Malia Wakinekona


Stanford in Cape Town, Winter 2016-17
Major: Psychology
Minor: International Relations
College year while abroad: Junior
About the photo: This photo was taken at our good-bye dinner on the night before we all would head out back to the US. I chose it because beautiful Table Mountain, in all of its wonder, rests in the background. Cape Town was one of the most stunning places I have ever been, and Table Mountain is the symbol of the city.


Why did you choose to study abroad in Cape Town?

Growing up I had always dream of studying abroad in Paris. I took French language classes from 6th grade all the way through to the 12th grade. I had the best time in class participating in situational dialogue scenarios in which I was the new American student studying at a Parisienne university and living in the Latin Quarter. Much of my dreams of studying abroad in Paris were inspired by film, television, and literature. Fast forward to the first weeks of freshman year, and I knew then and there that I wanted to study abroad in Cape Town, South Africa.

On a whim, I enrolled in the course History of South African during my freshman fall at Stanford. It was the second class of my college career and I was scared and nervous to be in a room full of mostly upperclass-men. From the moment Professor Campbell began his first lecture, I knew it was and still would be one of the greatest classes I took while at Stanford. In short, I choose to study abroad in Cape Town, South Africa because it was a once in a lifetime experience to contextualize, experience, and feel the history of a place that I was so mesmerized by in those first 10 weeks of my freshman fall.

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

Before arrive in Cape Town, I expected to have little interaction with the youth of Cape Town and the people that benefitted from the work of Mosaic, my Engaged Learning Internship partner. What I came to experience was the complete opposite. Although the South African academic school year does not align with the US school year, our RA Wendy went above and beyond to host weekly dinner gatherings in which local change-makers told their stories of struggle and success in combating the systematic racism that still permeates through much of South African society. Additionally, my supervisors at Mosaic (an NGO focused on preventing and reducing domestic violence against women) were amazing at providing me with opportunities to see the impact of their work beyond the office and sorting data. On one occasion we drove across the Western Cape Province stopping at courthouses along the way and speaking with the Mosaic Court Support agents who were in the field helping women obtain Protection Orders against perpetrators. My expectations for community engagement were exceeded when I arrived in Cape Town, in large part because of out RA Wendy and my supervisors at Mosaic.

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

While studying abroad in Cape Town, South Africa I had the opportunity to enroll in a class entitled Public Health in Sub-Saharan Africa. Public Health in Sub-Saharan Africa was truly one of the immersive classes I have ever taken at Stanford for three very distinct reasons: 1) Class size 2) Professor Cooper’s intimate connection to the community and 3) the subject’s connection to my everyday lived experience. 

The greatest aspect of this class was Professor Cooper’s connection with the larger health community in Cape Town. Her expertise in the field granted us the opportunity to actually go on a field-trip to a community health center in Khayelitsha (primarily Black township) in Cape Town. This was the most significant academic experience of my time in Cape Town because touring the facilities and hearing the  stories from doctors, nurses, social workers, and patients really gave life to the topics and challenges we had so far discussed in class. It was one of the rare times that I have ever been able to physically immerse myself into my studies, and today I am still thinking about my visit to the community health center and how what I learned there is applicable to conversations about public health in the United States. Overall the academic benefit of studying abroad in Cape Town was being able to interact with different ages, races, ethnicities, and classes to complete a more three-dimensional picture of what contemporary South African not only looks like but also feels like.

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

While studying abroad in Cape Town, South Africa I learned that I am a very resourceful person. I only had ten weeks in a country that I might never have the opportunity to come back to, so I made sure to explore as much as I could.

That being said, every weekend I devised a place of where I wanted to go, how I would get there, and how much money I would need to support each trip. Navigating transportation systems in Cape Town was not easy with few concrete routes or maps, but somehow I managed. I did not let the fear of uncertainty stop me from exploring Cape Town.

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

While in Cape Town, I participated in the Engaged Learning Internship Program. For four days a week I worked at an organization called Mosaic, a community center working towards ending gender-based violence throughout South Africa, in the Cape Town suburb of Mowbray. One day my partner, Kinsey, and I were grabbing lunch at a cafe when a man and his wife began to talk to us. He deducted that we were American, from our accents, and began to talk to us about then recently elected Trump. After speaking to him for a couple of minutes he plainly and without hesitation stated to us that, “We should build a wall around South Africa to separate us from the rest of Africa. We don’t need those West Africans coming and stealing our jobs.” In this moment I couldn’t believe that this man, who in a U.S context would have been racially labeled as black but in South African coloured, could spew out this essentially anti-Black rhetoric being, what I considered to be, another Black man.

What I later came to learn and understand throughout my time in Cape Town is that xenophobic sentiments against other African nationals are quite common. People feel that, especially West African nationals, are “stealing” jobs in the health, business, and tech sectors. Although I feel as this situation was never resolved, because thinking back on it still evokes a visceral response, I did and continue to still have conversations about why these xenophobic sentiments exists, who constructed them, who's benefitting from them, and who’s being negatively impacted by them. Learning from this experience meant being able to examine how racism can and does manifest in systematic ways and how searching for ways we as individuals can alter these systems .

What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make?

The biggest adjustment I had to make while living in Cape Town was re-thinking the way I was able to physically move throughout the city. On Stanford's campus if I need to go somewhere, I can just hop on my bike and go. It doesn't matter what time it is, I am always able to move freely if I want. Living in a large city, for safety reasons, I could not just get up and go as I pleased. I struggled with this for the entirety of the trip, but the lesson I choose to see out of this experience is that it taught me how to effectively plan in advance and communicate these plans with friends. 

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

My favorite part of my everyday life in Cape Town was walking down to the main road to grab a smoothie, go to the gym, go grocery shopping, or meet up with friends for dinner. These routines have me a sense of home and normalcy despite the fact that I was almost 10,000 miles away from home. To this day I still miss trying the weekly smoothie specials at Kauai.

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

Every BOSP quarter long trip features a Bing Event–a group event partially financially sponsored by Dr. & Mrs. Bing whose main purpose is to cultivate cultural experiences with the country in which for ten weeks we call home. The winter cohort of Cape Town 2016-2017 had the opportunity to attend the Kirstenbosch Summer Concert Series featuring a performance by The Soil. The Soil is an award winning South African acapella group featuring an all black ensemble (two men and women). They sang songs of unity, peace, and love to all people in the global black community and called for us (the diasporic black community) to stand united. Their music was uplifting and inspiring as they sang to a majority all black crowd. At this concert Black friends, families, children, grandmothers had the space to freely dance, enjoy life, and just be in comparison to the reality of Cape Town life that still operates to discriminate against all bodies of color. It was during this concert that I looked around at the crowd to see the diversity in blackness and the true beauty in blackness. For a short while I had the life changing opportunity to be in a space that whole-heartedly valued black lives and acknowledged the diversity and beauty in blackness.

What 5 words would you use to describe your experience?

Joyful, Warm, Forever, Eye-opening, Brilliant

Fun Questions:

What was your favorite food you had in Cape Town?

Salomie: sort of a sandwich in a flaky puff pastry roll filled with meats and sauce

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

My Tevas. I wore them everyday because you never knew where an adventure would take you.

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

The Soil. A South-African a capella group.