Hitting the Ground Running

Gwen Marquis
March 15, 2018
View of Jammie Plaza on the UCT campus

After an eleven-hour connecting flight from Amsterdam (in a middle seat, no less), I could not have been more ready to arrive in Cape Town. Stepping off the plane, I was immediately overjoyed by the warm weather- a temperate 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Also knowing that I was taking my first steps on the African continent was absolutely thrilling. My next first impression, however, was the intensity of the water crisis in Cape Town, reinforced by all types of portraits, murals, and posters throughout the airport-- but more on that in a later post.

A New Home

An IES Abroad center staff member (hi Devonne!) was so kind and met one other student and I at the airport, despite the fact that our flight arrived late at night. Having a friendly face there to welcome us made all the difference, and after hugs and collecting our checked baggage, Devonne escorted us to our housing so we could settle in and grab a couple hours of sleep before IES Abroad orientation the next morning.

The next couple days were a blur of jet lag, meeting dozens of new people, and being absolutely in awe of where I am now. The bus ride from the airport didn’t reveal much, as it was dark out, so walking outside that first morning in Cape Town was surreal. The building where I live has a beautiful side profile view of Table Mountain, but amazing views are more the rule and not the exception here in Cape Town. In the short time I’ve been here, I’ve been genuinely bowled over by the natural beauty of this place, and how different Table Mountain and the surrounding geography are from anything I’ve ever seen. I’m including a couple photos in this post to try and show what I can’t begin to describe!

A note on my housing: I absolutely love where I live. My building is full of single-room apartments with a basic kitchenette and bathroom, and there are common room areas as well as outdoor terraces which I’ve come to love. There’s also laundry on every floor, and while you may have to wait for a washer or dryer to be available, it’s definitely a luxury in a city like Cape Town. IES Abroad made sure that we had the basic essentials already stocked in our rooms, like some bed linens and kitchen supplies, which was a welcome surprise. My advice on your first day or so in Cape Town is to unpack right away, no matter how tired you are: making your room feel like your own curbs homesickness from the start, and it’s one less thing to worry about in the whirlwind that is your initial few days.

Since classes didn’t start until mid-February, we had plenty of time to settle in and get our bearings as we adjust to Cape Town. The first week, in all honesty, is going to be grueling: coming from the East Coast of the United States, I was dealing with a seven hour time difference, but other students across the program had to grapple with even more. Add in orientation programming by both IES Abroad and UCT, and there’s a lot going on, to say the least. When it comes to battling jet lag, the time difference, and constant mingling with strangers/new people, going in with a good attitude is key. Know that there’s a point to all the mandatory scheduled events in these first few weeks (I promise, what feels like information overload really is helpful, and some of it even essential). Overall, it’s going to be tough however you approach it, so grab a coffee (or tea, if that’s your thing) and grin and bear it.

As for the mingling, this was definitely a big stressor to us incoming students. Now that we’ve all become comfortable with each other and talked about our first few days in Cape Town, I know that I wasn’t the only person who felt pressure at the beginning of our time here to make instant friends, adventure buddies, etc., and that was definitely draining. The best comparison I can think of is orientation for freshman year of college, where you’re trying to form friendships quickly with the overhanging fear of going through the semester alone. However, being deliberately outgoing pretty much all the time can feel strange, especially if you’ve had an established friend group for a while, or are the type to make a couple new friends a year (but probably not all at once). Remember that it’s okay to allot some down time each day for yourself; decompressing and processing the changes in your life are going to make you happier in the long run.

This Post’s Highlight

Keeping an American tradition alive: watching the Super Bowl! Keep in mind, with a time difference, so the game started for us at 1:30am. A pack of Americans descended on an unwitting sports bar in our neighborhood and watched (with mixed reactions) the Patriots lose to the Eagles. Still love you, Tom.

That’s all for now! Till next time...

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Gwen Marquis

<p class="MsoBodyText" style="margin-top:2.35pt; margin-right:10.3pt; margin-bottom:.0001pt; margin-left:5.0pt">Hi all! My name is Gwen, and I’m a junior majoring in Political Science and Anthropology with a concentration in Global Health at the University of Vermont. I love taking photos, being outside, and pretty much every dog I’ve ever met. I’ve never been to the Southern Hemisphere before and am looking forward to studying abroad in Cape Town and escaping New England mid-winter. This semester abroad, I look forward to traveling as much as possible and (hopefully) learning to cook for myself. Wish me luck!</p>

2018 Spring
Home University:
University of Vermont
Walpole, MA
Political Science
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