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“Aren’t you scared to go somewhere so far away all by yourself?”
This is a question I’ve heard before. The summer between graduating High School and coming to the Hill Top, my family, friends, and strangers at the groccery store asked me time and time again whether or not I was afraid to move to Washington, D.C. all by myself. “Are you sure you want to move to a city? There’s just so many people there.” My hometown boasts just under 10,000 occupants and miles of corn and soybean fields on the edges – and most of its occupants like it that way.
The answer two years ago was a resounding, “no.” I was bouncing with the excitement of a new adventure – I was getting out of my small Iowa town and going somewhere. Two years later, I’m faced with the same question, but the answer is a little different.
I can’t say that I’m not nervous to go abroad. I’m beyond excited to travel outside of the US for the first time in my life. I am a little nervous about the language difference – I speak French but there is a little voice in the back of my mind asking what the French Department they made a mistake with the language testing and you’re not ready? I remind myself that the classes are pass/fail – I’m there for the experience and to learn as much as I can. Knowing that I’ll be living with a host family comforts me. For the first time in my life I will have not one but three sisters. Surely one of them will have the patience to help me? Perhaps I can help them in some way?
Then the little voice in my head reminds me how hard French was for me during my first semester at Georgetown. By far my most difficult class, Intensive Intermediate French was a really difficult transition from a high school French program that didn’t require that I ever speak French to the 6 times a week schedule of an intensive language at Georgetown. I could read and write the language, but when it came time to say something, I was terrified – I am terrified.
However, what I believe is the real reason for my frazzled nerves is a little bit deeper imbedded in who I am than a fear of bumbling my words. I like to understand the whole process, the big picture, the entire system as it moves around me. I am afraid of feeling like I am only touching the surface of another language, another country, another culture. I want to be immersed and to walk and talk like a native. I know that this is an unrealistic desire, so I must prepare for a new experience and one that might make me a little uncomfortable. All I can do is pledge to be present during the full length of my stay and to relax into a new culture – even when I don’t understand everything.
Am I scared to go somewhere so far away all by myself? Yes, but I know I will be better for it.
Driving through my suburban neighborhood with the windows rolled all the way down, I’m sweating. It’s the hottest day of the summer and I’m on the way to visit the friends I’ve had for years on years. A nervous lump forms in my throat as I realize that I’m about to leave for a long time. Long enough to pass the honeymoon phase. Long enough to become doubtful and realize I’m as far away from home as I have ever been. The feeling is new to me. Even going to college was never a big deal because I live half an hour away. If I forgot anything, my dad would just bring it to me. If I got sick, my parents would pick me up in a heartbeat.
I’ve grown used to knowing the people and area at home. It’s safe to say that most people I communicate with have heard about the same current events and have at least some idea of the strange terms we millennials use (rest in peace, fam). To be quite honest, all I know about Australia is based on stereotype or fact. We’ve all heard about the excessive use of “mate”, buff kangaroos, and Steve Irwin, but these barely capture anything meaningful within Australian culture. It’s no effort to look up what the weather is like or whether the toilets actually flush the opposite direction of ours, but these facts don’t lead to any real understanding. The point is that the people in Australia live an entirely different reality than I do as an American, and I feel more than ready to learn. As I am with anything unknown, I’m apprehensive. At the same time I’m exhilarated to find out what these people think, feel, and experience and what it’s like to live in Sydney.
Here I am, confronting the idea that I’m going to a place where I know no one, have no sense of placement or direction, and essentially have to just relax and encounter things as they pass. Everything is about to change. As I’m sweating in the Maryland summer, it’s a July winter in Aussieland. I guess the only way I can explain what I’m about to encounter is best said in the words of the great DJ Jazzy Jeff and legendary Fresh Prince – my life got flip-turned upside-down.
Less than two weeks away. Less than two weeks away until I arrive in Santiago, my new home for the next five months. When I think about that fact, a flurry of emotions passes through my gut. I am, as I’ve repeated a thousand times to friends, family, and acquaintances, excited. I am curious to see what Chilean culture is like and I am exhilarated by the opportunity to speak Spanish every day. But I am also nervous. There is a part of my heart that seems to drop down to my stomach and I’ll be honest with you, it’s not the most comfortable feeling. Those of my friends and family who know me well know I am apt to overthink and reflect on my emotions a lot, for better or for worse. Well, reflecting on why I feel so anxious to leave, I think it has more to do with what I am leaving behind than what I am about to endeavor on. I love my city of Boston, from the North End to Post Office Square Park. I love being able to see my parents every day and hang out with my high school friends. I am going to miss that New England autumn, where the leaves transform into a crescendo of bright oranges, reds, ambers and browns. I will miss being around people who don’t give it a second thought when I say “wicked” or “roundabout.”
