As 15 year old Maria boarded her flight for South Africa, she had no idea she was headed to the ground floor of a significant historical event!
Maria from California chose to study abroad for 1 semester in South Africa with iE-USA.
Toward the end of her exchange semester, news of Nelson Mandela’s death rocked the world. Maria, now immersed in the South African culture, was able to see these events through the eyes of a South African.
Maria shares more in her own words:
What impacted you during your semester in South Africa with iE-USA?
It’s hard to list just one thing, because I’m so thankful for the experience in general. The townships were like nothing I had seen before. There are squatter camps, where people build houses out of tin and other materials, and there are formal settlements. These are housing units made out of brick, which was an effort that Mandela began post-apartheid. In the townships, everyone was smiling and friendly, yet they have almost nothing. It made me realize how much we take for granted.
How did people respond to Nelson Mandela’s passing?
The energy that week leading up to the funeral was all revolved around him and remembering the life that he led. There were thousands of flowers laid out on the streets and hand-written cards to the Mandela family. It’s not until you are in that environment that you realize he did not only have a physical impact on the laws and government, but an emotional impact on the people and their minds. People really feel like he impacted their lives on a personal level, and he did.
Why did you choose South Africa?
I wanted to go to a country where their first language is English. That narrowed it down pretty quickly. Most of the other English-speaking countries all have a similar culture to that of America, and so I felt South Africa would be the most different. I wanted the “most different.” I wanted something out of my comfort zone.
What differences did you notice?
The languages. You can sit on a bus and hear English, Zulu, Tswana, Afrikaans, and Xhosa. You don’t get that in America. Also, school was the polar opposite of my school in California. We had uniforms, which I ended up liking because I didn’t have to decide what I wanted to wear in the morning. And I got to take classes I had never been able to take back home, like African History and Consumer Studies.
Do you have any favorite memories from your time?
I got to go shark cage diving – that was one of the coolest things. You wear a wet suit and get in the water with them!
What does it feel like to come home?
So far, it’s as if nothing has changed, which is good and kind of weird at the same time. I am glad I can pick up where I left off, but the experience was so personal, that I feel like I have changed drastically, while nothing around me is different.
What advice would you give someone considering studying in South Africa?
I would say to just be open-minded, because, if you go to any country with a closed mind, you are not going to be happy. One thing people should be prepared for when they go to South Africa is that there is more poverty than in America. They should also know that it’s not a reason to be scared. Overall, I found that they (South Africans) are very friendly, loving people – more so than in America. I took the train, taxis, and city buses, but I always felt safe.
How do you think this might affect your future?
I would like to revisit South Africa in the future. I am even considering a year abroad at UCT. I also hope this experience will help me get into college, so that I may continue studying culture and people on a higher academic level. I believe this is just the first step in a long list of cultural-immersion experiences.
Are you a teacher, educator, or homeschooler? Want to use this interview as an educational piece about Mandela or South Africa? Download the Maria_and_Mandela_Educational_Handout.
Want to apply to go to South Africa next year? Go here: http://usa.international-experience.net/study-abroad/apply-now/
Robert Louis Stevenson once said,”There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.”
That is how I felt when I first arrived in Cape Town, South Africa. I was a foreigner, in a completely new environment, with new family and new friends. Cape Town, however, quickly welcomed me with open arms and showed me all there is to love about this amazing city.
Each weekend brings a new adventure. I have waddled around with penguins, and gotten up close and personal with baboons and seals. I have spent hours climbing the mountains that engulf this beautiful city, and surfed the waves of the marvelous beaches. But, while I will remember these experiences forever, it is the people of Cape Town who have made my stay so special. My host family has shown me nothing but love. I have enjoyed getting to know my aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents, and I can proudly say that I feel like a member of the family.
The students at school were eager to teach me all there is to know about South Africa and, also, to learn about my culture in The States. And the people I encounter, as I make my way around town, always smile, ask questions, and surely know hospitality.
I don’t feel like a foreigner anymore, because Cape Town has become a place I call home.
-Maria, South Africa 2013
Why did you study abroad?
“I always knew that I wanted to study abroad. The idea of completely immersing myself in another culture did not scare me; it intrigued me. Whether it was Europe, Africa, or any other continent, I desperately wanted a new adventure. And, I guess one could say I am a little impatient. Once I had this idea in my head, there was no letting it go. I began doing research to find a program that suited my personal and financial needs. Money was the biggest issue. But I asked for donations and saved every penny from work in order to get enough. The whole thing felt like a blur, or a dream. It did not even feel real as I boarded my plane to endure 24 hours of traveling. I was going to Africa! And today, as I sit in my in my new home, in Cape Town, South Africa, it still doesn’t feel real, for I am living my dream.”
How did you pay for your study abroad?
Ask Maria questions in the comment section!