Learning from the locals of South Africa

Authored by:
Saleemah M.

Saleemah M.

My name is Saleemah Muhammad, and I am a student at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, where I study Mass Communications with a concentration in Public Relations. I was born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona as the fifth child of my parent’s seven girls. Since I have been an avid traveller from the time I was born, studying abroad was almost inevitable for me. As a cultured Black, young woman coming from a diverse area, to being engulfed in an experience such as studying abroad where I am one of the only minorities was an experience within itself that has allowed me to grow immensely.

When I saw South Africa as one of CIEE’s destinations, I immediately knew it was going to be one of the places I would be studying in. Interacting with the people of the countries I was to be studying in was a major hope of mine, and coincidentally, I experienced my most memorable encounters in Cape Town. I was naturally eager to be aware of what is not commonly expressed about African culture first hand, even if it was just for six weeks. In general, I am a spiritual person, always seeking the lessons in the predicaments I’m in or new insight from the people I interact with. My time in Cape Town contributed to my spiritual journey significantly. I briefly got the opportunity to volunteer my time to an organization for orthopaedic children. This experience alone enlightened me to a perspective on volunteering that was pivotal for the direction of my career. This aspect of my time in the mother city was my favorite aspect of interacting with locals. A lot of the children were from the Khayelitsha township, which is only a 30 minute drive from downtown Cape Town and they were the smartest, happiest, and most curious children I’ve ever met! They were all artistic and determined to get better. On my last day hanging out with the kids, I went around to every single child with the art cart, offering a cartoon page to color or a blank sheet of paper to create or write their own masterpiece. Most chose to illustrate their own drawing, and the results were amazing. Because there was a privacy rule, I sadly did not get a chance to take any pictures. I also had the privilege of meeting some of the children’s parents and their stories are utterly incredible. CIEE staff made the process to get involved more than easy and were entirely accommodating to my schedule.   

From the beginning though, I arrived in Cape Town to a warm welcome from my wonderful RA’s (Resident Assistants). They were the most transparent, easy-going, and personable individuals to embrace me upon my entry to the mother city. I felt a sense of comfort from the start. This encounter immediately resurfaced the thought that connecting with locals was going to be my key to having the greatest time in South Africa, and it truly was! I got the opportunity to really connect with some of the CIEE staff and my RA’s, and it was evident how equally interested we were in each other as people from opposite sides of the world. Their kindness, willingness to help or just talk was a huge aid to me adjusting in Cape Town. I also interacted with a beautiful soul who is a Namibia native, and a business student at the university next to CIEE, Varsity College. We discussed everything from spirituality to our world perceptions, and to my surprise, our ideology is super similar. For example, we both prioritize school, and believe constantly working on bettering one’s self is the key to a person’s ultimate success. I expected our priorities to differ because of stereotypical reasons, so I was ecstatic to be shown the contrary. Although the people I had the privilege of interacting with are not all locals to Cape Town exactly, it is the fact that they are from that part of the world, with no experience in America, that forced me to see through their African lens and re-evaluate myself for the better.


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