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R & R

The funny thing about studying abroad is how much it makes you think about home.

After all, to immerse yourself entirely in another culture, you’ve first got to clamber out of the pool of thoughts, norms and expectations that was your home, and boy, is the view different once you’re out of it.  As a girl who goes to a pretty competitive university in the United States of America, I can definitely say I’ve uttered a few of the expected “Woah, that’s not how they do things in the States”s while studying in the ultra-laid-back city that houses the University of KwaZulu Natal. This isn’t either a good or bad thing (usually,) just a different thing. I think to try to encompass every difference I’ve found here would just be too much for one little blog post (heck it might be too much for one little book,) so I’ll focus on one aspect of Durban culture that I’ve still not completely managed to wrap my head around: relaxation.

Now, relaxation, at least in my experience, is not something that the aspiring educated-East-Coast-American tends to be well acquainted with. If I were to describe a typical one, I’d say you would most likely find him running to be on time for the next meeting for a club that he signed up for to make himself look better for the summer internship that he’s applying to while responding to a professor’s last e-mail on his blackberry and also mentally checking off the chapters that he’s going to have to read tonight so that he’ll have time for the episode of Heroes that he left to download in his room (because he’s going to need a study break this weekend.) That’s right. It’s stressful even reading that. In a society in which efficiency and multitasking (or the gold standard, efficient multitasking!) are the rules by which you live your life, it gets very easy to let them take over.

In South Africa, getting things done is viewed a bit differently. Things do get done, don’t get me wrong- but not before you’ve stopped to say hello to a friend and chat for 20 minutes. To illustrate my point, I’ll bring up two colloquial expressions I’ve learned, which are slight variations on “I’m coming.” There’s “just now,” response (as in, “Yes, we’re coming just now,”) which essentially translates to “It’s on our to-do list, but don’t hold your breath,” and “Now now,” (as in, “I’ll see to it now now”) which means “Don’t worry, it’ll be the next thing I get to.” This laid-back ethos is an attitude that blankets pretty much everything, and, like all things, it’s had mixed effects on my experience here:

The Good:

  • Walking into a backpacker’s lodge on the weekend to be greeted by the receptionist. The tipsy, barefooted receptionist, who then proceeded to affably detail all of the excursions they had available for us to go on in what I had to admit was a perfectly thorough and competent fashion.
  • Taking a hired van from the mall back to campus, prepared to pay the driver (who we’d had a pleasant drive with) the required R25 and then being waved off with an “Oh, forget it this time. It’s on me.”

The Not-So-Good

  • The cab companies that are satisfied with ‘Oh, any minute now,’ as a response to your query about when the car you requested is going to arrive. In my experience, ‘any minute now’ lies somewhere between 4 to 45 minutes.
  • The campus bookstore reassuring you that the required text for your class will be in by “tomorrow at noon,” then when tomorrow at noon comes, “Friday, in the afternoon,” then on Friday afternoon “sometime next week…”

Like pretty much everything about my South African experience so far, even this tiny aspect of Durban culture has been at some times wonderful, at other times uncomfortable and almost always what I wanted my study abroad experience to be. And with that blog post written, I’m going to take what I’ve learned from Durban so far and reward myself with some well-earned rest.Over and out,

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