I can’t believe it – I have officially passed the halfway mark of my study abroad. I have been living in Africa for over 70 days. On one hand, it feels like I have been living here forever. On the other, it feels like I just left America yesterday. I remember in January feeling like leaving for Cape Town was never going to come. Somehow, now I am halfway through my adventure here – which is exciting and scary at the same time.
These past 70-something days have been incredible experience. I have had so many opportunities to do so many incredible things and check off so many things on my bucket list. I have had the opportunity to learn so much about myself and the world around me.
When I arrived here, I really had no idea what was in store for me. I thought “yea, it will be new and exciting. I will be uncomfortable. School can’t be that hard – we are studying abroad” but I didn’t completely understand what lied ahead of me.
I can easily say that this is the most uncomfortable I have ever been in my life. I am a total comfort zone person, and I am not afraid to admit it. I like what is comfortable and to challenge myself here and there, but moving to another country for five months is definitely the craziest thing I have ever done.
I moved 9000 miles away from home. 7 time zones from my parents. I took classes all outside my normal realm of science and pre-med. I engaged myself with people that think completely different than me. I put myself on a campus with 30,000 other people where I did not know a soul. I challenged myself physically and mentally.
So I thought I would just reflect on some of the things I have learned so far.
6 THINGS I HAVE LEARNED ABOUT MYSELF
1. I HAVE LEARNED HOW TO LIVE IN A FOREIGN COUNTRY
This might sound like a well duhh. But there are so many things you don’t think about that you have to adjust to when you move to a foreign country. I was lucky that language was not one (though there are a lot of local languages spoken here so sometimes it feels like no one speaks English). I had to learn the lay of the land. I had to figure out local transportation. I became more aware of the politics and history of South Africa and Africa in general. I had to learn how to completely live an independent life. There were no parents to call when something went wrong. No parents to cook me dinner if I didn’t want to one night. No parents to keep up with what was going on in my life. I am on my own here and that was one of the hardest things I had to learn here from the beginning. I did not have the comfort of my familiar friends or even just familiar faces. (Refer to earlier blog from March).
2. I HAVE DISCOVERED HOW MUCH I LOVE THE WORLD
Sunsets, hikes up mountains, oceans, starry nights…You name it. I did not realize how much I love being outside and enjoying the great outdoors. AND I get to enjoy a spectacular view of the city of Cape Town and the mountains behind every day as I walk across campus. It never gets old. One of my favorite things to do this semester is to sit on the Jammie steps between classes and just take in the view. There is just something freeing about being outside in such a beautiful world. That is one thing that Fort Worth does not have enough of and what it does have, I don’t think I take advantage of enough. I also have enjoyed the many adventures we have taken where we have ended up in slightly questionable
3. I FREAKING LOVE SCIENCE
I mentioned that I was taking classes outside my normal science realm. The only thing that is close to what I am used to taking is my Physics class. My other classes are Empires and Modernity, Medical Anthropology (I know sounds cool right), and African Instruments. First let me mention, that we are only allowed to take one first-year course, which happens to be my physics class- yay. Then the rest are at least second year courses and that means the people in these classes are majors in these areas…. So history right – how hard could it be? DIFFICULT. I quickly learned that lectures are only relevant to our assignments for less than 2 minutes out of the 45 minute lecture. Then don’t even get me started on the format of writing papers here. Learning to write an essay in what I like to call “The Nonsense South African Way” took way longer than it should have. Feedback on what you did wrong on assignments hardly exists. AND to make matters even better As are nearly impossible to get here. People are completely shocked if they hear a grade above an 80. (The African A is 75+ which sounds a lot easier than it actually is.) Yea, and I’ve also confirmed that I do not have a musical bone in my body…and my music teacher loves to point it out and make fun of me in class for it.
4. I HAVE LEARNED WHAT IT IS LIKE TO HAVE FREE TIME
One thing that I love and hate about TCU is how freaking involved everyone is. Everyone’s resumes go on for pages with all the organizations and amazing things they do. I have always struggled with the thoughts “am I doing enough? will doing all these things get me into Med school or do I need to do more?” I literally have like zero free time between school, research, work, KLIFE, gymnastics, and whatever else I find myself involved in that semester. This semester most of those things got taken away from me. Homework is writing essays so I don’t have as much tedious, time consuming work like back home. I don’t have research, work, or KLIFE to take up my time. For once, I am able to come home, take a nap if I want or enjoy hanging out with people without feeling like it will cost me my precious few hours of sleep. I have time to journal and listen and catch up on podcasts I have wanted to listen to. I don’t have to be stresses all the time and I don’t have to be doing things all the time. And it is really nice.
5. I CANNOT LIVE WITHOUT TACOS AND LEMONADE
Wherever I live in the future there better be good tacos and lemonade. Sprite is South Africa’s excuse for lemonade and it just does not cut it. (I cannot tell you how excited I was when I opened a box from my parents that I thought only contained gymnastics grips and socks and I found a bunch of crystal light lemonade packets!!!!!) Everyone in my house knows my obsession with lemonade because at anything that slightly resembles lemonade back home I will order every time. Then there is the taco situation…Mexican food just isn’t good here…I need some Fuzzy’s or Torchy’s ASAP.
6. I HAVE LEARNED THE IMPORTANCE OF NOT LETTING AN OPPORTUNITY SLIP BY
One reason I love that I picked Cape Town for my study abroad is that there are so many things to do here – so many opportunities to make memories. There are cute markets all over town, mountains to climb, beaches to relax on, hikes to hike, museums to explore, new parts of town to visit… There is always something new. I have done my best to not say no to many things and to participate in as many activities as possible. I don’t know when I will be in Africa again so I have to take advantage of the opportunities. I have also had this philosophy with other parts of my time here. I have been involved volunteering with a health clinic (SHAWCO) every week, practicing gymnastics with other UCT students, using connections to meet with Medical Students at UCT and attend their lectures. (I know what a nerdy thing to attend lectures that you aren’t even required to be at…but that is how much I miss my science classes.) I have taken classes way out of my realm (whether I meant to or not is another story, but not important) that have allowed me to engage in conversations with people who think very differently than me…very differently. These opportunities have opened my mind to many new ideas and thoughts, some of which I have never even thought and probably would not have considered ever if I hadn’t gone to Africa.
It has been an amazing learning experience. These experiences and the time I have had to reflect on just life in general. This experience has been more than I could have wished for from a study abroad and I still have 10 weeks left 🙂
(spring break blog will be posted soon)