It’s definitely a weird one. After enjoying a Christmas at home in the UK, travelling back to South Africa, for the second semester of my Study Abroad, was a completely different experience to when I made the journey to the first time. Of course this time was not filled with apprehension, nervousness and not knowing what to expect when I was journeying to the small town of Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape of South Africa to attend Rhodes University. Getting back in 2017, I settled in within the first week, knew where all my classes were and reunited with the friends that I had made the semester before. I definitely missed those who hadn’t returned since they had now completed their degree or returned home after their single semester abroad, yet I found new opportunities to meet more people and embrace what life could give me in my time left at Rhodes.
One of these experiences has been learning isiXhosa and volunteering every week at a township school. It is strange to go to a university quite literally in the middle of nowhere, especially where one side of town is filled with students, lecturers and the well-off and the other is those who live in informal settlements, having been socially and economically disadvantaged by the apartheid system. It has been amazing to be a community engagement volunteer, especially seeing the way in which Rhodes encourages its students to think about the relevance of academic knowledge within the broader South African society, where its universities are typically disconnected from the social concerns of local communities. The “existential conversations” we have had at Ntsika High School (thankfully they were mostly in English!) have made me question so many things and allowed me to learn a lot about myself. One of these have been the conversations, which have also been held within the university, regarding the #MenAreTrash that has taken over social media across the country. Discussing issues of patriarchal systems (especially with the high rate of gender based violence in South Africa), within the township school allowed younger students to open up about their different gendered experiences. It’s a hard thing to describe to anyone who has not experienced life here, but it is something which is so relevant worldwide.
Travelling has been another huge positive coming out of my study abroad experience. Having seen much of South Africa, including the gorgeous Cape Town and Garden Route along the coast, the Kingdom of Swaziland and the beautiful beaches of Mozambique, I will definitely be sad to leave the glorious weather of the southern hemisphere. I have endless stories to tell of my travels and the people I met, ones that I will probably bore my friends and family with on my return to the UK, but nothing can beat the wildlife and South African landscape. I was incredibly lucky to live only an hour and a half away from a huge National Elephant Park and see the big five in their natural habitat! Having to compromise travelling for academic work has been the only downside to the whole experience (especially as the workload at my host uni is huge!!!) but I’m glad that when I return to York I will be reunited with my first year friends and we’ll all go into third year together- something that doesn’t happen at most unis.
It’s mad how fast this semester is going, with exams right around the corner (eeeek!). There are mixed emotions between looking forwards to coming home, seeing friends and family and actually thinking about what I want to do after my degree, and being sad that I will never be in this time and space again with the friends I’ve made here. Nonetheless, I have no regrets coming to study here and I’m actually looking forwards to writing my dissertation next year on an aspect of southern African history and literature.
Now to make the best of the final few weeks, before the dreaded goodbyes!….