As I sit on my flight home, I can’t help but think about my semester in Cape Town and how it’s changed me. According to all the reintegration charts of reverse culture shock, the sadness of no longer of being in Cape Town is supposed to hit me after about a week or two at home. I’m picturing myself walking on the street and not being whistled at asking if I want to go to Wynberg for the first time in what feels like forever, thinking how long I’ve been waiting to be back home yet still feeling incomplete.
One of my peers in IES put it best in his speech at the IES final dinner: we all study abroad for more than just the “studying” aspect. It’s about cultural immersion, the quest to find something bigger than you and learn more about other people and, of course, about yourself. Every single one of us that goes abroad does so because of a nagging feeling that something in our lives is missing. Even though I felt a million times like homesickness was getting the best of me and couldn’t shake the idea that a part of me was still in the US with my family and friends, I can’t deny that the Kel who is sitting on this combined 20-hour plane ride is not the same person he was when he embarked on his journey to Cape Town. I feel like a part of me is staying in South Africa and knows I’ll be back someday.
I cannot explain the number of experiences I had on this trip where I felt as though what I was doing was truly incredible. Whether it was cage diving with Great Whites, kayaking with penguins, hanging out with friends from Zimbabwe, Botswana, and the Congo, or just sitting on the beach watching the waves crash against the shore, I felt moved by Cape Town and its beauty on a near-daily basis by the end of my trip,
Take heart, those of you going to South Africa this upcoming semester: do not waste any time. You have no idea how important the people in your program will become to you, no clue how amazing the experiences you’re having are, and, most importantly, no concept of how much this experience will change you. I don’t even understand all of that quite yet, but I see how valuable my experience was in Cape Town even after only being gone for twelve hours.
I’m incredibly excited to achieve the next milestone of my life—graduation—and face the “real world” next May. And while I’m going to be even sadder to leave Pittsburgh than I was when I left South Africa, my point remains the same: it’s never easy to leave the places you’ve come to call home, but taking that leap and making a new home is key to growing as a person. That’s just one of the many things Cape Town taught me.