Life of a Biochemical Engineering Major involves late night study sessions, long lab reports, and an endless swamp of assignments. I love the challenge every semester brings but this time I will be embarking on a different kind of academic adventure; one that’s even more life-changing.
I’m trading in my thick text books for biographies of Nelson Mandela and Trevor Noah; my parka coat to protect against the icy Michigan tundra with short’s and T-shirts; my comfortable college environment with a university ten times as large. This will be a new kind of learning and I plan to make the most of it.
About two weeks ago I arrived in the “motherland” the glorious Cape Town, South Africa to attend classes at the local college, the University of Cape Town. Rather than meandering through Hope’s grove to the science center, I had to trek up the stunning mountain (Devil’s Peak) for my first day of class.
Already two days into the semester, I have come to discover three major takeaways as a visitor to this new land. First that this diverse nation is home to 11 national languages. It was quite fascinating to hear Afrikaans and Xhosa at a local grocery store; Xhosa being a language that employs multiple clicking noises and Afrikaans an evolution of the Dutch language arising from Dutch settler’s migration in the seventeenth century. Although I heard an array of communication methods I was still able to use English when getting my groceries. It’s amazing to think that almost every person in the country can speak at least two languages when sometimes I can have trouble with one (specifically grammar and various geographic colloquiums).
I also recognized that society has been largely impacted by the implementation of apartheid (which ended only 23 years ago); that was the legal segregation of the black, colored, and white populations. Immediately after stepping off the long twenty hour plane ride I was greeted into Cape Town with an inside look to the less westernized settlements of South Africa; the townships. During apartheid people of colored or black race were forcefully removed to these township outskirts. With a 35% unemployment rate many families have chosen to remain in these areas due to not being able to afford to leave their pre-liberation homes.
But even with blatant poverty as a staple in Cape Town society, somehow the city maintains a majestic energy, I realized that this atmosphere stems from the beauty of the land, citizens hope for the future, and the wide embrace of many cultures. I feel like I have already learned so much and I can’t wait to see what the future will bring; for this time my semester is “for (South) Africa”.