Stanford in Cape Town, Winter 2017-18
Major: Human Biology
Minor: Human Rights
College year while abroad: Sophomore
About the photo: We stayed at a beautiful game lodge near Johannesburg, where we saw giraffes, zebras, rhinos, and a variety of beautiful antelope and monkeys. Here I stand with giraffes walking in the background, with miles of beautiful hills and fields stretching out behind me.
Why did you choose to study abroad in Cape Town?
I chose to study abroad in Cape Town because I wanted to explore my identity and learn in a place that would put me out of my comfort zone. I was also attracted to the natural beauty of the city and the fascinating mix of history, cultures, and politics there.
What were your expectations before you went and how did those change once you arrived in Cape Town?
I expected to be challenged and frustrated by the many social injustices that are apparent in Cape Town, and this expectation was certainly met. There were many times when I felt angry, confused, and even overwhelmed by the fraught dynamics around me. The escalation of the water crisis during my time made the experience all the more intense. However, the openness and eagerness of so many people in Cape Town to discussing identity politics helped me to relax and tackle tough questions without it detracting from my experience. Over time, I also realized that I could not expect solid answers or conclusions to my self-questioning around my place and privilege in the city; I learned to embrace more questions, and more difficult and unresolvable ones.
What were some of the academic benefits from studying abroad in Cape Town?
The Cape region is an incredible place to study and learn because virtually everywhere you go, the apartheid legacy is fresh and mixed with ongoing social, cultural, and political struggles. Whether your classes focus on local history, social injustices in urban planning, or Xhosa language, it is all surrounding you in daily Cape Town life. This is a big reason why Cape Town also drives you to think about your place in the city, your privileges, and how you might contribute to or be aware of wrongs there and back home. Inequalities and injustices are so much more blatantly visible in Cape Town that you cannot help but reflect on your personal connection to them more than you otherwise would.
What did you learn about yourself while you were studying abroad?
I learned that I thrive when I push myself outside my comfort zone and embrace the bold and spontaneous. I would encourage anyone going to Cape Town to seize every opportunity and to explore as much as they can.
What was the most challenging experience you encountered while you were abroad and what did you learn from it?
The most challenging experience was juggling so much personal reflection and growth with my commitment to relationships back home. For me, being in Cape Town not only meant that I was questioning myself and my identity in ways I never had before, but that I was also forced to face painful truths about my relationship at the time. Though this was very difficult, I learned that distance and the intense sociopolitical climate around me had the power to free me from problems I didn't even know I had.
What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make?
For me and others in my cohort, a major adjustment was that we had to be so much more conscious of street safety and especially when it was safe to openly use our phones. We traveled in groups as much as we could and constantly adjusted our planned outings for safety. Street crime and theft are not necessarily pervasive or defining parts of Cape Town, but it is so important to be aware and alert.
What was your favorite part of your everyday life in Cape Town?
Looking up at Table Mountain from anywhere in the city and always having a different view!
What was the most memorable experience you had while you were in Cape Town?
It's hard to choose just one most amazing memory - hiking through fields of Cape fynbos and wild flowers on Devils Peak, wading through pristine white dunes to secluded beaches, sunrise and sunset on Lion's Head, visiting townships with my classes, seeing majestic Black Rhinos on a game drive, and getting my tattoo done by a local artist were just some of my most powerful experiences!
What 5 words would you use to describe your experience?
Surreal, Challenging, Reflective, Intense, Exciting
What was your favorite food you had in Cape Town?
Fresh papaya and Stellenbosch-grown champagne
What was the most valuable item you took with you on the program?
What was your favorite music/band that you discovered in Cape Town?
We saw the musical King Kong as one of our program activities, and the music and dancing were excellent! I also really enjoyed seeing The Soil (an a cappella group) in Kirstenbosch Gardens, where they played in the shadow of Table Mountain as the sun set. The crowd energy was vibrant and electric, and I can't imagine a more magical or surreal setting for a concert.
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.
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