Time Abroad: Fall 2007
Major: International Studies and Spanish
As an International Studies major, I knew that I both wanted and had to study abroad as part of my degree. I also knew that I wanted to go somewhere I had never been before. This narrowed down my options to more than a few places, which made the decision all that much harder. I had somewhere that I wanted to study abroad on just about every continent, but finally I decided that I was going somewhere in Africa. I settled on South Africa for a variety of reasons, and I could not have been happier. I really liked the idea of going to South Africa because of its unique history and extremely diverse population.
One of the main reasons that I chose to study in Pietermaritzburg (PMB), rather than the other locations in South Africa was the size of both the city as well as the campus student body. Once I had finally decided on going to South Africa, I checked out the different cities and schools on the internet. The PMB campus seemed to be roughly the same size as DU, which was what I was looking for, and there were also not a lot of other DU students going which was also appealing since I wanted to branch out and meet new people. Once I got there, I was so happy that I had chosen to go to PMB. The city has a much more laid back feeling then either Durban or Cape Town, but at the same time, when things in town get slow its incredibly easy to get to Durban where there's more going on, and even Cape Town isn't too impossible to get to.
The best advice I could give to any student going abroad is to branch out of the DU bubble and meet new people, especially local students/people. It's easy, especially during the first couple of weeks, to stick to the people you know, but the best way to make the very most of your experience is meet people in classes, in your residence and around campus or town. Especially since they can show you cool places around town and help give you some insight onto the culture. It is also important to make connections with professors, NGO's, and other local organizations while you're there because they have the potential to lead to further trips back. While I was abroad, I knew I wanted to come back and spend more time learning about the country and actually living in the country, so I worked with one of my Political Science professors at UKZN to set up an internship for the following summer. It took a lot of planning and flexibility to finally get the logistics worked out, but in the end I was able to spend 2 months last summer working for a local organization and living with a South African family which was an extremely eye opening experience. Even though I was back in Pietermaritzburg, the experience was completely different from studying abroad there.
One of the biggest challenges in South Africa is dealing with the concept of time. For most people there, it seemed that time isn't such a big deal and they like to live life as it come, rather than planning out every minute detail. It takes time to adjust to doing everything at a slower pace and to realize that just about everything is going to take twice as long as it would in the US. But once you get used to running on "African time" you get really used to it, which can either be a good thing or a bad thing depending on your personality.
It would be absolutely impossible for me to pick just one memorable experience since there were way too many to count. But here are just a few of the things that I will never forget about my time in SA: watching South Africa win the Rugby World Cup with my South African friends; taking a road trip to Swaziland and Mozambique the first week we arrived; working in a children's home on the weekends with a volunteer group; various excursions up and down the Wild Coast/Eastern Cape; and about 10,000 other things!