Back home

Hello all,

I’m back home in Hawaii for the break but I am leaving today to attend a family reunion in LA. It hasn’t really hit me that I am home but now that I am leaving again, it’s getting weird. As I was packing, I realized that it hasn’t been much time since I last traveled and it took me 42.5 hours to get home from South Africa. Although this flight will be a lot shorter, I still dread getting onto a plane.

Hiking up Table Mountain!

I didn’t blog as much as I wanted to, mostly because there was so much to do! In my last few days in South Africa, we went to Cape Town, which I found to be the most developed part of the whole country. We went on a scenic drive around the peninsula, visited a penguin colony at Boulders Beach, and hiked Table Mountain. I have been telling my relatives at our family holiday parties that I have been studying in South Africa and more often than not, they ask me if I studied in Cape Town. Historically, Cape Town is the town where Europeans first settled in South Africa.  In my opinion, Durban is a lot more fun than Cape Town. It’s probably because within the last few weeks of being in Durban, I felt like I was living there instead of just studying there.

Made a new friend!

I feel a little culture shock now that I am home and there is stable wifi, really good Asian food, and low water pressure in my toilet (South Africa does not mess around with their toilet pressure). I think I will feel the most culture shock when I return to Whitman where I will return to normal lecture halls. I loved SIT’s experiential learning because I love hands-on learning. I owe many thanks to the people who run the program in South Africa and to Whitman for running an amazing off-campus studies office.

In conclusion, I recommend this program to anyone who is interested in experiencing a different culture. I’m thankful for all the people I have met and I would happily do it again. I would not recommend this program to people who have a hard time dealing with uncertainty. As a part of experiential learning, there are some things that we did that were surprising and unexpected but that’s just the fun in studying abroad. I was lucky to have made some friends on the program as well as some in the community so I had fun with the people I have met. Ngiyabonga kakhulu Durban!


I have completed 3 weeks at the Emergency Department! Tuesday is our last day and I’m really sad to leave. I’m just getting used to being in the hectic environment and getting to know the doctors well. I’m starting to become a productive member in the department and getting really good at restocking. In my first week in the ER, I was appalled to see how often doctors take blood from their patients. It makes sense for them to do it, but I never thought about it, considering how little I get blood drawn at home. I thought I wouldn’t be afraid of seeing blood drawn (of all the other scary things I could see in an ER!) but I was a little scared of how doctors would push needles into the thin arms of patients who would resist and pull back. I hated seeing them in more pain when they already came all the way to the ER to address other pain. By week 2, I was used to seeing the needles and blood and didn’t turn away anymore. Reflecting on my past fear, I think it’s kind of funny that a lot of people don’t choose a career in healthcare because of their fear of blood. It had only taken 2 weeks to get over my fear of needles into other people and now I can observe without looking away. I can feel my threshold of discomfort improve every day in the ER. I wonder what else I could do if I wasn’t afraid of anything.

I’ve also done a night shift at the ER on a Friday night. We were told that weekend night shifts are more poppin because people get drunk on the weekend and start getting violent. The shift ran from 8pm – 8am and things were somewhat quiet until 2am where many patients came in to the ER for all sorts of problems: Gunshot wounds, stab wounds, abdominal pain, seizures… the list goes on. We had at least 5 patients admitted for seizures alone. The ER at this hospital, like many other hospitals in South Africa is grossly understaffed. The ER is split into two sections, majors and minors, where majors handles the more serious cases and minors takes care of simpler cases. For the Friday night shift, only one doctor was working in majors and one doctor in minors within the help of a few medical interns (who are equivalent to a resident in the US). Doctors don’t have time to take a break within the 12 hour shift because patients continue to roll in. During this shift, I’ve developed an immense respect for doctors who are forced to do their jobs well without much financial support from their government or understanding from the community for long waiting times. However, it is super cool that South Africa provides free healthcare in public hospitals, meaning that all drugs and consultations are completely free.

Landing pad for helicopter emergencies!

The ER where I am stationed for my internship is a state of the art facility, newly renovated, and well-stocked. Doctors show up when they are scheduled, which is rare for South Africa. The doctors have been eager to teach me how to triage a trauma patient and let me fill out paperwork for them, like lab and x-ray order forms. I’ve been able to comfort patients when they were in pain by asking them questions. My small talk has really improved! It’s only a little painful now. One day, I asked a patient how long he had been waiting to see a doctor and he said, “3 hours, so not bad today”. Time moves slower in anywhere that is not the United States so we really take for granted how good we have it back home.
I’ve gotten really close to some doctors, who are also natural-born teachers, and I am sad that our time together has been so short. I wish that we had more time together! I’ve learned so much and have grown so much from the start of my internship and the start of my semester here. I guess that just shows how fleeting time can be. People and places come and go and you’ll miss them (a lot) but you’ll remember them forever. Study abroad has made me sentimental!

