It truly saddens me to think about how my study abroad experience will end in a few weeks, and it has caused me to truly reflect on the magnitude of my experiences here in Cape Town, South Africa. There are a few things I would change about my study abroad experience had I known then what I know now.
First, I would have only taken electives abroad! Currently, I am taking about two classes in my core scheme as a finance major at Howard, and the other two are electives. I wish all my classes were electives because this would have provided me with more free time do other activities and soak up more of my study abroad experience. I could have used that free time to exercise more, maybe do some more exploring of Cape Town, schedule more time to read personal books, and other extracurricular activities. While I may propose that I should have taken all elective classes to have more time to explore, I remain proud of my course selection because I received a well-rounded education experience at the University of Cape Town. While I may have not been able to go to Trenchtown as often as I would have liked to on Monday nights, I can say that I have acquired superlative knowledge in each of the courses I have taken this semester abroad! From learning about investments to having intellectual consultations about whether race is real, the meaning of community development in South Africa and how it conflicts with African traditional views of development, and South African law and politics, I can confess that I have truly fed my mind! While I stated earlier the benefits of possibly taking all electives abroad, I think it is important to note the overflow of transformation I have encountered due to my access to specific information through the courses I chose to take. I must look for the positivity in everything I do.
Secondly, I would have taken a language class. I strongly encourage anyone reading this who is planning to study abroad to take a language in their host country! Learning a language in your host country will better equip you to immerse yourself in that country’s culture. South Africa has approximately 11 official languages. If I could rewind to early February, I would have registered for a class that teaches Xhosa. Xhosa is the second most common language in South Africa spoken by approximately eight million people, and this ethnic group’s origin is in the Eastern Cape, one of the nine provinces in South Africa. While I am sad that I did not take a language course, I have managed to learn some phrases by making friends with other students who are Xhosa. Of course, it is difficult for me to pronounce certain words, but I love the idea of learning a new language, especially the language spoken by many people here because it helps me immerse myself more into the culture, ultimately increasing the effectiveness of my communication with citizens here. I have always believed that names and language are two crucial aspects of culture because it is how one strongly identifies with their ethnic group. Therefore, I encourage students who are studying abroad next semester to take a language course because not only will you learn a new language that will help you connect with the local citizens of your host country more effectively, but you will also learn about the history and traditions of various cultures in your host country through access to their language. As a result, you will continue to shape yourself as a global citizen making you a well-rounded and culturally competent individual. Do not be shy. Learn a language, ask for help, and never stop trying. There are people who want to help you immerse yourself into your host country during your study abroad experience, so do not think for one second that this is something peculiar.
Moving forward, I would have inquired about living in a student dorm located on the campus of the University of Cape Town while applying to my study abroad program. Currently, I do live in a student dorm, but it is off campus. Through my encounter with other students, I have learned that their dorms located on campus are more community-oriented, which is something I would have loved to experience considering I am an international student. I truly believe such an experience would have also been an additional opportunity for me to immerse myself into the culture here. I would have preferred to live with local students here instead of living on the same floor as other American students based on the context of me studying abroad in a different country. Also, a fun fact is that the students here refer to their dorms as a “res.”
Lastly, if I had known then what I know now, I would have studied abroad during my sophomore year at Howard. I will continue to advocate about the importance of studying abroad, and the unparalleled transformation that happens in almost every area of a student’s life throughout this entire experience. It has truly been my most valuable experience while matriculating through Howard University, and I am so happy to have received the support of IES Abroad, IES Abroad Cape Town, and the Ralph J. Bunche International Affairs Center at Howard University led by MaRaina Montgomery and Tonija Hope Navas. It is because of my phenomenal experience here that I wish I could have experienced this earlier to have had the opportunity to study abroad a second time while at Howard prior to graduation. Additionally, I would have considered studying abroad for a year. The interesting thing about studying abroad is that you leave right after you have adjusted to a new lifestyle in a new country, which is something I have been thinking about consistently lately with the realization that my time in South Africa is slowly coming to an end. Oh, how I wish I could have studied abroad my sophomore year, but what’s more important is that I did study abroad. It was meant for me to study abroad at this moment and time in my life. God makes zero mistakes! This speaks to the remarkableness of reflection. This piece is a reflection in and of itself. It is reflection that has allowed me to soak up and internalize the transformation I have encountered here in South Africa, and the things I would have done differently if I could rewind time by a few months.
Ultimately, I hope that whoever is reading this and is planning to study abroad, truly reflect on how you can make the most of your study abroad experience. Think of tools that you can utilize or other resources available to you that may be used to help you better equip yourself with immersing yourself into a new culture in a new country. You will embark on a life-changing experience that at times may not be able to be articulated immediately through words due to the magnitude of the transformation you will experience internally, which is why reflection is important! As stated earlier, I would have taken all elective classes, taken Xhosa as a language, inquired about living in a student residency on the campus of UCT, and studied abroad during my sophomore year. While these are some things I would have changed, it is noteworthy to understand that I have consistently took the initiative to immerse myself into the culture here, whether it’s with the citizens or students on campus. I joined student clubs and societies on campus, and I inquired about students’ traditions and customs, ethnic backgrounds, language, and other aspects of their experience as citizens in South Africa and as international students from other African countries. The University of Cape Town is such a diverse campus! I also educated others about my life experiences, too, up until this season of my life. Again, I highly encourage future study abroad students to think of ways to fully immerse yourself into the culture of your host country, and to consider studying abroad in Cape Town, South Africa! You will not regret it one bit. Lastly, as you prepare to study abroad or as you wrap up your study abroad application, promise yourself to challenge yourself while abroad. Immerse yourself at any given opportunity to do so. Educate others about your culture and experience in America. Join clubs on campus and explore your host country at every moment made possible. The more you know and prepare prior to your experience now, the smaller your list of things will be in a post titled, “If I Had Known Then What I Know Now.” Soak up each moment and live in the moment. You will not return as the same person you were when you left, so embrace the transformation!
More Blogs From This Author
I am Ameer Dunston, a junior finance major & television & film minor from Buffalo, NY at Howard University. Additionally I am a 2016 Gates Millennium Scholar and I love to uplift others through any source possible.