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Settling into Africa and Starting Classes

It’s official: I’ve survived my first day as a full time UCT student. After two weeks of settling in, figuring out where to buy groceries, finding my way around classes, and (finally) discovering how to assemble a chain of electrical plug adapters in order to use ONE American appliance, it’s finally starting to sink in that Cape Town is not just a vacation, but rather my home for the next few months.

The last two weeks have been filled with many necessary items to “take care of business” but we’ve managed to squeeze a lot of fun into our short time before school started. Some highlights have included the Peninsula Tour, visiting the Old Biscuit Mill, and simply late night chats and braais with some fast friends. We participated in the Peninsula Tour through the University of Cape Town’s orientation program. With the tour, we spent the day traveling by bus to all of the best places that the Cape Town area has to offer. From the Cape of Good Hope to Boulders, where penguins walk all over the beach, we saw just how incredible this area truly is. The highlight of the Peninsula Tour was our lunch stop in a small township called Ocean View. Ocean View originated as a forced relocation township for colored South Africans during the Apartheid. In order to combat the drug abuse and teen pregnancy problems in their town, members of Ocean View started an extracurricular arts program for local students. Some of the kids performed for us during our lunch and they were incredible. All of the international students were captivated by two young boys who did a dance tribute to Michael Jackson. After the boys performed, there were intense talks of sneaking the two strikingly similar Michael Jackson characters in the U.S. for reality show auditions. In all seriousness, though, it was definitely a wake-up call to the reality of the third-world side of South Africa. Truly, it was inspiring to see the successful ways people are fighting the struggles youth face in a poverty-stricken area.

After the week of UCT orientation, I discovered one Cape Town-ian tradition I plan on partaking in every week– the pilgrimage to The Old Biscuit Mill. The Old Biscuit Mill is a giant market place which opens every Saturday. There are several high-end shopping locations, but the best part is the incredible food featured. The food section of the market is buzzing with locals and tourists alike and filled to the brim with people. Any type of food you can imagine was featured and made to order, from baked goods to kabobs to sandwiches to pasta to Belgian waffles. It’s no surprise- considering my love for food- that I can’t wait to go back and try more, especially local styles. The African food is very distinct and hard to describe. The locals eat a lot of meat, especially beef, covered in a curry and mustard-like spice. I really enjoy trying the new flavors and I can’t complain anything I’ve eaten here so far, with the exception of my own attempts at cooking.

One of the common social gatherings for South Africans is a braai, or barbeque. South Africans LOVE their braais, and I can understand why. Our interstudy group has gathered together on several occasions so far with our local mentors for braais. We spend hours hanging out, catching up, listening to our friends play the guitar, and cooking over an open grill. Braais are so casual and remind me of the perks of “Africa time”—there’s no need to rush when you’re enjoying good company.

During our first two weeks of fun, it was easy to forget that I’m actually in Cape Town to go to school. Today, though, I was in for a reality check as I attended my first classes. The UCT campus is HUGE; it’s over twice as big as the University of Denver campus back home with about 24,000 students. It’s so strange to me that I actually have to leave my flat about 45 minutes before classes start in order to make it on time. At home, I could roll out of bed and make it (with time to spare) to class in ten minutes. Getting to class is a process in Cape Town, though. All of the girls on campus spend a lot of time making sure they dress up and look nice for classes, which is quite the contrast to the American sweat-pants scene in most college lectures. Fortunately, we live about 3 blocks away from the shuttle stop in Lower Campus, so we only have to walk a short distance to catch a bus up to Upper Campus where the lectures take place. Though it seems overwhelming at times to have to take a bus within the campus just to get to class, UCT is absolutely gorgeous. The names “Lower Campus,” “Middle Campus,” and “Upper Campus” are quite literal, as the campus is located on the side of a mountain, and we travel up the mountain to get to class. Also, being a Colorado girl, I’m enjoying the palm trees outside of my lecture halls, though the South African winter is proving to be more unforgiving than I anticipated.

I’m taking four classes this semester: Marketing, Gender Studies, African Studies, and African Dance. I’ve attended two of my classes thus far and I think I’m really going to enjoy them. My professors are very engaging and humorous. It’s especially going to be interesting to take my marketing class right after the end of the World Cup because we are looking at a few case studies from the big event which all of South Africa is (still) hyped up about. Despite the old-fashioned paper systems the university implements, I’ve been impressed with UCT’s offerings. The university boasts that they are ranked 136 out of all the universities on the globe, and I’m feeling fortunate to take classes from some of the best professors in the world. It looks like I’ll have a lot of reading to do this semester, but my course load shouldn’t be too much harder than what I’m used to.

Between the interesting academic scene, the culture, and the incredible friends I’ve made, I can tell already that this experience will be one that I carry with me for the rest of my life. Now that classes have started, I look forward to befriending more local students outside of our comfortable interstudy bubble. For now, I feel so fortunate to have two perfectly-matched roommates which I already know will be life-long friends, along with several other interstudy students and mentors. I feel like the stresses of a new environment help people to bond quickly, and in a different way. I knew coming here would be an adventure, but I don’t think I can yet grasp just how impactful this journey will be. For that, I am (once again) so very lucky.

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