I’m alive don’t worry

Long time no see! This program has really opened my eyes to the social aspects that affect health. It’s appalling that so many people go on to be healthcare professionals without this knowledge. This past month, we learned about traditional methods of healing, as well as the depressing topic of health insurance. It’s sad that so much of healthcare delivery is dependent on politicians that have no background in health and it only takes a few bad apples to ruin good legislation. Then there’s the issue of enforcement, which is a huge problem in South Africa’s corrupt government. And still yet, health insurance will never be perfect because there’s always going to be new diseases that won’t be covered. It’s also wild that people here know so much about what is happening in the United States. Seeing that makes me kind of guilty for not keeping up with international news. I’ve been reading for fun a lot more here than I have since I started college. You could say that study abroad #changed me.

Friday was the last day of my homestay. We moved out this morning and I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t a lil emotional. Last Thursday, it was my mama’s birthday and we had a farewell dinner for all of the homestay families. I had everyone sing happy birthday to her and she loved it! And it didn’t hurt that she didn’t have to cook and got free food on her birthday. She brought tupperware to the dinner. She is my queen.

We also did homestays in Nzinga, a rural town about 3 hours from Durban. We got to attend a Zulu wedding. It was a really cool cultural experience. There are many intricacies in the Our homestay mama, Mama Zuma, lent us some traditional outfits. We still stood out in the crowd despite our efforts in dressing up! I am currently leading the class in most marriage proposals. Stay tuned for updates.

Me and my new friend in Nzinga!

This past weekend, we spent the weekend in Margate, a beach resort. We stayed in these little beach houses right next to the water and we could see whales from our front door! I spent all of Saturday tanning and swimming. The Indian Ocean is so warm! Can’t wait to go back to Whitman with my tan and make all of my friends jealous. It’s really cool of SIT to plan these fun weekend excursions for us. All of the traveling can be tiring but it definitely pays off when you get there.

Margate!! South Africa is beautiful!

I’ve finally secured an internship! I will be working in the Emergency Department at Edendale Hospital. We have to select a topic that we may encounter during our internship and do a write-up at the end of the semester. SIT and hospitals are strict on confidentiality and privacy so I won’t be able to share much about what I will be up to in a hospital but I will be happy to share a pic or two of me cooking with 3 other gals that will also be interning at Edendale.

I am now about halfway through the program and time really flies when you’re having fun. Wifi has been a little unreliable so I haven’t been able to post as much as I want to. I have two more weeks staying at the North Beach in Durban and then it’s off to Pietermaritzburg for my internship!

No more safaris heeyaw: the start of “study” abroad

Last week, we learned about the environmental factors that contribute to health. South Durban is home to many industrial developments, such as paper mills, oil refineries, and pipelines that leak underneath communities where people stay. The stench of toxins fill the air in Wentworth where we met with a representative of an NGO. Under apartheid, Wentworth was designated as a coloured community and racist environmental planning drove industrial companies and their toxins to Wentworth. About 50% of students at a certain primary school in Wentworth are diagnosed with asthma and/or tuberculosis. In addition to these environmental factors, education in South Africa is one of the worst in the world, almost entirely due to the unequal distribution of resources during apartheid that still occurs today. The lack of quality teachers and government corruption makes matters even worse. It is devastating that we can still see the damaging effects of apartheid long after it has ended.

View from a lookout spot on our Toxic Tour. Further to the left is the ocean.

We also learned about the HIVAIDS epidemic in South Africa and how community mobilization has allowed free antiretroviral treatments to all infected people. South Africa has one of the best programs in rolling out antiretroviral treatments in the world. However, access to these medications is still a problem as many that live in rural areas do not have easy access to doctors or pharmacies. We are learning about South Africa’s strategic plan to alleviate the epidemic. There are plans for preventative care, education, and more.

The view from our beachfront apartment that we stayed in before moving into our homestays. Durban is a surfing hotspot!

