Stanford in Cape Town, Winter 2015-16 Major: African and African American Studies College year while abroad: Junior
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS WITH ALEX
Why did you choose to study in Cape Town?
I had never visited the continent of Africa, and I was interested in South Africa specifically as a location that was the intersection of a lot of different cultural influences. It also didn’t have a language requirement.
What were your expectations before you went and how did those change once you arrived in Cape Town?
I honestly didn’t have that many expectations before I went to Cape Town. I guess that I expected people to be a lot more race-aware than Americans, after having gone through Apartheid and all. After I arrived, I realized that Cape Town, and South Africa in general, are still dealing with racism, and that the reality of the Rainbow Nation is much different than what appears on the postcards.
What were some of the academic benefits from studying abroad in Cape Town?
Studying in Cape Town gave me the chance to take classes I wouldn’t have had time to at Stanford, as well as classes I would have never thought to take at Stanford. It also gave me space to reflect on my academic career and thinking about my future more clearly.
What did you learn about yourself while you were studying abroad?
I learned that my opinions are valid and valuable - something that I didn’t necessarily learn but was at least reminded or made aware. Through our classes and discussions, I was pushed to think more deeply, but ultimately felt that my feelings and thoughts were worth sharing and respected by my peers. I also was made more aware that I occupy such an incredible position of privilege in the world settings. I learned that based on my conversations with a coworker of mine, who was only a year older than me but whose life experience was so profoundly different than mine. Specifically, I remember him talking about buying a car - which I was about to do when I returned from Cape Town - as such a monumental and costly task, but one that would be essential to his survival and ability to thrive in Cape Town. He was robbed while I was there, but acted like this wasn’t a big deal, and lived on such a meager amount per month. Despite this, he still believes in himself and in other people, which was really inspiring.
What was the most challenging experience you encountered while you were abroad and what did you learn from it?
It was challenging to navigate Cape Town as an American and, more specifically, as a Stanford student. The entire city is such an example of racial and class segregation, and it was hard to experience the city while occupying such an isolated position of power and privilege, while being given really nice accommodations and amenities. Ultimately, I tried to learn to enjoy what I was being so fortunate to receive, and to ideally pay it forward - that is, to take this experience as a learning experience and to commit myself to improving life for other people.
What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make?
I don’t feel like I had to make that many cultural adjustments, to be honest. If anything, I just had to get used to watching my back a little bit more, because things can be a little sketchy in certain areas and at certain times. I guess I had to get used to not understanding some conversations that were carried out in Xhosa or Afrikaans, but these were few and far between.
What was your favorite part of your everyday life in Cape Town?
My favorite part of everyday life was probably taking walks after class/dinner. I didn’t do this every day, but just getting to walk up to UCT with my friends, talk, stare at the city at night, was a pretty fun and relaxing experience.
What was the most memorable experience you had while you were in Cape Town?
Hmm, probably bungee jumping. Seven other girls and I went out to Bloukrans Bridge, the highest bridge bungee jump in the world, one weekend and jumped. It was scary, it was intense. It was unforgettable.
What 5 words would you use to describe your experience?
Insightful, revitalizing, humbling, amazing, fun
Every Stanford undergraduate should give serious consideration to studying overseas.
Regardless of the academic path you choose, you will be enriched by time spent in another country. Achieving cultural literacy and gaining substantive understanding of other perspectives in the world will deepen your awareness of yourself, your educational goals, and your own society. Nearly one-half of each graduating class studies abroad through one of Stanford's overseas programs.