What I Learned About Myself on My Return to Cape Town

What I Learned About Myself on My Return to Cape Town

Cape Town is a magical place.

That was the mantra I repeated over and over again to my friends while they contemplated our next vacation destination. As Peace Corps Volunteers in Botswana, we were craving a fun, exciting break from village life for a week (a working shower was also a bonus). I was a biased party in this debate because any mention of vacation led me to suggest just one place: Cape Town.

Two years before I had studied abroad there, and had fallen in love with the city. My study abroad experience was a whirlwind of culture shock, mind blowing scenery, tourist activities, cooking parties, night life, school, and the rush of traveling on my own for the first time. After a year in Botswana, we were on our way to that magical place to ring in the New Year.

A year living in a rural village in Botswana doesn’t leave you unaltered, but since my only interactions thus far had been with Batswana (the people of Botswana) and fellow Peace Corps Volunteers, it was hard to see this change. That is, until we arrived in Cape Town.

My memories of Cape Town were full of delicious trips to the Old Biscuit Mill, nights out on Long Street, climbing up a mountain to get to class at the University of Cape Town, and days of unattended classes spent at Muizenberg Beach. I was excited to share my second home with my friends, but what I hadn’t taken into account was how I had changed since the last time I was in this city that I so dearly loved.

A year living in a rural village in Botswana doesn’t leave you unaltered, but since my only interactions thus far had been with Batswana (the people of Botswana) and fellow Peace Corps Volunteers, it was hard to see this change. That is, until we arrived in Cape Town.

My study abroad experience in Cape Town was a whirlwind of culture shock, mind-blowing scenery, tourist activities, cooking parties, night life, school, and the rush of traveling on my own for the first time.

At first it was just a twinge of discomfort between my memories of Cape Town and what I was experiencing. It started with something as simple as language. Cape Town is a huge, international city, so it’s pretty difficult to find someone who doesn’t know English. This made my study abroad experience relatively easy, since I didn’t have to worry about communicating in a foreign language.

I lived in ignorant bliss of the flurry of unknown languages spoken around me. However, I had spent the last year in a village where most people only spoke the local language, Setswana. Because Setswana is one of South Africa’s 11 national languages, I started recognizing it all over Cape Town. But now instead of blissfully ignoring it, I desperately wanted to join in.

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Language was just the tip of the iceberg. When we visited my favorite beach, I instinctively shied away from the local man walking from person to person trying to sell straw hats. Beach sellers like him were rumored to be good pickpockets. I tensed as my remembered distrust surfaced, and I prepared to politely ignore him. My friends, however, had a different idea.

As he made his way to us, they started chatting with him, and pretty soon he was sitting with us, entertaining us with some hilarious stories. He even gave us a great deal on some fabulous hats!

On our minibus ride home that evening, I felt like a jerk. Study-abroad-Liz would never have let her guard down enough to chat with the fabulous hat guy. She would have ignored him and completely missed out on a delightful conversation and a new hat.

My priorities were different because I was different. I didn’t feel rushed to take in this exotic locale, because it wasn’t an exotic locale anymore. It was a place where I truly felt at home.

Before returning to Cape Town, my study abroad experience felt fresh. However, now that I was back, I could fully feel the two years that had passed. For the most part, Cape Town was still the same, but I finally realized how different I was. I wasn’t the same person I had been when I studied abroad two years before, and that wasn’t a bad thing. I had now successfully lived on my own, on a continent separate from everyone I knew and loved, for a year.

Cape Town may have been my first foray into independent traveling, but Botswana was my marathon. My priorities were different because I was different. I didn’t feel rushed to take in this exotic locale, because it wasn’t an exotic locale anymore. It was a place where I truly felt at home.

I felt like a jerk. Study-abroad-Liz would never have let her guard down enough to chat with the fabulous hat guy. She would have ignored him and completely missed out on a delightful conversation and a new hat.

Once the pressure to have an identical experience was lifted, I stopped trying to recreate my memories of Cape Town, mostly because I was too busy creating new ones. Just because I had changed didn’t mean Cape Town wasn’t still a magical place. In fact, I realized that the things that had changed about me were leading me to experience a whole new Cape Town.

From new hole-in-the-wall restaurants, to parks downtown that weren’t in the guidebooks, to a pirate themed New Year’s Eve party, Cape Town felt like a whole new place that I was excited to explore.

So yes, my second visit to Cape Town was still full of delicious trips to Old Biscuit Mill, nights out on Long Street, climbing up the mountain to get to the University of Cape Town, and days spent at Muizenberg Beach. But it was also full of new adventures, amazing food, even better conversations, and a new Cape Town. Maybe I’ve changed, but my mantra sure hasn’t: Cape Town is a magical place.

 

What I Learned About Myself on My Return to Cape Town

Related Reading

A South African Safari Without Borders
Why South Africa is Perfect for Solo Travel
43 South African Slang Expressions You Need to Know
11 Days in Southern Africa: The Real Deal with Angie Stubbs
Studying Abroad at the University of Cape Town

Have you traveled to South Africa? What were your impressions? Email us at editor@pinkpangea.com for information about sharing your experience and advice with the Pink Pangea community. We can’t wait to hear from you.

About Liz Sundin

Liz SundinAfter serving the last two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Botswana, Liz is currently living in Washington D.C. As an aspiring world traveler, she’s always on the lookout for a new opportunity to explore more of the globe. In her free time, she enjoys playing a multitude of instruments, creating mashups, reading and writing about travel, and learning new dance moves.

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