For the last month of the semester, SIT has us do either an internship or an independent study project (ISP). We are just beginning to think about what we might want to do (and it can be anything within a South African context!). I am thinking about doing an internship in a rural hospital where I will be able to shadow ER docs and help restock shelves with supplies. I have been doing some reading about how “mob justice” is so prevalent, especially in townships. Communities will take matters into their own hands and take care of criminals themselves using weapons. Stab wounds and gunshot wounds are relatively common, depending on area. Medical services can be inaccessible due to cost, location, and/or waiting times and people usually will avoid seeking out medical services unless they are dying. More than half of the population depends on public healthcare, which is often underfunded and/or overcrowded. Disclaimer for mom: I am safe.
Every day, I am shocked at how little I know. It’s an exciting position to be in. I feel like I am learning something new every day and it is more rewarding because I am meeting people in the community that I have come to care about. South Africa isn’t a problem to fix; it’s a place where people care deeply about tradition and their families and their country. I’m so thankful to be able to experience it as an outsider but also as a temporary member of the community. My host mama and family are wonderful. I seriously considered coming up with an ISP topic that would allow me to stay in her home. Also just fyi I am the best host student ever. I made my famous chili for dinner on Thursday and my mama got seconds!!! I am currently researching ways in which I can watch Skeem Saam, Isidingo (Trevor Noah was on this!!), Generations the Legacy, and Uzalo when I get back to America. I am hooked to these soap operas that we watch over dinner every night. Another disclaimer for mom: I am studying.

They call me Jessica Flay

On Friday, it was one of my classmate’s birthdays and we all went to a club. It was an experience. This isn’t Walla Walla anymore! I am thankful that all of the students are getting along and we don’t hate each other yet. There is also this restaurant downstairs from the program office that sells amazing toasted sandwiches (toasties) and I have made “toastie fridays” a tradition during lunch. All are welcome although only 3 participated this week :(. I will definitely be hyping it up for this week.
PS Trevor Noah’s book, Born a Crime is a MUST READ. Even better when you get to visit South Africa.

Safaris yeehaw

Sanibona sunshines! I am starting week 3 of my program and I’ve had a blast so far. This semester, there are only women so I’m getting a taste of sorority life! I thought I would hate it but its actually really cool to be around women with similar interests. We have a range of interests, from policy to public health, as well as pre-med and pre-nursing students. I’ve gotten to know my classmates really well. About 12 of us shared one small bathroom for 3 days in Johannesburg and we’ve chased lions, giraffes, and zebras (pronounced zeh-bra… ask Trevor Noah) in Krueger Park. We’ve also visited Constitution Hill in Pretoria and Freedom Park to better understand South Africa’s history and state of the nation.

Sunset Safari at Krueger National Park


A key part of an SIT study abroad program is intensive language and homestays. I have been learning isiZulu since day 2 and moved into my homestay this past Thursday. I have a host mama, Sylvia, and a sister and a brother as well as two dogs (Simba and Rose). Rose looks like my dog Hoku!!! They are all very nice and speak a lot of English. My classmates are staying in similar houses where they are also with host mamas. My mama likes to feed me a lot! The mamas like to brag to each other how well we are getting fed and love to see us gaining weight. We also love watching South African soap operas over dinner and they are so good. I am the resident soapie expert in class. We are staying in kwaMasxha, a small township in KwaZulu-Natal. My house was built by the government, a part of the solution for the relocation during apartheid. These mamas claimed these houses for themselves and now they own them. These are badass women and you don’t want to mess with them!!

Me n my host mama, Sylvia.

South Africa is still a largely patriarchal nation, which I find surprising knowing that all the mamas that literally run the town. As a part of our safety orientation, we were told that if we were ever in trouble, ask a mama for help and they will help you. Nevertheless, all of the South Africans that I have met are incredibly kind people. There is still gross inequality between areas that were designated white and black. Considering their past, it is a true testament to the strength and resilience of this young nation.

I admit to having a hard time with moving around so much in the first week. There were a lot of logistical things to cover with a program that moves around so much (Johannesburg —> Marloth/Krueger Park —> Durban —> Wherever your ISP/Internship will be —> Cape Town) and sometimes you just want to stop living out of a suitcase! I have to say that I’m glad that I brought a 70L backpack with me… so many pockets! While you are moving around a lot for the first couple of weeks, you get to see pretty much everything: Rural and urban areas, homestays in a township, the beach, and the three major cities of South Africa. You have to be flexible to thrive on this program or you will be miserable and everyone else won’t want to be around you. I’ve enjoyed learning how to adapt to new situations and am learning how to be a little less awkward about meeting new people. When in doubt, talk about food.

About SIT as a program: Professors here totally understand that you are far from home and what you are used to. The professors are receptive to feedback and ideas from students. The class size is similar to what you would find at Whitman and while discussions don’t typically happen during lectures, there are structured spaces where we unpack and discuss in smaller groups. I particularly love the Research Methods and Ethics course. We’ve only had a handful of these classes so far, but we have learned what it means to be an experiential learner and how you can incorporate your own experiences and ideas into research. It’s been a lot more philosophical than I thought it would be but I feel more excited for the semester ahead with these new perspectives on learning in a new place.