Before arriving in South Africa, I was nervous, excited and determined. When I arrived, it was nighttime, but I glimpsed the city on the bus ride to our new home. I loved the house immediately. It was huge with 10 rooms, a big kitchen, a living room, outdoor spaces with an avocado tree, plants and a hammock from which you can see Table Mountain. The house is located in Observatory (Obs) a really fun area with tons of restaurants, cafes, thrift stores, bars and places to walk and run. Our Resident Advisor who lived in our house as well as went to school with us, showed us around Obs. Just a short drive from Obs, are the mountains and then the ocean. Cape Town is gorgeous and known for its hiking, beaches, vineyards, festivals and its economic and racial diversity.
Two days a week, I attended classes at the University of the Western Cape. Historically a non-white university, UWC is one of the largest and best public universities in South Africa. Going from 30 people max classes at LMU to 300 person lectures at UWC was an adjustment. To accommodate approximately 20,000 students, UWC has a sprawling campus that even houses a nature preserve. My first couple weeks, I got lost on campus several times but there was always a friendly student to help me out. The classes I took were super interesting and I was able to get credit for them at LMU. I made some great friends at UWC and have fond memories of lying on the sunny quads eating muffins.
On Fridays, everyone in my program had two classes together. These classes focused on race, class, gender, grassroots organizing and reconciliation in South Africa. They provided a time to learn and reflect with my housemates. Both classes featured several guest lectures who spoke on their experience during and after Apartheid. We talked about racism, colonialism, power, the patriarchy, white supremacy and poverty. Learning about how these elements intersect and play out in South Africa taught me a lot about the United States as well. This space on Fridays allowed me to reflect on my identity, be vulnerable and grow my understanding of important topics.
The other two weekdays were spent at a service-learning site. There was a range of organizations to choose from. I worked at an orphanage for children 0-5. There, I had the privilege of working with an amazing mentor from whom I learned about working with children who have experienced trauma. At times, it was challenging working with these children, as I did not have a lot of experience with children who had experienced trauma and had to grapple with my position as a foreigner. However, my mentor welcomed me from the moment I got there and invited me into her world with open arms. Watching her with the children and listening to her advice helped me solidify my desire to teach young children.
When I was not in class or at service learning, I explored Cape Town, formed life-long relationships with the people in my house and found joy in even the most mundane things. Walking down the middle of the street (which is customary in Cape Town) to the grocery store, I laughed with friends, admired new flowers, stared up at the mountains and kept an eye out to make sure I wouldn’t be mugged. Cape Town required me to heighten my “street smarts” but was safe for me as long as I made safe choices. Traveling in groups not only helped keep me safe but also helped me get to know the people in my program. Together, we explored Cape Town, finding local spots as well as visiting the famous sites, befriending locals and travelers.
Overall, I had a wonderful study abroad experience before COVID-19 brought me back to the United States too soon. While it was challenging at times, I always felt very supported by my housemates. I am incredibly grateful to the people I met in my program. We all went through similar experiences together and were able to lean on each other for support. I am also grateful to the people I met in South Africa and for the time I got to spend there, learning about myself and the world we share.
Galena studied abroad in the Sibanye Cape Town program in South Africa in spring 2020.
Author: Galena C./ Photos: Galena C. Spring 2020.