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On Studying Abroad (Or Why I’m Really Here)

It’s very exciting when one has the opportunity to be in such a welcoming city. Sometimes I feel that Cape Town has extended her arms towards me; I’m in such a comforting embrace that, while miles from home, I feel at peace.

When feelings such as these arise while travelling or studying abroad, you know you’ve hit it big.

And I’ve studied, and I’ve travelled.

Still, none of my prior experiences compare to this one. There was a quarter last year, where I spent three months studying in Paris. Paris of course, is beautiful. Avant-garde. Historical. And gothic. Walking down streets and side-streets I’d lose myself. There were cafes and galleries and creperies and all those things for which Paris, the city of lights, is known.

Travelling within Europe was also highly accessible. On weekends I’d buy discounted tickets from Ryan Air, and take myself from Spain to the Czech Republic, and the Croatia of my past. All were exciting experiences, which at the time reinforced the notion of what studying abroad seemed to be about.

But something about studying in South Africa is radically different. In Europe I felt more a traveller, one walking through antiquity and arriving at modernity. My friends and I would go out, enjoying in due course places such as the Lotus Café and the Quartier Latin. Nightlife was our life – whereas daytime was an amalgamation of classes and cafés. I was as much a tourist as the man beside me.

In the U of Chicago South Africa program, though, the emphasis is such that a country’s complex and complicated history is continually being made known to me, where chance encounters and everyday life takes me deeper into Africa’s reality. The past is present: the effects of colonialism are conjugated in life’s daily theatre.

I find myself consuming books on African kinship systems, apartheid, economics, and poetry. Somewhere between here and Johannesburg I have awoken as a more socially conscious and curious person. I feel South Africa has taught me how words can be beaded together to make necklaces of expression – which I begin to wear with pride. I feel empowered to write – to express the steam of consciousness that seems to flow faster than the speed with which ink can transcribe thoughts to paper.

Because that’s the thing about studying abroad. About travelling, or forcing oneself to take a risk and experience something new. In it is encapsulated in the opportunity to learn more about others, and if you’re lucky, yourself as well.