When people ask how study abroad is going, it is easy to send them pretty pictures and tell them about all the cool things I am experiencing. And don’t get me wrong—I am getting to experience lots of new and exciting things. I have already explored multiple local markets. I walked across a suspension bridge in a beautiful national park. I saw penguins. I took a deep breath of fresh air at the southernmost tip of Africa. I hiked up and across a mountain. I visited Langa Township. I even got to walk hand-in-trunk with an elephant! These experiences are enriching and exciting, but they are not the reality of everyday life.
As I start to figure out what everyday life looks like, I thought I would share what sticks out to me during a typical school day. My biology class is at 9:00 AM, Monday through Friday. It takes about 20 minutes to get to class depending on the business of the Jammie (UCT bus system), so I am out the door around 8:30. However, I was late for class one day even though I left at the same time! So, I am learning how to plan for the unplanned and inconsistent bus system. The process of getting to class is an adjustment because it feels like a hassle compared to my maximum 7 minute walk to class at Hope. Instead, I walk about 7 minutes to a Jammie bus stop. Then, I wait. The bus is supposed to come every 5 to 10 minutes, but that is not always the case—especially in the afternoon. Next, I cram onto a large bus with lots of UCT students and our bags, and drive part way up the mountain through some traffic to Upper Campus. Once I flood off of the bus with other students, I have a short walk to my final destination—biology lecture.
After class, I walk through what feels like crowds of people to get some studying done before my next class. After this class, it’s lunch time. I have been packing my lunch and eating at different spots on campus. The sun shines at some point every day, so my friends and I often meet up at a different spot outside. Yesterday, I sat on the steps of Sarah Baartman Hall, previously Jameson Hall, and got sunburned within a half hour. Whoops.
A quick note aside on the renaming of Sarah Baartman Hall. Sarah Baartman Hall was renamed from Jameson Hall in 2018. The act of renaming is a part of the decolonizing process that is occurring throughout South Africa. Sarah Baartman, known as Saartjie, suffered large injustice as she was taken by the British and exhibited as a ‘freak of nature’ in the early 1800s (Swingler). She died quickly after she got to Europe, and then her remains were displayed in a museum as scientists did research on her body and described it as “the missing link between human and ape”. Her remains were returned to South Africa in 2002. Sarah Baartman is now the name of the hall in order to, more holistically, acknowledge South Africa’s history, and bring justice to her name and dignity (Pityana). Students sit on the steps of the hall daily to eat or hang out with the words “Sarah Baartman Hall” above their heads. This is a powerful symbol of decolonization, but also a reminder for many of the work that still needs to be done.
After lunch, my afternoons look different depending on the day. I either have a biology practical, IES class called Community Development in Context, African Dance, or Service Learning placement (which I am in the process of figuring out). Each afternoon brings its own adventure. African Dance consists of a group of study abroad students sweating more than we expect in a hot studio with lapa’s (term for a piece of fabric, often patterned, worn like a skirt). In the evenings, I run on my own often around Rondebosch Commons, and sometimes with the Athletics Club. The day usually finishes with cooking dinner, reflection, maybe a spontaneous adventure, and homework. Campus is far away and for safety reasons, I am not supposed to walk in the dark, so I feel confined to the student housing building where I am living. This has been an interesting dynamic, but I am able to connect and spend time with people in my program and other local students.
So yes, study abroad is full of amazing and wild experiences. However, it is also full of routine and sameness. I get on a bus every day. I pack my lunch every day. I walk up the steps of Sarah Baartman Hall every day. I go to class every day. I read and study every day. It is in this routine and sameness that I am able to live in the difference of culture and all that culture encompasses — different people, different academic system, different scenery, different climate, different food. As I learn how to live in this difference, I am able to begin hearing part of the stories of others’ lives and discover who I am in the midst of it all.
Pityana, Sipho M, and Mamokgethi Phakeng. “Renaming Memorial Hall Sarah Baartman Hall.”UCT News, 2018, www.news.uct.ac.za/article/-2018-12-13-renaming-memorial-hall-sarah-baartman-hall.
Swingler, Helen. “Sarah Baartman Hall: Potent Transformation Symbol.” UCT News, 2018, www.news.uct.ac.za/article/-2018-12-14-sarah-baartman-hall-potent-transformation-sybol.