast (as always). I didn’t do much during the week…just the normal walking around Stellenbosch (since I only had one class last week). Finally after 9 days of not having any class, I have my Gender and Identity class tomorrow and I have a test. My only real test this whole entire semester (completely different from my friends at Pitt who are going through their horrible finals right now…glad I am not there!).

Anyway, this past weekend 5 friends and I went to Hermanus—a beach town about an hour and a half away from Stellenbosch. We successfully rented a car…which meant it was the first time my friends and I were able to drive to get to our destination (minus international office activities). I forgot how nice it is to not have to rely on public transportation (especially South African public transportation).  After successfully driving on the left side of the road, we made it to Hermanus!

Zoete Inval (where we stayed)...definitely the most interesting hostel so far

Zoete Inval (where we stayed)…definitely the most interesting hostel so far

The weekend itself was pretty relaxing.  For the most part we just walked around town and just hung out at the beach. On Saturday  woke up early to drive to Gansbaai (a famous area to see Great White Sharks) so we could go shark cage diving! After learning the safety precautions and what not, we all went on a boat ride to where we would go shark cage diving. The boat crew attracted the sharks with giant fish (I believe it was Tuna) and a fake seal they named Gladece. Once the first shark came, we went in groups of 8 into a cage to see the sharks! My friends and I put on a wetsuit (probably one of the most difficult things I have done in South Africa), and went in the cage. The water was 14 degrees Celsius (REALLY cold). The boat crew would tell us when a shark was near and yell to go under and look left, right, or center. The sharks came really close to us—if we were to reach our hand out of the cage we would have touched them. By the end of our shark cage diving, we saw about 11 different sharks. Some sharks were babies, but most were pretty huge. One shark that kept coming back was very aggressive and ate Gladece (the shark actually grabbed the fake seal and proceeded to spin the boat as he tried to break the seal apart…eventually the shark was successful).

Shark cage diving!

Shark cage diving!

Shark cage diving!

Shark cage diving!

Underwater in the cage (thanks to Colleen's camera)

Underwater in the cage (thanks to Colleen’s camera)

Shark cage diving!

Shark cage diving!

The boat that we went on for shark cage diving

The boat that we went on for shark cage diving

On Sunday my friend Juliana got a tattoo. It was the first time I ever saw someone get a tattoo so that was pretty cool. However, there was a lot going on in the tattoo shop (with piercings and tattoos and what not) so it got a little nauseating after a little. Juliana got the word Ubuntu tattooed on the back of her left shoulder. The word is a bantu word (a word that encompassed the languages Xhosa and Zulu… from how it has been explained to me, it has a black/colored cultural meaning). Ubuntu means “I am because we are” and is a very popular statement in the black/colored community (and is often an unknown word in the white community). The word symbols the importance of community and humanness.

Desmond Tutu’s  quote on Ubuntu: One of the sayings in our country is Ubuntu - “the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality — Ubuntu — you are known for your generosity.

We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole world. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity”

My weekend was really great. On Monday we returned back to Stellenbosch to complete some homework and to once again, just relax. This week I have class Wednesday and Friday. On Saturday there is a big wine and cheese festival that I am going to.

On another note, my computer is broken AGAIN (I have no idea how that happened… I was not even using my computer when it stopped working). Also, about 10 minutes after finding my computer dead, I touched my toaster which proceeded to catch on fire. And about a minute later, my phone charger suddenly stopped working. I actually found the whole cycle of breaking things somewhat funny…but was a little worried I was going to bring bad luck to Hermanus. Fortunately, I did not (except for when my friend accidently slammed the car door shut on my finger and it almost broke). If anything, South Africa has taught me to not wake up with any expectations for what’s going to happen during the day. Instead, just wake up with expectations that it will be a good day (since from my prior experience here, everything does truly work out in the end)—some South African study abroad advice haha.

Until next time,

Leah