The customs officer at Cape Town International Airport said to me, “Well, young lady, you will like it here. I don’t think you’ll go back to where you came from.” Within 72 hours of starting my adventures in South Africa, I saw why. It was almost a Royal Caribbean experience. Between the shark diving, hiking to the edge of a continent, running from baboons on campus, petting cheetahs and enjoying fantastic amounts of cheap local wine, it hits me — I was standing on a wedge of land, a cliff hundreds of feet high staring polewards, at the boundary between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans when I was struck with a dose of reality that seemed exclusive to my location in time and space.
I have been in Cape Town for a month now. Yes, it was a little bit of a bummer to leave sunny I.V. in the middle of summer — prime time for beaching it, daytime binge drinking (I have been informed that I am missing out on ‘Keg Mondays’), barbecues, water warm enough to get more than a neck tan while surfing and the list goes on. But the cultural and geographic shock value of landing in Africa after 30 sedated and delirious hours of airplanes and ports was enough to make me forget about the homeland. While driving away from the airport, our orientation leaders pointed out townships (originally these were settlements of people forcibly removed from their homes during apartheid government — the legal and political separation of races by the South African government from 1948-1994) that were little more than a cluster of corroded iron shacks, plastic coverings and wood scraps serving as homes for thousands. This is not out of the ordinary in South Africa; a large portion of urban residents lives like this. A blaring sign of inequity exists: rampant poverty in many manifestations pushed up against Cape Town’s beachside mansions with their Ferraris parked outside, among other opulent displays of wealth. Perhaps some of you have seen the kinds of dualities that exist where First World meets Third — it’s nuts and now I’ve seen it firsthand.
Perhaps you like to adventure outdoors, like me. I picked Cape Town because I did an ounce of research before spinning a globe, chugging a beer and throwing my finger down somewhere random, and found out that the nature scene and I were quite compatible (mixed results from the globe spin: Cuba — sorry, trade embargo! And Antarctica — shortage of teachers and heat, I hear). In Cape Town I have been on magnificent hikes to glorious cliff and mountain tops with unrivaled views and overwhelming beauty that I would otherwise have no idea existed. I cannot even do them justice by overusing my thesaurus — there is no way but to discover for yourself! In addition, surf travel has been great here, which is an advantage to following winter around the globe. I bought a car with a fellow Gaucho and it is our mission to surf. As for the sharks, we haven’t seen one yet, with the pleasant exception of the ones we saw while we were shark diving: 9-foot-long great whites trolling our tuna when cage diving near Seal Island.
Study abroad has thus far exceeded my expectations. I planned on adventure but was surprised by an incredible cultural education. Culture shock has yet to subside for me. I volunteer for a life skills program for kids where I learn at least as much from the eight-year-olds as they do from me each week. I would advise anyone undecided to find a country, somewhere you have always wanted to go and get your ass in gear. We live in a privileged generation; take advantage of it. Travel while you can!