I think I was inspired to go abroad because of my sister. When I was ten or eleven, she went to Greece for two weeks and brought back a multitude of stories and pictures. As I was looking through her photos, I found myself thinking, "I want to travel someday." And then the summer after my sophomore year in college, I went to Malawi on a fieldwork class offered by my university and lived in a rural village for three weeks. That's how it all started, and the travel bug hasn't left me alone since.
Why did you choose IES Abroad Cape Town?
I chose IES Abroad mostly out of simplicity: they had a partnership with my university, so all of the credits would automatically transfer once the semester was over. I picked Cape Town because I had seen photos of it in a book my mom got for me in high school, and immediately fell in love. We also had South African family friends who talked about Cape Town all the time, and I figured I'd go and see what all the fuss was about (I get it now. I really do).
What was your favorite part about Cape Town?
My favorite part about Cape Town is the incredible amount of natural beauty there. I had an incredible view of Table Mountain and Devil's Peak from my bedroom window, and the mountains are right by the ocean, with the city sandwiched in between. Because of that, there was never a lack of things to do.
What made your experience abroad unique?
I think what made my experience unique was finding a new hobby. I joined the Mountain and Ski Club at UCT during orientation week, and joining the club gave me access to the climbing gym. After a few weeks there, I was hooked. I ended up going on an outdoor climb at the Silvermine nature reserve with MSC. I knew, hanging from a rope after climbing to the top of a 25-foot sandstone wall, exhilarated, that I'd found something I loved to do.
How did local staff support you throughout your IES Abroad program?
The IES Abroad Cape Town staff were incredibly helpful. They were always willing to listen if I had a concern about something, whether it be adjusting to the difficulty of classes, or dealing with homesickness. They helped out a lot with the administrative side of things at the beginning of the semester as well, and that made registering for classes much easier. They also had great restaurant recommendations!
What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?
If I could go back, I would have made more of an effort to make friends with South African students. I had a few South African friends, but for the most part I stuck to my little circle of IES Abroad friends, most of whom were also Americans. I feel like the people you're around temper your experience to some degree, and hanging out with Americans meant I was viewing South Africa through an American lens. I wish I could have had more opportunities to see South Africa as South Africans see it.
Describe a typical day in the life of the IES Abroad Cape Town program.
On a typical day, I would usually get up early for my 8:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. lectures, and walk up to the university for class. After that, I'd walk back to my flat for lunch and walk back up for my afternoon class. When classes were over, I'd do some work and catch up on readings for the week in the library, or at my flat, before grabbing some dinner with a friend.
What did you enjoy doing in your free time?
During the week, my free time was pretty limited by my class schedule, so most of what I did was work. But on the weekends, I had a lot more free time, so my friends and I would go to the beach or a museum, go see a movie, or try out a new restaurant we'd heard about from some of our other friends. On more adventurous days we would go climb one of the three peaks (Lion's head, Devil's Peak, and Table Mountain) around Cape Town, go rock climbing at the UCT gym, Silvermine, or Montague, snorkel with baby seals, or take a day trip out to the Cape of Good Hope.
What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?
I was housed in a flat where I had my own room, and we shared the kitchen and bathroom. My favorite part was the view of the mountains from my bedroom window, as well as its central location: it was right next to the grocery store and the IES Abroad Cape Town center, and there were lots of restaurants right across the street.
What is one thing every participant should know before participating in IES Abroad Cape Town?
There is a lot of stuff to do in Cape Town, but it's up to you what you make of it. You create the kind of experience you have by what you choose to do. Also: watch your belongings. Don't leave your cell phone or camera lying around on restaurant tables, because they might disappear. This isn't to scare you, but just to make you aware of the realities of petty theft in South Africa.
Would you recommend IES Abroad to others? Why?
I would definitely recommend IES to other students looking to go abroad. The IES staff were incredibly helpful and receptive to new ideas, and they will do everything they can to make sure that you have a great study abroad experience.
Now that you're home, how has IES Abroad impacted your life?
Now that I've had a little while to think about it, going abroad has made me a stronger person. Not only are my biceps and triceps much bigger thanks to climbing, I've also grown a lot personally.
I pushed the boundaries of my comfort zone by living on my own in a different country for almost six months.
On my first day in Cape Town, it took every fiber of my being just to walk down the street to go buy groceries, because I was terrified of setting foot outside my door. By the end of the program though, I felt so confident and comfortable that I wasn't afraid of doing any of the things that would have scared me six months earlier. The main takeaway for me is that I learned I could depend on myself.
Originally from Seattle, Anna attends school in Rochester, New York, where she is majoring in anthropology. She went to Malawi in the summer of 2015 for a course in fieldwork, and she decided to write her honors thesis on the student protests in South Africa after her semester abroad. When she is not in school, she can be found climbing any number of rock walls around the Seattle/North Cascades area.