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,

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