Authored by Harri Bien-Aime (she/her, they/them, xe/xem)
(Harri studied Business Administration with Minors in Women & Gender Studies, Retail, Entrepreneurship and Innovation, and Project Management and spent 2 months in Cape Town as a student in Summer Session II and III.)
If you had gone and asked me in May what I would have walked away with from my experience here in Cape Town, I would likely have been sitting there perplexed, figuring out what I would say answer-wise. When I first got aboard an international flight two months ago in the United States, I was excited to get to visit a new region, overjoyed in getting to be in my ancestor's “homeland,” and lastly, nervous as I would be meeting individuals I have never interacted with in my life. The very first day I arrived at Campus Key (After spending 2 days on my own in a hotel), I had settled in and thought that orientation was a day earlier, so I foolishly went to the CIEE Center, not realizing it was a day after. I did get to meet Max, a very friendly and funny academic coordinator who helped better inform me of the program schedule (course-related and activity related. Later that same day, getting to meet Student Life co-ordinator, Caleb and a student named Ava and learned some unique facts about them that I would not have guessed before interacting with the two of them. From there, I spent the following eight weeks getting to check out various different areas, seeing different businesses and discovering my own identity. For any future individuals that are thinking of coming to Cape Town, hopefully, these little bits of advice can help in your personal growth journey.
1. Explore in Group
There are areas of Cape Town that I feel like I would have never gone to without checking it out with others. Places Such as Bo-Kaap, Constantia and Stellenbosch from a historical standpoint are really interesting to hear from a local perspective (especially when you see how much influence the Dutch or British empires had in those areas). Exploring areas like these and even Table Mountain helped bring out some creativity that I was able to bring back into my classes during the Summer Sessions. Depending on what you are looking to get out of your visit, thinking outside the box (or this case, outside the tourism) would make it worth the journey, the memories and even your wallet.
2. Support Local Establishments
This one is most important when considering South Africa's economy's high unemployment. With a 17-to-1 rate, the Rand is inexpensive compared to the American dollar, which would seem really good from a tourist perspective. But from a local perspective, that’s money that would help them put food on the table or help support someone else in their lives. Having gone to local fabric stores, thrift shops, and even eateries, they just feel very different from a place you would go to in the United States. Each customer matters and you have a real incentive to return. When you visit, do put these establishments on your radar if you want to be money conscious or find something other international visitors would not.
3. Discover Yourself
For most college individuals, a study abroad experience helps provide them a chance to introspect themselves. Cape Town, with 115 different wards and 12 different languages (the primary ones being English, isiXhosa, and Afrikaans), would provide a unique opportunity to discover and even bring back to your local university (and even out into your future career). Before coming, I didn't know one thing about South Africa’s history or political issues. Now, two months later I'm inspired to come back in the future and seek to change it for the benefit of everyone. If you were to think about coming through CIEE, you would have tons of local individuals to help you gain that insight. You will see a big shift and tons of growth that will hopefully go and change who you are and inspire others from your university to study abroad here too.