Let's face it: Life is never 100% peaches and cream fantastic. With every situation, there is bound to be an off day, or a bad situation, something you wish you didn't have to deal with. And most of the time, it's something you have no control over. Don't get me wrong, my time in Cape Town has been one of the happiest times in my life. If I could move every single person I love from Long Island and put them here, I'd be all set for the rest of my life. But if I had to pick something that I found lacking, or an aspect of my trip that wasn't always a dream, it would definitely be the University of Cape Town.
Now, don't be scared. Don't start throwing out your applications and hopes of coming out to South Africa. Yes, my experience with the school itself was not amazing, and according to other people in my program that I've talked to, they tend to agree with me on certain points, but that shouldn't discourage you from studying here altogether. Most of my issue was that this university runs completely differently than what I'm used to, and so somethings seem inconvenient to me or it took me awhile to understand the way things work. In your first two weeks here, there is a lot of orientation programs through both IES Abroad and UCT, which is awesome, but there are a few things I was never told that I wish someone was just up front with me about so that my adjustment could have been better.
First of all, learn the Harvard referencing system. You're going to write a lot of papers, and the professors and tutors LOVE the Harvard version. Seek someone out at your home university or an academic in your life, google it, whatever you do, just make sure you understand it. The first handful of essays I wrote, I was deducted a lot of points for not referencing correctly.
Secondly, make sure you're using the resources UCT gives you. Check your UCT email often, check Vula often, and make sure you're on top of deadlines. Professors will not show you mercy because you're an international student regarding deadlines. You have to understand that UCT is basically what Harvard or Yale are to the States. It is one of their top schools, and they expect certain things from their students. Punctuality is one of them. Also, you have to submit two copies of all your papers. One is submitted online, and the other goes into their pigeon hole on campus. The university requires them to have a hard copy with a plagiarism declaration page as well as a digital one, so leave yourself times to take care of these things. You can't just send in the essay a minute before it's due like at your homeschool.
Testing is WAY important to the university, with final exams making up to 60% of some final grades. Don't slack off all semester and decide to cram the night before. Read what is necessary for your graded assignments and oral presentations, this way you have an idea what's going on in some way, shape, or form. Another related thing is that professors LOVE assigning an un-Godly amount of reading, so don't be overwhelmed when you don't have the time to read them. Remember, you're also here to see a culture and a country. Grades are important, but you don't want to realize that you spend all the time, effort, and money on this trip and come home having no real South African experiences. Like I said, stick with the readings that are going to help you excel on the assignments you're given, and the rest will work itself out. You can't possibly know everything.
My last piece of advice is, if you don't like a grade you got on an essay or assignment, don't be afraid to seek out the teacher. I did this on almost all of the papers I handed in and got a lot of helpful input for the next assignment, which raised my grades later on. Not only that, but the teachers were also willing to re-grade the assignment for me if I applied some simple edits to the original submission. These professors don't want to see you fail, and they're willing to help you out if you show that you take their class seriously. The worst someone can tell you is no, which I've never experienced, and even though it's annoying to constantly be seeking them out, it will pay off in the end when you start getting things right the first time.
Being an international student is a huge transition to deal with, especially when you're used to the way school runs in a different country. But no matter how your school does things, you have to be willing to comply with the way your abroad school handles things. After all, you're not at your home school anymore. You're in a completely different country on a totally different continent. Remember, no one knows what you're dealing with until you reach out for their help. So ask for the help, because it's there for your benefit! The school stuff will fall into place, I promise. You only get the chance to study abroad like this once, so even though school is very important, make sure you don't become obsessed with it so that you can enjoy the city you're living in.
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<div>Cortney Cordero is a senior majoring in journalism at Hofstra University with a minor in creative writing. This New <span style="font-size: 13.0080003738403px; line-height: 1.538em;">Yorker has wanted to travel to Africa since she was in Kindergarten. This fall, her dream is finally coming true, and she </span><span style="font-size: 13.0080003738403px; line-height: 1.538em;">wants to share her experience with you.</span></div>