I decided to study abroad in Cape Town, South Africa. This decision was a huge one, meaning that I would be 7, 789 miles away from home for the entirety of the summer. This meant that I would be missing out on the few months of the year that I get to see my family and, subsequently, my brothers’ milestones. However, I knew that this was a once in a lifetime experience and I would regret my decision if I missed this incredible opportunity. I transferred my scholarship to the summer, taking into consideration that I would be graduating a semester early and that scholarship money would be unused if I didn’t study abroad in the summer. My program consists of an internship experience as compared to taking classes abroad. I currently am splitting my time between two placement organizations, a civil rights advocacy organization and a family center for victims of abuse. 

I worked to prepare to go abroad for a couple months leading up to my trip, figuring out what type of phone plan I would need or what cultural aspects of different townships I would have to be careful of when walking around. In the weeks leading up to my trip, I spent a lot of time with family and friends. I had the opportunity to go to my cousins’ wedding in Iowa prior to celebrating my birthday in Chicago, my birthplace, with my boyfriend and family. The time I had to spend with them felt very short, elucidating the importance of truly connecting with them before I went abroad. Although I was able to spend a lot of time with my family, I ended up packing at the very last minute. I started packing the day before I left, having to pack for a variety of different weathers and temperatures. I will be in Cape Town for about two months as my program is six weeks, following my family’s arrival into the country for well-deserved vacation time. 

I had various thoughts and emotions going through my head as I mentally prepared for the trip. It involved a combination of sadness at leaving my family and friends, excitement for the new adventure to come, and the expected nervousness at the possibility of a new culture. I believe my thoughts mainly resonated around the idea of leaving my friends and family as the reunion with them was extremely short-lived. The support of my family and friends throughout this journey has definitely made the transition to a new culture easier, but there is an understanding of the missed culture and environment in the United States. Everything, at least in Cape Town, is very different and it has been a learning curve to adjust to the new food brands, new morals & values, and new expectations of what it means to be an American.

My program, fortunately, urged me to set various SMART goals prior to studying abroad in Cape Town. I have inserted my goals below to exemplify the expectations I have planned for my trip. 

As a Service-Learning participant, I will work to pursue a more motivated approach through my host organization. I will take more initiative on various projects offered by my host organization, asking questions if I may need help on the project or task. I will ask my supervisor to direct me towards projects related to the legal field, and therefore my future career, if it may be beneficial to the host organization. This may be seen through various independent tasks or group projects, keeping an open line of communication with my supervisor and their potential needs for the host organization. 

By the end of my program in Cape Town, I want to have gained a deeper understanding of South African culture. This may include understanding South African slang terms, the continuous effects of Apartheid in equal housing and education, and common customs in regards to communication and greetings. I will also attend various local events or activities, attempting to directly embrace the culture through the actions of locals. I will strive to try at least twenty-five native South African dishes throughout the duration of my trip. 

During my internship in South Africa, I will pursue a mentor-mentee relationship with an individual through my host organization. This relationship may be based around my supervisor or other members of the organizations, surrounding legal-based work in family law and the influence of social work. I will work with my mentor to gain a deeper understanding of social work intertwined with humanitarian work. I will utilize this connection and new knowledge to pursue a career in family law, updating my resume and gaining beneficial feedback in regards to areas of improvement in a social work concentration. These findings and knowledge can be paralleled to family law, and therefore my future career, improving my application for various law schools.

These various goals have allowed me to structure my travel, and therefore my study abroad experience, to be fitting to my future goals and expectations for myself. I strive to understand the legal field and political issues within South Africa, surrounding family issues and issues that surround homelessness. The difference I make while I am here is completely at my disposal and my utilization of the various resources offered to me throughout my program. Although studying abroad is a nerve-wracking experience, one will make the most of what they put into the program. I offer the advice of traveling to a country and culture one may want to experience as this will heighten the memories one will make along the way. Enjoy your time with friends and family prior to studying abroad, but one must come to understand that their support doesn’t weaken with the distance.

The view at the end of Navy Pier, staring out at Lake Michigan.
The view of Devil’s Peak from Table Mountain.