Monday, January 28, 2013

week one!


So, it's been a week since I've last posted! I left for South Africa on Sunday the 20th and landed in Cape Town at night on Monday the 21st. There were six other AIFS students flying out of JFK, so it was great to meet people in my program before my first flight ever! The first flight that I had was about 7 hours long and wasn’t too bad, but the second flight was 11 hours long and REALLY took a lot out of me (thank God for sleeping pills and movies on the plane!).

Our group took a coach bus from Cape Town to Stellenbosch at night, and it was hard to believe that we were actually in Africa! We randomly paired up into flats, and my flatmates’ names are Shauna, Lindsay, and Daniela—we get along really well and it’s been fun getting to know them all. The next three days involved orientation and exploring Stellenbosch. The AIFS students are just 28 of the 300ish international students studying at the university, so it’s been so awesome to see other people from countries all over the world.

Desk and bathroom (super messy, I know)

My closet

My bed

The view from our kitchen

One of the Stellenbosch mountains, but my flatmates and I insist on calling it our mountain.


The weather here has been beautiful—about 80 degrees every day—and I don’t know if I can ever go back to the cold winters of New York. The African sun is extremely harsh and you pretty much have to wear sunscreen wherever you go. The university’s campus basically looks like a resort in California or Florida but SO much prettier. The town of Stellenbosch that surrounds the school is also full of shops, restaurants, cafes, and bars, and my flatmates and I have agreed to check out different ones whenever we explore town. Here’s a store called The Lot—similar to our Urban Outfitters!


A huge culture shock that we’ve dealt with is Internet. We were under the impression that we would pay a flat fee and get unlimited wifi on our phones and laptops. However, we get charged per megabyte whenever we go online. So, something as simple as checking Facebook is costing us! Essentially, Skype and long conversations online aren’t ideal. (If you’re my friend and reading this, keep this in mind! Facebook messages and emails are probably the best way for us to talk.) We also talked to a local South African about how they do homework and research for classes, and he said that they rarely use the Internet for that stuff and they just go to the library. Another thing that we’re not used to.

Yesterday some of the international students went with ISOS (International Student Organisation Stellenbosch) and took a coach bus down to Cape Town and the waterfront. One thing that I will say is that there are a LOT of poor areas just minutes out of our campus, with shacks and garbage everywhere along the road. It was so crazy to see. After we got to the waterfront (which was also beautiful), we looked around the Victoria Wharf mall and got lunch. Then we took the bus to Clifton Beach, which has white sand and amazing turquoise water. There are also gorgeous beach houses around that are worth about $2 million!




Here are some other things that I’ve learned about Stellenbosch and SA after a few days:
  • South Africans are extremely friendly; it’s not strange to have someone randomly say hi to you, smile, or start up a conversation!
  • While we naturally go to the right in the U.S., South Africans naturally go to the left. So, they drive on the left, go up and down stairs on the left, and walk down streets on the left, which makes it hard to not bump into people.
  • Everything is cheaper here. South Africa uses the rand, which is comparable to our dollar. 1 U.S. dollar is about 8 rands. To put things into perspective, my dinner the other night (a sandwich, fries, and a glass of wine) was about 8 bucks including tip, and it was considered a “nice” dinner at a sit-down restaurant. Also, a beer at a bar can be as cheap as 1 dollar!
  • The whole rand/dollar conversion is still confusing to us. When you see a shirt for 100, it’s hard not to get REALLY freaked out (it actually turns out to be about 12 dollars!).
  • We haven’t seen any speed limit signs around campus, and cars here go REALLY fast. If you’re a pedestrian or bike rider, you have to be very careful because they don’t really slow down when they see people walking through traffic…
  • IsiXhosa is probably one of the coolest languages I’ve ever heard. It involves using clicks for different letters—q, c, and x—and I think I want to take it as a language this semester!
  • It’s very normal for people to be walking around town barefoot—even indoors in the mall, grocery stores, and restaurants!
  •  South Africans are very slow-paced by nature. Everything takes longer, such as service at restaurants, and we’re almost always waiting in a long line. This is definitely something that us impatient Americans will have to get used to.
  • Face-to-face communication is the primary way to talk to people here…they rarely spend a ton of time on their phones or on Facebook, which makes sense since the Internet is so expensive.
  • While buildings are usually non-smoking on the inside, many SA establishments have smoking and non-smoking sections, or just allow smoking. We went to a bar the other night and almost EVERYONE was lighting up a cigarette indoors!
  • Speaking of bars, this one local bar called Bohemia is ALWAYS busy, even at 12pm.South Africa just ended their apartheid, or black/white segregation, in 1994, so race is definitely something that is still an “issue.” Stellenbosch University is mostly white, but you will see blacks, whites, and coloreds (not a derogatory term here; it just means someone who is mixed) everywhere out in town. I’ve also noticed that mostly black and colored people work in stores, shops, cafes, security offices, construction, etc., which is really interesting.
  • South Africans are basically listening to the same music that we’re listening to. At our welcoming dinner, they played Swedish House Mafia, Justin Bieber, etc…
  • There's something here that's called a braii, which is basically a barbecue, and it's very popular. It's definitely a social activity where people eat and drink and sometimes play music.
  • At grocery stores and some other stores, the cashiers ask you if you want a plastic bag to carry your things…so of course you’ll say yes. But they’ll charge you for it! I guess that’s their way of making people go green.
And some photos of the area!



I’m trying to update my blog at least once a week (hopefully on Sundays because the Internet is cheaper), so we’ll see how that goes!


