International travel is all about learning to see and value the differences and, sometimes surprising, similarities between people from all walks of life. Modern South Africa, as an operational democracy with the largest economy on the African continent, exists as a testament to what can happen when differences are set aside and common ground is found. Despite its complicated and sometimes violent history, today South Africa is a perfect location for high school students to get their feet wet in the realm of international education. South Africa’s fascinating culture, history, and geography all make it a high school program location with much to offer.
In terms of high school programs in South Africa, locations options begin with two of the nation’s largest cities, although there is typically always the possibility to travel to more rural regions of the county.
The gorgeous and thoroughly modern metropolis of Cape Town sits at the southwest tip of the nation directly on the shore of the Atlantic Ocean. Amenities in Cape Town are as up to date as you could possibly hope to find in a large city anywhere on Earth, including high speed internet, a city-wide bus service, and world-class hospitals and medical facilities. The first thing high school students will notice is the striking geography of the region, with the ocean to the south and west and the dramatic peaks of Table Mountain forming an impressive backdrop on the opposite side of the city. Due to the dry and temperate climate, outdoor activities, like kite surfing, hiking, and mountain climbing, are all popular in Cape Town. The architecture of Cape Town reflects its varied culture as well, with several suburbs each featuring different design styles, which can be attributed to each one’s place in the history of the city.
Another popular location for international students to set up a “home base” while in country is the first city they are likely to land in when arriving; Johannesburg (also known as Jo’burg or Jozi) is the most populous city in South Africa. The primary international airport in South Africa is located in Johannesburg and the city also features a new rapid transit train that ferries passengers back and forth from Pretoria (the nation’s capital) roughly 70 kilometers away. However, Johannesburg is known for its lack of public transportation within the city itself. While the roads are modern and well maintained, high school students may find moving about difficult.
High School Programs in South Africa
Many high school programs in South Africa are not the typical “assimilate into a local high school for a semester or year” type of program, which tend to be popular in the United States and other parts of the world. Rather, high school programs in South Africa tend to be shorter in duration (two to four weeks) and incorporate volunteering opportunities for the students to get involved in local communities through.
Volunteer programs typically entail either social or ecological projects. Social projects can involve working with disadvantaged children or helping with sustainability projects around the country. Ecology-based programs are some of the most unique in the world, bringing students on as volunteers inside South Africa’s gorgeous national parks. Students in these programs will be able to do a wide range of tasks, most of which will incorporate working with the local wildlife; South Africa is home to some of the rarest animals on the planet. High school students that volunteer in Kruger National Park, which is the largest game reserve in the country, will be able to witness black rhinoceroses, cheetahs, lions, elephants, and hyenas, for example.
High school programs in South Africa are very popular and have an excellent track record of in terms of both safety and reliability. Generally, high school programs in South Africa represent a great opportunity for first time international travelers to see and experience all that a foreign nation has to offer in a safe and fun environment.
Scholarships & Costs
High school programs in South Africa tend to be moderately priced, although there are some that can be quite costly. Program costs depend on the type of program and the duration. For many, the airfare will be by far the largest single expense, but once in South Africa, many students will be surprised at how far their money can get them.
An inexpensive meal for one, even in a large city like Cape Town, will run anywhere from $6 to $8. Extracurricular activities are almost always a big part of high school programs in South Africa, and these can make a difference in the cost as well. Things such as weekend excursions to national parks, white water rafting, or taking in a sporting event may or may not be included in program fees. As long as student’s have a good budget in mind for themselves, the overall cost should remain manageable.
Given the popularity of high school programs in South Africa, scholarships are fairly competitive. However, fundraising is certainly doable for high school students before they leave. It can be especially easy for students who are participating in community service programs in South Africa to find donors or sponsors to support their trip. Keep in mind, even small donations can add up quickly!
Accommodation & Visas
Living arrangements for students in South Africa are likely to be as comfortable as one would expect to find in any developed country. High school programs in South Africa will almost always set up housing for participants well ahead of time, with accommodations ranging from hotels to hostels to homestays with local families. Regardless of where students live, they can expect to have electricity, internet, and running water in any locations, except for some very rural locations. On a related note, South African outlets require a converter for North American electronics, so bring one along or you’ll be “going off the grid” for the duration of your stay!
Students do need a passport and a visa to travel to South Africa, regardless of their age. These can be obtained by contacting the South African embassy in their home country. Since many high school programs in South Africa do not involve enrolling in a local high school, a tourist visa is typically sufficient. However, if participating in a high school study abroad program that does involve enrolling, a study permit from the South African government is needed.
Thankfully, given the nature of most high school programs in South Africa, the company in charge of organizing each program almost always walks participants through the relatively simple visa process, and is typically the first point of contact for questions pertaining to visas.
Benefits & Challenges
South Africa is a wonderful choice for a high school programs abroad, precisely because of the lack of real challenges to be found there. The country is clean and modern with adequate transportation systems and an enormous amount to see and do. English is fluently spoken almost everywhere, and high school programs in South Africa are known to be some of the best in the world.
The largest drawback may simply be the cost of getting to South Africa, but once on the ground high school students will only need to open their minds to make the most of the experience that awaits them.