“It’s all part of the experience,” is the mantra that I constantly repeated to myself during my first three weeks in Cape Town. The turn of every corner held a new surprise whether it was a breath-taking view from the top of Lions Head mountain or a pigeon pooping on the middle of my forehead in downtown Cape Town. I tried to come into this experience with no expectations, but simply an open mind. For a while, this mantra got me through and I was able to put every experience I had into a positive light.
View of Cape Town from Table Mountain
Slowly, I began to exit the “honeymoon” phase of culture shock and come into the second phase, mainly comprised of frustrations. At this period of time, the differences between South Africa and the United States began to feel overwhelming and truly frustrating. I began to regret my decision to study abroad for a whole semester. However, because of preparation on the part of IUB and CIEE, my host institution here in Cape Town, I was able identify that what I was experiencing would most likely be the pit of my time abroad and that it would eventually pass.
Me at the elephant encounter on the garden route trip
Luckily, these feelings came right before a public holiday and long weekend. I had planned a trip with some friends for the long weekend and I was hoping it would rejuvenate me. Thankfully the trip did serve as a good departure from the little stresses of everyday life in Cape Town and allowed me to see some other parts of South Africa. The Garden Route Tour (something everyone studying abroad in South Africa should do!) was compiled of adventurous activities like bungee jumping, elephant rides, lion walks, and cave exploring.
Lion encounter on the garden route trip
As the weekend concluded, I was forced to realize that the school year had really started and that midterms were slowly approaching. I’ve spent the time since then readjusting to life at the University of Cape Town and trying to figure out how to manage my studies and the experience of being abroad. Although school in the states is just starting, here at UCT we are nearing the halfway point of the semester. Even with five weeks of experience under my belt I still haven’t totally mastered the balance of work and play.
The UCT “spring break” is next week and I hope to return to classes from my Cape Town “stay-cation” feeling rejuvenated and ready to conquer the last six weeks of the semester!
View from the Knysna Heads, just a few hours east of Cape Town
If there is anything I have come to truly understand during my pre-departure process it is the commonly used statement “patience is a virtue.” Although my excitement for my semester in Cape Town, South Africa has been continuously growing, so have the pre-departure tasks and responsibilities. My patience has been continuously tested over the past few months through the process of obtaining my student visa, finalizing travel details, and planning for my actual time abroad.
Due to the length of my stay in South Africa I was required to obtain a student visa from the South African consulate in Chicago. There were about eleven documents that were required to obtain this visa. Although I began collecting these documents in mid-April, I ran into a few set backs and did not receive the visa until three days before my anticipated departure. The largest lessons I took away from this experience are to begin obtaining the required documents as soon as possible and to diligently track their progress (whether you are waiting for your background check, a medical report, or your passport with the attached visa).
Aside from the stress of obtaining the proper documentation for my stay, securing my travel plans also tested my patience. As can be imagined, the flights to South Africa are very long. Most travel days span between 36 and 48 hours. I was lucky enough to find an efficient set of flights with a total travel time of only 28 hours. However, three days before departure this trip was moved back an entire day making me arrive in Cape Town a day later than required by the program provider, CIEE. I rebooked my flight and arrived at the airport on the scheduled departure date. Only an hour before my scheduled departure time we were notified that the plane had been delayed and I was going to miss my connection. The airline had no choice but to rebook me. Normally, this situation would have caused me major anxiety due to my routine and detail orientated personality. However I took this situation as part of my experience and remained calm. My collected reaction to this stressful situation displayed to me the growth I have already had through this experience.
I am now more excited than ever to begin my semester in Cape Town! Many aspects of my stay are still unknown but again I have tried to frame this normally stressful aspect as a positive part of the study abroad experience.