I've had the good fortune of being able to travel abroad frequently with my family, but the experience of studying and truly living in an entirely foreign place was new to me. I studied briefly in London last summer at LSE, but that was an area I was familiar with and coursework that was relatively easy. Being in an entirely new place like South Africa, with such a rich set of cultural experiences and opportunities for exploration, has helped me grow and realize things about myself I never would have had the opportunity to otherwise.
Why did you choose to travel abroad with iXperience?
Data science is a field that I would never have had the opportunity to study in school, and the rapid-paced nature of iX classes appealed to someone like me, who thinks that regular class at university moves at a turtle-like pace. I love to learn and I love to learn quickly, which is certainly what iXperience did for me in the first four weeks in South Africa. In addition, having the opportunity to apply those brand new skills in a professional environment helped me understand the true worth of what I was doing, and have that validation of the usefulness of what I had learned.
What was your favorite part about Cape Town?
By and large, the best thing about Cape Town is the kindness of the people here. The culture here revolves around Ubuntu, a word that stands for compassion and kindness, meaning "I am you and you are me." Following that spirit, people here go out of their way to make sure that you feel welcome as a foreigner, that you feel safe, and that you experience Cape Town in the best possible way. There are a plethora of places to go and things to do in this city, and it can all be a bit overwhelming, but the people around you play a large role in lessening that burden.
What made your experience abroad unique?
Despite the fact that there are a lot of people from my school attending this program, I came here without really knowing anyone. I think there's a vast difference in truly putting yourself out there, being on your own, and not having familiarity to fall back on in a new environment. In that way, I think I was challenged to think more deeply about the kind of person I was, and being comfortable in my own skin.
How did local staff support you throughout your program?
Local staff has been nothing short of amazing here. "Staff" seems like too formal a word to describe them, because they're really just wonderfully knowledgeable friends to me. Not only is the staff focused on ensuring that you have a safe and fun experience in Cape Town, they also make an effort to truly get to know you as a person. This way, they ensure that you always feel more than comfortable approaching them with problems of any nature.
What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?
Honestly, looking back, there's really not a whole lot I wish I had done differently, and I think that speaks volumes about the way in which the program and its experience are designed. But if I had to pick one thing, I'd say it's getting an even earlier start on exploring Cape Town. The first four weeks were so jam-packed with academic content and learning that I pretty much confined myself to the hostel I was at and class. Once I started venturing out more, I realized what I had been missing out on.
Describe a typical day in your life in Cape Town
During class, life is pretty hectic. We have two 75 minute classes a day for a grand total of two and a half hours everyday, separated by a long two hour lunch break in between. Since we're given a fair amount of pre-work before arriving, we truly hit the ground running on the first day. It's like that across all classes, and in four weeks, you end up learning more than you could learn from a class in a semester or two in college. It's a rigorous class that you emerge all the smarter from.
What did you enjoy doing in your free time?
One thing I was late to discovering was the beauty of hiking the various peaks around the area. Lionshead, Table Mountain, and Devil's Peak are three of the most popular, but there are plenty of others as well. Before catching the hiking trend, I spent a lot of time going on runs around the city, exploring it a bit on my own, as well as going to markets for food and souvenirs, and watching local jazz or rhythmic bands play music.
What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?
Accommodation wasn't necessarily a five-star hotel. It was definitely an experience learning to live in an average sized room with five other people. You'll always have those one or two roommates who spend way too long in the bathroom, or that one person who never leaves the room. But truth be told, you won't be spending much time in the room besides sleeping. The best part about the accommodation was the communal areas people all hung out in and worked in. Despite being in several different classes, it helped make us feel like one large group of friends across the entire program.
What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?
It's easy to get caught up in the social dynamic of trying to fit in. Plenty of people come in large groups of pre-established friends, and human nature is to form a new comfort group within a small group and stick to it. Don't fall prey to that. You're in a new country in order to have a diverse set of experiences and meet people from all sorts of walks of life. There's nothing lonely about being the odd one out as long as you're confident in being yourself.
Now that you're home, how has your time in Cape Town impacted your life?
I think my time abroad has taught me the value of being your own person. There's a certain social pressure to always be doing things with others, or in a group. But part of the point of going abroad is not only to learn about others, but also about yourself. Hiking alone, or going out to dinner at a nice place by yourself isn't as bad as it sounds. Sometimes it's good to just sit back, enjoy a beautiful sight or meal, and reflect on your time and experience.
Would you recommend your program/provider to others? Why?
Absolutely. I think the most common sentiment amongst myself and my friends here is that we feel like we've known each other for months now, if not years, despite only having actually spent a few weeks together. The nature of the program is rigorous, but rewarding. I know amongst my friends back home, the initial obstacle is cost, but not only does the program offer scholarship money, there are plenty of outside organizations that offer external scholarships for study/work abroad (this program is technically both!). In addition, relative to a lot of study abroad opportunities out there, the program is actually an amazing bang for your buck, scholarship or not.
Yash is a third year student at the University of Virginia, where he is double majoring in computer science and commerce. He has a broad spectrum of interests, ranging from Greek philosophy to legal debate to breakdancing. Yash’s professional experience includes interning at a law insurance firm, a healthcare analytics firm, and a tech recycling company.