Monkeys, Mud Huts, and Malls: My Semester in South Africa

semester in south africa

Posters on a wall seldom catch my attention, but this poster was different. It was a picture of South Africa and it said, “live, learn, love.” This poster spurred in me the desire to study abroad through my university and go to South Africa. One year later, I was on a 17-hour flight with 53 students I had never met and we were starting our semester in South Africa. Before we left, we were told  we would experience the many faces of South Africa over the course of four months and we truly did!

Exploring South Africa’s towns and villages

South Africa has small towns that are technologically advanced enough to have malls similar to the malls in the States, but these towns are also close enough to the country and to nature that there are monkeys running around across the streets. One thing to remember is to always keep your windows closed when you are not in your room because the monkeys will come in and they will eat your food, poop on your pillow, and make a complete mess out of your room. It’s also good to be aware of the danger of keeping your window closed at night because my roommate and I woke up one morning with a monkey mischievously sneaking around inside our room.

One thing to remember is to always keep your windows closed when you are not in your room because the monkeys will come in and they will eat your food, poop on your pillow, and make a complete mess out of your room.

When driving out to a safari, especially an overnight one, it is important to always be aware of your surroundings and to listen to all the rules the park gives you. Always carry a flashlight at night and take a lot of insect repellent. Safaris are amazing, but remember that it’s not like a zoo where animals are in their designated sections; the animals are running around wild and you have to track them down and find them.

South Africa also has very rural areas where people live in mud huts. I spent some time in a Zulu village and had quite an experience with bad hygiene. It is best to always carry bottled water to these villages because your stomach might not react well to the water they use. Also, it’s important to remember to use bottled water to wash dishes. If you’re showering with water from the river, keep your mouth closed throughout the shower.

Staying safe in South Africa

The cities in South Africa are fairly safe as far as sanitation goes, but it’s best for women to carry a purse that hangs across your shoulders and to carry it in front of you instead of behind your back where you won’t see if someone is trying to rob you.

Always travel in groups no matter where you are in South Africa. If you are going to be traveling across the country, make sure to take clothes for all weather because it changes a lot from city to city. Language is not a problem for English-speakers because the majority of people speak English. South Africa has 11 official languages. I learned a bit of Zulu, but once I left the province of Kwazulu-Natal no one spoke that language, so if you want to learn a native language make sure it’s the native language of the area you are visiting.

By spending a semester in South Africa,  I learned to love its diverse culture and the uniqueness of every different province and city. A short-term trip would be best spent focused on one area and seeing one face of South Africa, but if you ever get the chance for a long-term visit, you’ll be amazed at how much there is to see, I know I was.

About Sindy Figueroa

Sindy FigueroaSindy Figueroa spent a semester studying abroad in South Africa.

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