Reality: A Gentle Slap in the Face

Jeremy Gerstein
February 13, 2020

            It has been a while since I was an outsider. When I arrived in Cape Town, I was accompanied by three other students from my college. The two weeks before classes started at UCT were mostly spent touring around Cape Town and the surrounding areas with my fellow IES Abroad students. While I encountered plenty of South Africans during this time, they were all so enthralled by my American accent that they typically welcomed and befriended me. Even when I was inducted into the Naval Academy, not knowing anybody else in my entire class, everyone there was in the same boat (pun intended). I have to journey back all the way to high school to remember what it was like to be a true outsider.

            As a freshman at North Central High School, I knew only a few other students, was a racial and ethnic minority, and lived in a different district. I spent the summer before freshman year playing sports and hanging out with my friends who were going to attend different high schools. Similarly, my first two weeks in Cape Town were spent playing sports and hanging out with my friends. I went to several beaches, hiked several mountains, and enjoyed several new restaurants. I traveled to the southernmost point of Africa, the south-westernmost point of Africa, and the highest point in Cape Town. I canoed down a river, walked trunk-in-hand with an elephant, and spotted wild elands and ostriches. I even played cricket and rugby for the first time. While I came to Cape Town to study, I did not want my vacation to end. Despite this desire, school finally started on Monday, February 10th. As excited as I was to be on the beautiful UCT campus, I was not as excited to start my academic journey in South Africa because I was, for the first time in seven years, an outsider.

            As I previously mentioned, classes started on Monday. However, registration for international students was not until the previous Friday. Moreover, it only lasted three hours, from nine until noon. When I showed up to register, I was told I had to obtain signatures of approval from the course conveners of each course for which I pre-registered. This led to a morning that was, as South Africans would put it, quite hectic. First I had to go into the course handbooks to identify the conveners of each course. Then I had to sift through Google search results of these professors to find their respective emails and office numbers. Most of my emails went unanswered, and all but one of the offices I visited were vacant. As an added bonus, load-shedding started on campus at ten. For those of you who are unaware, load-shedding occurs when the South African power grid is stressed. In order to lessen this stress, certain areas of the country or city experience scheduled power outages that last several hours. Due to the load-shedding, there was no internet for emails to be sent or received. There was some comic relief, though, as my Arabic instructor signed my form by candlelight. To make a long story short, I was only able to register for one course. I am not one to worry, but I am one who wants to graduate on time. As an outsider, I struggled to adapt during this stressful situation.

            Today is Wednesday the 12th and I am officially registered for all of my courses. While a few changes were made, and I have an electrical engineering lab on Fridays from 2-5, I am finally attending all of my classes. That being said, I am far from being settled into my new life. I am unsure where one of my classes convenes, I do not know all the names of the buildings, and I have no idea what a “tutorial” is. Even further, I have yet to master the “Jammie” shuttle system and I have not been enrolled into UCT’s online learning system. Although these circumstances seem stressful and overwhelming, I want to make it infinitely clear that I have not been unhappy at any time. Rather, I have taken these experiences as what they are: opportunities for learning and personal development. I know it sounds cliché, but there is no better time to uncover your weaknesses than when you are uncomfortable.

            The start of my academic tenure at UCT was not smooth. In fact, it was quite rough. However, it was a valuable experience for several reasons. I am now very familiar with the UCT campus and have even given directions to South African students. I have become more receptive of the relaxed South African attitude and appreciative of the attentiveness of the faculty at my home school. Stressing over things beyond your control benefits nobody, and I have realized that in order to maximize my experience in Cape Town I must learn to accept reality rather than fight it.

Jeremy Gerstein

<p>Hi, my name is Jeremy and I am a Midshipman at the United States Naval Academy. Outside of studying engineering and Arabic, I spend most of my time training for ultra-races, hiking in any park nearby, and going out with friends. I love experiencing anything new: food, language, music, etc. Find me in any local market, square, or club trying to figure out how the locals live.</p>

2020 Spring
Home University:
United States Naval Academy
Carmel, IN
Engineering - General
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