Grace Mueller (she/her) - Stanford in Cape Town
College year while abroad: Sophomore
About the photo: This photo was taken on top of Table Mountain during the Skeleton Gorge hike. The way the sun hit the clouds in the valley, and the magnificence of the mountains over the city, was unforgettable!
Questions and Answers with Grace
Why did you choose to study abroad in Cape Town?
I chose to study abroad in Cape Town as an opportunity to learn about a culture and country that I had not deeply thought about before. Unlike some of my cohort members, I had not previously spent much time thinking about the effects of institutionalized racism and oppression, and specifically how that plays out in post-apartheid South Africa, so studying in Cape Town was an opportunity for me to step outside of my comfort zone and study a completely new field that I likely would not have had the chance to on campus.
What were your expectations before you went and how did those change once you arrived in Cape Town?
I really did not know what to expect out of my time in Cape Town since I was so unfamiliar with the social landscape. I had done some research, so I knew a bit about recent South African history. However, one thing I did not expect was just how much time would be spent learning about indigenous memory and thinking about race relations throughout history. I especially did not anticipate how beneficial to my time in Cape Town this learning would be.
What were some of the academic benefits from studying abroad in Cape Town?
Studying abroad in Cape Town allowed me to open my mind to a completely new field of study that I likely would never have had the opportunity to consider while on campus. So, while my time in Cape Town did not have the direct academic benefits of contributing to my major of Biology, I was able to widen the breadth of my learning at Stanford in a way that I find extremely beneficial.
What did you learn about yourself while you were studying abroad?
While I was abroad I learned that I value alone time more than I thought! In Cape Town it seemed like I was always with other people: driving to class, doing work at Cocoa Wah Wah, going on hikes, or just hanging around the residence. I hadn’t realized before how much I appreciated having the independence to bike by myself to class or grab a coffee from Coopa.
What was the most challenging experience you encountered while you were abroad and what did you learn from it?
My most challenging experience abroad was dealing with my own discomfort of being in an unfamiliar space. I had never before experienced having to be so aware of myself and my positionality in every context that I stepped into. Though it made me somewhat uncomfortable and quiet at the beginning of the quarter because I did not really know how I fit into the space, by the end I felt much more confident both in assessing my position in a scenario and in being uncomfortable about my position at times. This was a valuable skill to learn and something that I will carry through my life with me as I grow and encounter new situations.
What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make?
The biggest cultural adjustment I had to make is how differently race is talked about and thought about in South Africa as compared to in the US. In the US, people often skirt around the subject of race and will even avoid describing someone by their race. In South Africa, however, race is a very commonly talked about subject, and people still often strictly categorize themselves based on their race. This openness when discussing race was something that I had to adjust my expectations about.
What was your favorite part of your everyday life in Cape Town?
My favorite part of everyday life was my internship, where I got to learn about the South African healthcare system and develop a relationship with the other people in my research group. Since we got to spend three days a week with them, I felt that I was able to form a meaningful relationship with my coworkers that was very important to my time in Cape Town.
What was the most memorable experience you had while you were in Cape Town?
The most memorable experience I had while in Cape Town was doing the Skeleton Gorge hike up Table Mountain. This hike was my favorite, and in my opinion most beautiful, hike in Cape Town. It was unique because it starts in Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens and ends on top of Table Mountain. We were hiking in the late afternoon, so we emerged over the top of the mountain right as the sun was starting to set, and the view of the clouds sitting in the valleys between the mountains with the sunlight streaming through was breathtaking.
What 5 words would you use to describe your experience?
Challenging, Introspective, Educational, Exciting, Complex
What was your favorite food you had in Cape Town?
My favorite food was definitely the Cape Malay curries! I didn’t expect to eat so many curries while in Cape Town, but every one I had was delicious.
What was the most valuable item you took with you on the program?
My most valued item I took on the program was my camera because it is one way that I store my memories. I love to look back on the pictures and relieve my time in Cape Town!
What was your favorite music/band that you discovered in Cape Town?
One of our Bing Events was to a concert in De Waal Park. At the concert, we got to hear several local artists such as the Gugulethu Tenors and The Rudimentals. It was super fun to hear local music!