But here’s the thing. I’ve fallen in love with more than my home city before. I’ve grown to love D.C. and living on the Georgetown Hilltop. Exactly two years ago, the summer before my first year at Georgetown, I experienced an uneasiness that is not all too different from this one. And yet, lo and behold, I grew to love my new city of Washington, D.C. My sunny Sunday walks from the front gates of Georgetown to Trader Joe’s never fails to fill me with a sense of contentedness and belonging. While D.C. autumns have nothing on Boston’s brilliant colors, the spring cherry blossoms never fail to amaze me. I have had countless stupid yet unforgettable nights with Hoyas that I already know will be at my wedding in who knows how many years. Dramatic, I know, but what’s my point? I suppose that what I take away from all this reflection is that even though nothing can replace Boston, I can fall in love with dozens of cities. I think what I’m realizing is that part of life is learning to leave places you love in order to embrace new ones. In the wise words of my mom, (or maybe this is already a famous saying anyway), sometimes you need to let doors close so that new ones can open. Or something like that.
This final week I will be busy: packing, saying goodbyes, over-worrying. But one thought is sticking with me through it all. I am ready to fall in love again—with Santiago, Chile.
I still find myself continuing habits that I had formed in Cape Town, such as burning incense and scented candles, drinking cucumber water and instant coffee, consuming hummus and avocados on flatbread, and writing when I am inspired by life. I have adjusted to life back home in Michigan, but I find myself daydreaming of Cape Town’s sky, the mountains, the people, and the speed of life there. My days in Michigan pass by a bit slower, but I find productive ways to spend my time when I am not in class.
One thing that I have been doing recently is talking to people from Georgetown University. The number one question I get asked is, “How was South Africa?” Other common questions are “What did you learn?,” “What do you miss most about South Africa?,” and “Are you happy to be back?” In this blog post, I plan to give a general overview of how I answer these questions, since I have memorized what I say.
First, I mention how I blogged for two institutions, Georgetown University and Arcadia Abroad, in case they are interested in reading about my journeys in more detail. Then, I move into a general overview like this: “I studied abroad in a small city in the country of South Africa, a place characterized by a big wealth gap between the rich and the poor. Much of this wealth is racially stratified as the disparities are dictated by Apartheid, despite the laws ending in 1994. As a foreigner who benefitted from the exchange rate of the USD to the Rand, I could easily enter spaces of wealth, poverty, and the areas that exist in between. This expanded my understanding of how an economy works and the concept of socio-economic status that I now apply to my American life.”
“As a native- English speaker, there were only a few times when people did not understand me. In those times, I practiced patience and understood that perhaps English was not everyone’s first language.”
“As a foreign, light skin, Black woman, I understood how I benefitted from light skin privilege in some male-dominated spaces. I also felt how people stared at me and/or attempted to exoticize me for my foreign identity. Street harassment in the form of catcalling awoken fears in me that I have never experienced before, especially when I was active during the nightlife. In my last month, I was able to gain a peace of mind after realizing that me being fearful everyday took away from my experience. I always carried around a knife and pepper spray, but I never had to use it. Would I carry these items around again? Maybe. I also learned the power in saying, ‘no.’ I stopped giving out my phone number as a way for men to leave me alone because the last thing I wanted was for someone who I did not know to have my personal information. Furthermore, it would only lead to these people sending me texts when I had no intention on replying. In the end, I realized that my time was too precious to be wasted on people I rather not know.”
“As an African American individual, I got to experience how people overseas understood the African American experience, whether they wanted to ask me more questions about it or to mock me for it. I did battle stereotypes that American media produced of Black women and of Black people in general. This was challenging, but every experience made me stronger. I became deliberate in my approach of answering questions. Though sometimes, I just walked away because a book I suggested could do a better job at educating than myself. I also found some of these encounters to be very ironic, given that hip hop music and fashion was present in so many spaces.”
“As a writer and a poet, I found my voice and preserved it in my poetry, blogs, short stories, voice memos, and free-styles. I was inspired everyday by my interactions with the world around me. I truly appreciated the art and jazz scene Cape Town had to offer. The spoken word I heard over there influenced my art and made it stronger. By the end, I became less sensitive about my work and was more willing to share my creations with those around me.”
