“It doesn’t suck, it’s just different.”
The mantra given to us by our fearless leader, Dr. Alan Jansen. We all laughed at first, but this golden nugget has been surprisingly useful over the past few weeks as we all deal with the transition that is moving to a different continent and living in a completely new world. Change has been amazing, frustrating, and exciting. But it has also been somewhat effortless. I already have stories for the books and it’s only been 15 days. Almost everything is different. From the security precautions to the price of a cappuccino.
I have to say that while this transition has been positive and negative, several of my past experiences prepared me for many of the differences that we have encountered. Living in France for 6 months, going to summer camp in the mountains for 10 years, and visiting my sister in Peru all contributed to the effortlessness previously mentioned. Getting up one day and moving my life to the other side of the globe was something I had done at the impressionable age of 11. The day after arrival in Cape Town, our program took that camping trip packed with activities and sleeping conditions that I have loved and cherished for years. The shocking difference a ten minute drive (or even a walk) can make regarding poverty and wealth was a daily sight when visiting my sister. I realized how lucky I was to have had all of these experiences prior to my adventures in Cape Town. For several people, these events created stress and shock. Many people have never experienced a language barrier, a culture different from their own, or simply being thrown into a new environment without the knowledge of how daily life works. While it has been an adjustment, and an epic one at that, I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to experiences different slices of life.
One of the striking differences between the U.S. and South Africa is the energy crisis. Think in terms of this: water is to California as electricity is to South Africa. The country has implemented “load shedding” and once or twice a day, the power is shut off for around two and a half hours in an attempt to conserve energy. This means no lights, no stove, no wi-fi. Yes no wi-fi. So if I don’t respond to you on social media in a timely manner that is why 🙂 There is a schedule for the 20 some different regions, but in true South African fashion, you really never know if it’s going to go according to plan. That is something about living here that I love. The whole country is spontaneous, and you never know what your day is going to look like. You can try to make a finite plan, but chances are you will end up doing something else and having the best time anyways. For example, last week I was going to unpack and go shopping for some household items. I was asked by a few girls in my program if I wanted to go to lunch on Bree St., a popular street for eating and exploring. Obviously I chose Bree St. We ended up walking to the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, exploring the food market and the artisan workshops, and meeting some really amazing artists. I climbed a mountain on Tuesday, a decision made about an hour before we left for the famous Lion’s Head hike.
Spontaneity is key if you are going to make it here. While some people want to know what is going on, I find the way of life here relaxing and exhilarating. My African Dance class starts on Monday. Or does it? Where is it? What days do we meet? Who knows, it’s TBA according to PeopleSoft (equivalent of WebAdvisor or Blackboard). Everything is laissez-faire and I love it. The people are warm and welcoming, and things eventually get done, but they don’t stress.
The second difference that really made use of the mantra was the registration process at UCT. The University of Cape Town has the most gorgeous campus I have ever seen, looking straight up at the backside of Table Mountain and Devil’s Peak. The famous Upper Campus buildings have ivy leaves growing all over and it looks like paradise walking up to Jameson Hall. I cannot complain one bit about where I am currently expanding my knowledge. However, registering for classes is not as simple as clicking a button on a computer when your registration time slot opens. We first waited in a long line to pre-register, which meant having our passports, study visas, and proof of medical insurance checked and our student accounts cleared for actual registration. Registration happens by department, so those in the Humanities department registered first, Commerce second, and so on. Another long line to get inside the building, several forms to fill out, and then another long line to sit down with an academic advisor or faculty member to approve your course choices on said forms. Phew. Oh but wait we are not done yet. You then follow the masses of lost freshman to the Data Capture. Another line, then someone manually inputs your courses into the system. Ok now you are free. While this was definitely different that my normal registration process, I was grateful to have that quick sit down with the faculty member. UCT has over 26,000 students. They make sure each student gets individual attention. Now that’s incredible in my book, and if it isn’t in your book, then read a different book.
Although these processes may be different, they definitely don’t suck. Saving power and connecting face to face with each student. While they may cause some inconvenience during the day and many long lines, a different perspective changes the way they appear to affect myself and those around me.
It also rained heavily, and unexpectedly, today. I was woefully unprepared and terribly excited. My California is showing. But instead of worrying about sitting in my Intro to Sociology lecture looking like I had very recently showered in my clothes, I danced and frolicked in the downpour on my way to Upper Campus and loved every second of it.
While the differences can sometimes feel like unexpected rain, and I am tempted to wait for them to pass, I’m learning to dance in that rain. And every dance circle I stumble upon.