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What it’s Like to Study Abroad: More on the U of Chicago Program

I arrived in South Africa on January 3rd, to a Johannesburg that I had only read about. With a group of 23 other students, I spent a week in SA’s cultural capital, staying at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits for short), College of Education Campus. We took classes at Wits, where Professor David Bunn, a renowned scholar on the social aspects of game reserves, took us through African literature and apartheid history.

In Jo’burg, things were quite controlled. We only travelled as a group, sheltered by the hired tour vans and protected by the phalanx of people sent to watch us. Class material was stimulating and intriguing, but the conditions in which we operated felt somehow highly contrived.

In Cape Town, where I’ve been since the 9th of January, I seem to have found freedom. This city, which is much safer, as a corollary, is also more accessible. We take classes four days a week, usually in the form of three-hour seminars, which are supplemented by Friday excursions and Pro-Seminars (talks by South Africans) on Tuesday afternoons.

In the end, we students are working with local scholars, historians, and mentors, all of whom help augment the topics we are learning in class. More than that though, the very fact of being immersed in the society that I am studying, has proved a major reinforcement of the structure of my course. Day-to-day life, and the social panorama that surrounds me, in addition to the texts I consume, are my best teachers.