“As a college student in the South African education system, I was taught a more global view of history, sociology, and anthropology. In America, we basically learn about America, which I believe makes us very US-centric and cheats us from learning a global perspective, especially if one does not have the resources to leave the country. This change in perspective has even impacted how I read fiction based outside of the USA. Instead of reading over names and places that are ‘foreign,’ I attempt to sound out the words in my head or out loud. I also contemplate more about the effects of European colonialism in other countries. Moving forward, I am more willing to learn about global issues, rather than ones that are specific to the USA.”
“Overall, as an autonomous individual, I gained clarity and started to believe in myself as I challenged my own inferiority complex.”
“By my last month, I had adjusted mentally and physically to Cape Town time. I am grateful for the people that I bonded with overseas. They, along with my memories and lessons that I have learned will not be forgotten. Studying abroad in Cape Town was the best life decision I have made besides choosing to attend Georgetown University.”
Thank you for reading my blog posts. I plan to continue blogging about my summer in Michigan and my senior year at Georgetown University.
I was seeing a psychologist on a weekly basis at the Georgetown University Counseling and Mental Health Center for the first semester of my Junior year. He suggested that I consider seeing someone while I was abroad in Cape Town, South Africa. I shunned that idea immediately because I honestly thought that all of my problems would be solved once I left Georgetown and the United States of America. I also did not think that a South African psychologist could possibly help me as I battled issues that were seemingly American-based.
Time passed and before I knew it, I was posing for pictures in front of Devil’s Peak, one of Cape Town’s infamous mountains, in the warm South African sun. Everything was paradise at first, but I still found myself being haunted by problems I thought would solve themselves. I was also confronted by new challenges such as culture shock, which comes with transitioning into a new society.
During orientation for the University of the Western Cape, the welcome team mentioned that counseling services were free and could be found in the Campus Health & Wellness center. That piece of information resonated with me and I made it my mission to sign up for an initial consultation. Because I had so much free time on campus, there was no excuse to miss out on this beneficial service.
The first time I walked into the office for my appointment, it was empty. The receptionist remembered me, as I was one of the few exchange students for the semester. Then the time came and my psychologist received me from the waiting area. Our first session was emotional, but necessary. I was happy that we got along and I decided to continue seeing her from late February to my last week in Cape Town. We developed a strong relationship as she acted as my sounding board each week. I talked to her about being an African American woman in Cape Town, being Black in America, my childhood, my time at Georgetown, and other topics like how to handle anxiety and stress.
Deciding to see a psychologist abroad helped me grow in ways that I could write about for days. The most important thing I learned was clarity about myself and the world around me. Our last session was sad because I was leaving the country. However, I do plan to revisit South Africa in the near future.
For students or anyone planning to travel abroad, consider how you will take care of your mental health, whether you decide to see a psychologist or to utilize another method. The best thing you can do is take care of yourself mentally no matter where you are. This will insure that you have an amazing time and feel whole by the time you leave.
Last week, I purchased a plane ticket that will take me from Detroit, MI to Washington, DC at the end of August. This flight will mark the end of my summer and the beginning of my senior year at Georgetown University. With this in mind, I realized that my current way of Capetonian life would soon be a blessed memory of the past. On that bittersweet note, I know that I have less than 30 days left in this beautiful city. And one of the things I will miss the most is grocery shopping. Yes, you’ve read that previous statement correctly the first time! Here, I have discovered this newfound love of mine for moseying down the aisles of Pick n Pay, my favorite supermarket. But to set the record straight, I did not always jump for joy when I realized that Georgetown’s weekly meal plan did not prepare me for this new life I began around four months ago as a foreign exchange student with no dining hall.
As you’ve probably already gathered from the previous paragraph, I have never had to fret over grocery shopping and cooking meals in order to survive over prolonged periods of time until I came here. At school, Georgetown had me covered and at home my mother always provided. Before leaving the States, I remember rereading the specifics of my study abroad program; there in nice, bold letters stated that a meal plan was not included with my residency. I then attempted to be proactive by starting a Google document for easy, online recipes I found in my free time. (I have never used any of these recipes.) Perhaps, I should have tried out some recipes while I was still at home, but I figured that I would meet that challenge when the time came.
Well, the time came in late January when I first set foot in my local grocery store and I was stressed for two reasons. One, I had no idea how the currency worked. And two, I had no idea what to purchase. I knew however, that my exchange program did not provide any more meals. Thus hunger was imminent due to my empty pantry and fridge shelf. I recall buying bananas, yogurt, rice, granola, broccoli, eggs, canola oil, and Oreos (more or less). You may ask, how many meals can you create from those options? Not many, to answer your question.
