Lilia Chang


Stanford in Cape Town, Winter 2017-18
Major: Management Science & Engineering
College year while abroad: 
About the photo: This is from one of my last days in South Africa, with my co-coach of the COSAT soccer team, a few of my students, my siblings who came to visit, and one of the Braai cooks in Khayelitsha. Braai, the South African equivalent of a barbeque, involves sharing food with not just your friends but your friends-of-friends. This was a day spent in sharing worlds, between my own and my students', and am very grateful for it.


Why did you choose to study abroad in Cape Town?

I thought of myself as tuned into America's political culture but wanted to understand what a different society's may be, partly to better understand America's and partly out of interest. As South Africa's apartheid was just over twenty years ago, I was interested in how its present political culture deals with its recent history and understood that direct exposure would be the best way of doing so. I was also interested in the public service aspect of the program and being able to teach computer science.

What were your expectations before you went and how did those change once you arrived in Cape Town?

I expected South Africa to be racially and economically stratified. In many ways it still is, but I was surprised by the extent to which people recognize the need to engage in political discourse to learn and progress as a society -- so much so that political dialogue is regarded as necessary and not necessarily personal or taboo.

What were some of the academic benefits from studying abroad in Cape Town?

Being abroad forces you to take classes normally not in your catalog. I chose to take a class in Xhosa, one of the eleven officially recognized languages in South Africa and the most dominant black ethnic language. Although it was just two units, it allowed me to converse with Uber drivers and students of mine -- being a little bit conversational in another's native language can take you a long way.

What did you learn about yourself while you were studying abroad?

I realized how many of my values are shaped by being American and how little I know, being raised in a bubble, and how much I can learn from engaging with a different place and its people.

What was the most challenging experience you encountered while you were abroad and what did you learn from it?

I chose my "engaged learning opportunity" to be an assistant teacher at COSAT, a high school in a township called Khayelitsha. My role as a teacher was the most difficult and rewarding part of my experience by far. Working in a township as a teacher required me to think about my own economic and educational privilege and what role I play in this world, which could sometimes be difficult and exhausting.

What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make?

Talking about politics in the United States can often be emotionally fraught -- many people here tend to say that the politics is personal and vice versa. But South Africans largely do not share this mentality, and these two systems of thought could often come into conflict in interactions between the Stanford cohort and other South African students.

What was your favorite part of your everyday life in Cape Town?

I strongly believe that Cape Town is one of the most beautiful places in the world, and many others will tell you the same. It is a city with mountains and the ocean within twenty minutes of each other. Walking along the city's streets that are in high elevation at sunset after a day at the beach, full of fresh seafood, was my favorite feeling.

What was the most memorable experience you had while you were in Cape Town?

Hiking Lion's Head, one of the city's famous three peaks, at the Full Moon and observing the moon's rise. At the top you'll meet people from around the world and descend from the top as one train of lanterns and music.

What 5 words would you use to describe your experience?

Emotional, awesome, introspective, educational, consuming

Fun Questions:

What was your favorite food you had in Cape Town?

Braai meat, seafood at Ocean Basket

What was the most valuable item you took with you on the program?

My camera

What was your favorite music/band that you discovered in Cape Town?

Fall - DaVido