Living Life on the Edge (of Africa)

Hello again! This time I am taking advantage of the sunlight in the midst of winter in Cape Town, South Africa. While it doesn’t have anything on Pittsburgh weather, I can’t figure out why I still have to wear two pairs of socks before I am able to move my feet. However, it has been a welcome and exciting change from my 6 weeks in Kyoto. There is such a diverse community, which I was surprised to see, and that means the food is a conglomeration of the people who have settled here in this harbor town. On one side, there is Table Mountain and if you look to the other, there is the wide expanse of blue seawater. It is exciting to experience such raw nature while learning about the history of injustices against people and the legacy of change the country constantly works toward. My classes are smaller than they were in Japan but that means there is more time for discussion in classes and a more personalized pool of knowledge. In the US, there is not much knowledge about what South Africa is like and I myself fell into that category. I was unsure what to expect when I first landed, but despite it being only 3 weeks in I feel I am well adjusted and eager to delve deeper into the many neighborhoods in Cape Town. 

There were a fair share of surprises I experienced in Cape Town, however. Through these surprises though I was able to learn more about how I grew through the summer that flew by in an instant. The most apparent piece of advice I would give to others studying abroad is one that is popular: do not overpack! For 12 weeks abroad, I had 2 big suitcases filled to the brim and now I find myself unable to fully experience the shopping here in fear of overfilling them. Truly, pick a few basics and work with those. Also, don’t bring 3 books thinking you will have time to read them all (you will not). Aside from something as trivial as packing, I would highly suggest taking some time out for solo trips or solo outings away from your group. This does not have to be immediate, and I would suggest you familiarize yourself with the area before venturing out by yourself. I think it adds a different dimension to the city to do things you want to do without a group and you grow as you face challenges in navigating. I have this problem with groups a lot where I mindlessly follow them and do not put in effort into knowing where I am and what there is to do that appeals to me particularly. You are able to connect with yourself during your solo adventures and if you’re anything like me, it puts you in a space of unfamiliarity that you have to break out of. It is easy to get in your head about if something is embarrassing to do alone, but I promise you it is not. Get out there and explore some areas of your study abroad city yourself! 

Along with the solo trips, I am equally excited to go to class every morning here in Cape Town. During my classes, I learned so much about the history of South Africa and how the lasting impacts racial injustices and portrayal in the media have affected the dynamic of the country. Many people mark the founding of the country by the colonization of the Dutch, but there is so much history of the South African people that is erased if we take up this sort of narrative. Moving through the timeline, the most popular period of South Africa- apartheid- is something that had such a profound effect on the diverse community of people here that it still dominates many spaces even after the end of the regime. It paralleled the brutal era of segregation in the US for the most part, however, it began to diverge around the time movement against it began to organize. While Brown vs. the Board of Education was passed, and segregation in schools was ruled unconstitutional, the Apartheid government passed the Bantu Education Act, which had devastating impacts on the colored and Black community then and even now. The Bantu Education Act made it so that Black people of South Africa were only afforded enough education for them to do menial blue collar jobs. There was no opportunity to explore higher education or interests like science or arts. They would have to travel from far distances outside the cities to even access this stunted education. It left a generational mark of trauma on Black South Africans where it is rare to see even now when the Act was repealed. It is a piece of history many Americans either do not know about or turn away from but it is important for us to understand the roots of humanitarian problems. Learning about not just this Act, but the long history of South Africa has inspired me to focus my career goals centered more on public health. There is a clear split of wealth between areas and accessibility to quality medical or dental care for the non-white communities is unfortunate. I want to use what I learned about colonization, apartheid, and the HIV epidemic as a platform for how I can play a part in helping accessibility of healthcare in a global setting. There is much work to be done to reverse the impact the centuries of racial injustices have done for South Africans and I want to focus my work on that in the future. 

I am very privileged to spend such a long time abroad- something nobody in my family has done before. It came with lots of times of frustration with myself but ultimately, no experience will be perfect. It will, however, be yours. You learn so much about the world and are exposed to histories of places we are not taught in the US. There are so many paths to take and so much to learn and you find after a while, how important your journey is to the people around you. Take advantage of this time and expand your mind through studying abroad- I promise you will never regret it! 

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