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.
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!!
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.