All together my first grocery bill, when converted from Rands, amounted to roughly $15-$20. In the States, this would have added up to about $50 (if not more) for things you cannot even make a proper meal with. The high cost of groceries in the States is the reason why I rarely went grocery shopping. There was no reason when I had a weekly meal plan that gave me access to nutritional food for every meal. On the rare occasion when I would shop at Safeway, the closest grocery store to campus, I only bought granola bars, yogurt, milk, and cereal for quick meals. I’ve never thought about buying fresh produce or meat (even if it looked 10x better than the dining hall options) because these items would diminish the majority of the limited disposable income that I had until the next pay period.
For the first two months in Cape Town, I ate the same thing everyday unless I dined out; eggs for breakfast, a peanut butter sandwich and fruit for lunch, and vegetable stir-fry for dinner. Local restaurants would break up the monotonous meals I fixed at home because I was not keen on trying new recipes in the kitchen. As a confessed foodie, I eventually became bored with what I was consuming. Thus, I made a privileged decision to put forth effort when it came to future grocery store trips. I also decided to use my mother’s recipes since I watched her prepare dinner for years. My next trip, I purposely bought more fruit and vegetables. As I started cooking more, I began to save more money because I had leftovers that I preferred to eat over restaurant food. I found comfort in controlling what ingredients I used in my meals.
For the next month or so, I prepared salads, chili, tacos, and quesadillas; I often used items like baked chicken, couscous, hummus, pita bread and avocados. I have learned that a meal can be substantial with some type of protein, fresh or frozen vegetables, fruit, and a starch. In retrospect, I suppose that I could have gone grocery shopping in DC to prepare meals, but as I stated before I would have had less money to go out or to use Uber. Earnings from a work-study job only go so far when the cost of living is high. After living in Cape Town, I find that the cost of groceries is too expensive in the States, unless you want to trade quality for low prices.
Over these past few months, I have come to love grocery shopping because I can afford to buy produce, meat, and other items to prepare future meals. The exchange rate gives me economic freedom, a feeling that I was never used to in the States. Because I am very frugal, I created a strict and effective budget that I adhere to on a weekly basis. However, I allocated a large amount of money to grocery shopping. I must admit, I enjoy Adulting and I feel super satisfied after I leave the grocery store with a cart filled with South African fresh produce. Perhaps I will have a Georgetown “block” meal plan instead of a weekly meal plan this upcoming year, since I plan to allocate more funds in my budget for grocery shopping at the expensive grocery stores. Furthermore, my experience abroad has prepared me for my adult life after college when it comes to grocery shopping, meal planning, and budgeting.
After four full months of deciphering Dominican Spanish, stuffing myself with plátanos and my host mom’s delicious cooking, riding motorcycles to get to class, and otherwise learning about Dominican culture, I am back safe and sound in my home in Atlanta after a teary airport reunion with my family.
I think the best word to describe my experience in the Dominican Republic is meaningful. I choose this word because it encapsulates all of my memories, from the happy and fun ones to the more challenging ones. I feel like I fulfilled my goal to learn about and to appreciate a culture different from my own. However, this was not always easy. Language and culture played a much larger role in hindering deep friendships from forming than I had expected. Although I hung out with locals on a daily basis, whether it be at the universities I attended or with my ultimate frisbee team, I struggled to have anything more meaningful than surface-level conversations. If I did, the conversations were with Dominicans who spoke English. While my program was small, I still spent most of my time with the other Americans, and although I formed lifelong friendships, I do regret having few Dominican friends that I will keep in touch with beyond my time here.
I am perhaps most thankful for the time I spent at the Alta Gracia factory. No one at the factory spoke any English, so when I was there I was challenged to speak and improve my Spanish without cheating and switching to English. Chatting with my boss always made for interesting conversation about the factory’s labor practices and the economic situation of the community that it serves. Going out to the factory on a weekly basis expanded my view of the Dominican Republic beyond the relatively industrialized capital city where I was living. This experience is something that has shaped my worldview and opinion on our global economic system.
I have loved the challenges that my time in the Dominican Republic has forced me to confront. I have been confronted with aspects of my own white American privilege that I do not necessarily think about living in the United States. And living in a country of the world simultaneously impacted by the Zika virus and systematically denying women’s right to reproductive justice has been thought provoking to say the least. While I certainly had a lot of fun bonding with my program and going on cultural excursions, I think I ultimately draw the most from my challenges here. These cultural differences that have checked my privilege, empowered my marginalized identities, and expanded my perspective. The Dominican Republic has taught me life lessons I will never forget. To me, that is meaningful. To me that is special. To me, that is what study abroad is.
When I was making my decision regarding which semester to study abroad, I heard many arguments as to why I should study abroad in the fall. From being in a foreign country during application season to potential housing complications to missing key Georgetown events and memories, studying abroad in the spring can sometimes be seen as a stressful endeavor.
