Year abroad destination: Studied at the University of Cape Town, South Africa
Motivated by a burning desire to broaden my travel experiences, I set off in July 2016 to study abroad at the University of Cape Town (UCT). Navigating life abroad was an interesting journey and reflecting on my time has shone a light on a few ways in which I maximised my experience and potential for adventure throughout the year.
1. Popping the International Student Bubble
Staying in accommodation that was organised through university channels, my first semester at UCT was spent living with two Europeans from my cohort of international students. Now, I can understand why this living situation was beneficial for my initial arrival in Cape Town – it removed the stress of finding appropriate housing in an unfamiliar city; and because everybody in the house – as Capetonian newbies – were new to UCT, we could help each other out and get our bearings together. After 5 months however, I relocated to Observatory – a suburb slightly farther from university – and rented a flat with an eclectic group of people from other cities in South Africa, countries in Africa and beyond.
Not only did this move vastly expand my musical horizons – our flat was on top of a café by day, and restaurant/club/space for artistic expressions by night; and my room sat directly above the dance floor, so intimately proximate that I could shazam songs from my bed (shout out Café Ganesh!). But I gained a more nuanced cultural, social and political understanding of South Africa and other countries on the continent. My housemates, and the numerous people that I subsequently met through them, opened my eyes and mind. Observatory brought into my life an incredible group of people, with whom I shared some of the best moments of my time abroad and that I would never have met if It were not for me deciding to move from a predominantly international student home.
Whilst living in Observatory, and somewhat removed from the (sometimes comforting) international student bubble; I experienced Cape Town more authentically, met and spent time with a plethora of impactful people within the community and beyond, and faced unique and sometimes challenging situations that taught me a lot about myself. Before that move, I was hesitant to live slightly farther away from university – but it honestly ended up being one of the best, and transformational decisions of my time away.
2. Stopping fear from limiting my experience
Anybody who knows me can testify to my deep adoration of nature, so when presented with countless opportunities to hike great heights and appreciate spectacular views of the city, skies, seas and beyond… you can bet that I grasped every single one. In fact, I hiked 2 mountains during my first weekend in the country. (Photos inserted below for evidence!).
Judging from those photos, everything appears fine and dandy up there right? Well, those close to me will also be able to testify my fear of heights. This is not to say that, had I chosen two photos with my face to the camera, you would be viewing a tear ridden face – I was grinning from ear to ear, I promise! However, making it up Lion’s head and Table Mountain that weekend, and the numerous challenging excursions over the year, were no doubt a mental challenge.
Especially my 9 hour Devil’s Peak hike – we were incredibly high up and unfortunate weather conditions left us unable to see the mountain drop either side of us. If I’m being completely transparent with you, I didn’t think I would make it back down the mountain alive lol (…it’s not even marginally funny – I was terrified).
If it wasn’t for a constant stream of positive self-talk, the motivational words of my friends and, at times, me tightly gripping their hands at particularly nerve-wracking parts…I don’t think I would have made it up either of those mountains. However, with each summit that I reached, my confidence grew stronger. Even so, when my sister came to visit I guided her up Table Mountain! Pushing myself out of my comfort zone not only helped towards conquering my fears, but yet again, allowed me to experience beautiful views and create wonderful memories with my friends. It wasn’t easy, but my determination was stronger.
3. Making the most of the opportunity to travel within and outside of the country
Although I was ecstatic to be in Cape Town and had plenty to explore, I couldn’t help but think that It provided the perfect opportunity to explore a few more countries on the continent. In fact, before even departing London, I was sure that my experience would not be isolated to South Africa – I just didn’t know where exactly I would go.
Eventually, brainstorming sessions with my friends led us on a two-week adventure – travelling up the coast of Mozambique and a road trip though Namibia, culminating with a one night river rafting and camping trip along the Orange River. Over the course of two weeks I had visited multiple towns and cities, the largest canyon in Africa, tried my hand at snorkeling, climbed (and slid down) majestic sand dunes, toured an 800-person inhabited island, defended my tent against persistently rude monkeys and slept under the stars on the banks of one of the longest rivers in Africa. Safe to say, I had an enriching and whirlwind experience that would have not been possible if I didn’t make the most of the opportunity to explore neighboring countries at a comparatively low cost.
Additionally, I made sure to travel within the country. South Africa is HUGE and I barely touched the surface. However, throughout the year, I visited Johannesburg, Stellenbosch, the Garden Route, Durban and Kruger National Park. Although these trips were within the confines of South Africa’s border, they were no less exciting and full of beauty. Expanding my travel experiences beyond the city of Cape Town and travelling outside of and within South Africa, massively contributed to my year abroad!
Although this blog is specific to my personal experiences, I think that if you implement these tips in your future study abroad and travelling experiences, you too will be able to make the most of your journey.
“Stuff your eyes with wonder, live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.” – Ray Bradbury