‘Til next time,
Christina

Saturday, January 19, 2013

the final countdown

This is it. I leave for South Africa tomorrow and this will be my last post in the U.S.! It's so crazy how much time flies...I remember looking at the AIFS Stellenbosch program in August, thinking about how amazing an opportunity like this would be, and here I am! I'm excited but nervous, and I'm also very scared. This whole experience will be life-changing but I'm ready for it.

I am so thankful that I have the chance to study abroad and that my home university and soccer program encourage students to travel as undergrads. I'm also very lucky to have such supportive people in my life who are happy that I have this opportunity as well - friends, faculty members, peers. All so great. Lastly, I'm so so so grateful to have parents who have sacrificed a lot for me to go to SA and believe that this trip will help me grow as a student and young adult. They're the best.

And even though I try to put up a front and act like nothing gets to me, I'm almost 100% positive that I'll be an emotional wreck saying goodbye to my parents tomorrow. And if it doesn't happen then, it'll probably happen at some point on my 20+ hour flight.

One of my resolutions for 2013 is to control what I can and realize that I do have control over a lot of things in my life, one of them being my attitude and how I react to certain situations. South Africa will truly test that. There will be things that I may not like or find comfortable, but it's all part of the experience that I'm incredibly lucky to have.

Our AIFS Resident Director, Hestea (or MamaH), sent our group a final e-mail with a really great quote by Proust:

"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes."


'Til next time,
Christina

Friday, January 18, 2013

i packed?

Hello world! I leave for South Africa in TWO DAYS. Crazy, I know. I figured that I would be done with my packing on Sunday morning, about an hour before I leave for JFK, but no - I actually finished with some time (and room) to spare! I'm patting myself on the back as we speak...

I thought I was going to be fancy and take pictures of everything that I'll be taking with me, but I got so lazy, you guys. Instead, I took random photos of some things and my final two suitcases!

Shoes!
(sneakers, flip flops, some sandals, Toms, combat boots, and Vans)

 Bags!
(Jansport backpack and two crossbody bags)


Toiletries and medicine!
(All wrapped and bagged up because I refuse to let anything spill or leak...)

Some carry-on stuff!
(TSA liquids, journal and pens, snacks, chargers, tissues, etc. etc.)

My carry-on bag!
(From eBags.com - so spacious with a ton of convenient pockets)

T-shirts and shorts!
(I don't know why I photographed this, to be honest...)

 Suitcase #1!

Suitcase #2!

Wasn't that just thrilling to see? I'm actually really glad that I have some room to spare...it'll be perfect for when I want to bring souvenirs and other cool stuff back to the home with me in June. I'm also happy to have most of my packing already done, so I can just relax - if that's even possible - tonight and allll day tomorrow.

I'll probably post one more time tomorrow...my last time blogging in the U.S.! 


'Til next time,
Christina

Sunday, January 13, 2013

t-minus seven days!

So. Although the feeling hasn't sunken in yet (will it ever?), I will be on my first plane ever to South Africa in SEVEN DAYS. 

Seven days. In seven days I will probably be hating my life on that 24-hour flight but I will get through it. I have a lot of faith in snacks, movies, books, and sleeping pills. (If I can spend the majority of those hours sleeping, that will be great. Fabulous, even.)

I feel as though I should have so many crazy things to do in preparation for my trip...but here I am, in my bed, not doing a thing. Except I'm blogging, so I guess that's somewhat productive, right?

I've decided that packing will be the death of me, as it usually is. I am a pack rat and I blame my mother - Hi, Mom - for it; I am emotionally attached to my clothing and it is impossible for someone like me to "pack light." On the other hand, I will need to pack for 5 months so bringing a decent amount of stuff (that I can use in 50-100 degree weather) is justifiable.

I've also decided that I do not like airline regulations. There is no way that I can bring one 50lb bag, so I'm forced to deal with the unreasonable extra baggage fees. Can't a girl catch a break?

Anyway, once I figure out what I'm definitely bringing abroad, I will make another post with photos so we can all bask in the glory that is my overpacking.


'Til next time,
Christina

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

twenty thirteen

Happy New Year! Since I happen to be spending my NYE at home, I decided that I'd give my blog some love. I'm really bad at the whole "looking back on 2012 memories" thing, so I'll spare everyone the agony and just say that this past year was good! It wasn't perfect, of course, but I do have a lot to be thankful for.

Looking forward to the next year, I won't be making a long, unattainable list of resolutions that won't even cross my mind come January 2nd. Rather, I have a few goals:

  1. Awareness. During the later months of this year, I've dealt with a lot of emotional stress and had the mindset of turning the "negative" into the "positive." Sure, positive thinking is great, but forcing myself to fake certain emotions isn't healthy. So, this year, I'd like to take each emotion for what it's worth - good or bad - and move on from there. Everything can be learned from.
  2. Control. Some things we can control, other things we can't. I may not be able to control how others around me act or how certain situations work out. However, I can always change something, even if it's just my attitude. (I've had a very existential mindset lately, bear with me.) Even when I feel helpless, there's always something I can do. One of my favorite quotes (from the poem Invictus by William Ernest Henley) is, "I am the master of my fate / I am the captain of my soul," and that's definitely something that I'd like to remember moving forward.
  3. Productivity. I am usually very reactive - I procrastinate, I don't do things until I'm forced to, etc.  I'm not saying that I want to be a huge health freak or run a marathon every day; I do, however, want to work on using the free time that I use carelessly to better myself. I could read, write, blog, work out, play soccer, call up a friend I haven't seen in a while, anything. Nothing's wrong with relaxing, but I should probably get a life and do something when I have those "OMG I hate my life, I'm so bored" crises.
Lastly, I'd like to enjoy myself no matter what life has in store for me! I hope that everyone had a safe New Year's Eve and has a lovely (and slightly hungover) 2013.

'Til next time,
Christina