However, I couldn’t be happier with my choice to go abroad in the spring! While spring study abroad may not be for everyone, it certainly has its advantages and perks.
First, being abroad in the spring did not affect my ability to find my summer internship or to interview for my on-campus extracurricular commitments for next year. If you go abroad in the spring, Skype will become your best and most reliable friend. In fact, not having as many commitments while abroad actually gave me more time to research internships and craft my applications. The same goes for finding senior year housing—I was able to sign my off-campus housing lease with a group of four friends via electronic signature with little to no stress. As for missing spring semester Georgetown events, this was a sacrifice that any abroad student faces no matter the semester and is something that I reflected on long before I went abroad, ultimately deciding that this was the right decision for me.
Additionally, having the summer to decompress and reflect on my abroad experience instead of being thrown into another Georgetown semester is something that I look forward to after returning. My study abroad experience in the Dominican Republic has been a large cultural shift, and I encourage students seeking abroad experiences in new and different cultures to think about having that three-month break before re-entering Georgetown academics.
For my program specifically in the Dominican Republic, the spring semester offers different opportunities for cultural excursions. For instance, our overnight excursion included a boating trip to observe whales in their migration season that only occurs in the spring. The baseball season, a huge sport in the DR and an important part of this country’s culture, is in full throttle in the spring as well.
Perhaps the biggest disadvantage of going in the spring from my experience is that there is comparatively less time to pull visa documents together before leaving for abroad. This means that I had to be aware of my program’s start date and the visa process during fall semester and specifically finals period, which was pretty stressful.
At the end of the day, studying abroad in the spring should be a viable consideration for all students! To potential study abroad students, weigh the advantages and disadvantages in your particular situation and do what is right for you.
In the months that I’ve been in Cape Town, I’ve been able to check so many “touristy” items off my list: hiking Table Mountain, surfing at Muizenberg, exploring Central Business District, and checking out all the amazing sights that Cape Town has to offer. Two months into my study abroad experience, I was feeling pretty confident and comfortable in my knowledge of this amazing city. However, my home stay in the Langa Quarter township last weekend changed my view and perspective of this city.
Langa is Cape Town’s oldest township, established in 1923. Although Langa literally means “sun’ in Xhosa, it was named after Langalibalele – a famous chief who was imprisoned on Robben Island for rebelling against the government. As with the other townships in Cape Town, Langa was one of the many areas that was established by the government and designated for Black South Africans. With this difficult and heavy legacy of racial segregation and inequality in mind, I didn’t know what to expect for my weekend homestay.
When we arrived, we were introduced to Langa and our homestay families at the Langa Quarter Community Center. The community center served as the entry to Langa’s development projects and initiatives. We learned about the community’s plans for expanding opportunity and for opening up Langa to tourists from around the world. It was incredible to see how the diverse and dynamic plans that Langa had for its future.The past legacy of division and economic inequality was not holding this community back.
Another study abroad student and I were paired with our “Mama”, who had two grandkids who would be showing us around Langa. They, along with several others of the “homestay kids” from different houses, took us around the township throughout the weekend. We hung out with their friends in all the best locations and got a small glimpse into life in this vibrant township. I ate chicken feet (it actually wasn’t too bad!) and even had a small bite of a “Smiley” – the nickname of a cooked sheep’s head, a favorite delicacy in the township. We met locals who were running successful restaurants out of their homes, entrepreneurs who started tour companies, and young adults who were excelling in school and hoping to make difference for their community with their education. Everyone we met had a unique and powerful story, but all had a shared vision for where they wanted Langa to be in the future.
For me, the most jarring part of this homestay experience was the disconnect between Langa and other areas of Cape Town. It was the view of Table Mountain that made me realize how big this divide really is. Table Mountain stands in the distance, a familiar view from every part of Cape Town. No matter where you are in the city, the view of the mountain is a constant presence. It was hard to believe that this township, which struggles with poverty and economic inequality, exists under the same mountain as the stunning Camps Bay, a beach town which boasts houses worth millions of Rand. The disparity of wealth and opportunity in Cape Town, all under the unifying shadow of Table Mountain, was truly evident to me during this homestay. The ubiquitous view of Table Mountain was the reminder of the divisions that still exist in Cape Town. However, despite this challenging realization, I was so inspired by Langa’s inhabitants. So many of the people I met had a strong commitment and hope for the future of Langa, despite the many obstacles facing the community. My homestay was an incredible turning point in my experience. I am forever grateful to the family that welcomed me into their home and the community that opened my eyes to an entirely new side of Cape Town. It was truly an experience I will never forget.