University of Cape Town
POSTED ON: Thursday, January 9, 2020 11:09 AM by MIDN 2/C Nick Kartvedt
One of the greatest things I learned while abroad was living on my own. For my entire life, I have always been at a place that has taken care of me, offered support, provided me with meals and a sense of comfort. I never had the experience being completely independent and realized that self-care rested on my shoulders. Traveling abroad to Cape Town taught me many life skills. I learned to socially adapt, how to navigate a new city (I became reliant on Wi-Fi spots in order to travel), and realized that having a flexible attitude can make a major difference.
While being a student at University of Cape Town (UCT) I was on my own and had to learn very basic things to get though the day such as cooking and making the bus on time. My living arrangements were off campus (approximately 1 mile) and although it was considered a dormitory, it was very different compared to the American standard. The complex consisted of several buildings, 4 stories high and 3-4 students per room. I did not have roommates by the American college definition. Four of us lived together, but we each had our own individual rooms that stayed locked when you were not home and doors closed while studying. It felt more like living in a single room that shared the kitchen, shower room, and bathroom. Being responsible for my own meals taught me valuable lessons in what to buy, how long things take to spoil, easily prepared meals, and the cost of home cooked meals vs eating out. Dorm life on the weeknights were mostly quiet. In the solitude of the dorm I learned more about my own personality in the heightened circumstances of living alone in a foreign country. I figured out what type of people I enjoy spending time with outside the military. It was a trial and error process. Some people were amazing and welcoming to exchange students while others were a miss. Those who became great friends and liked me not for my job or because they knew my family, but because of who I am as an individual.
South Africa has many natural wonders located around Cape Town on both land and sea. The Cape of Good Hope, a significant nautical landmark, is south of the city and amazing. During the age of sail, ships from across the globe would have to navigate this dangerous landmark. Some had safe passage while others battled the sea and lost. As I looked across the water I realized the only thing between me and Antarctica was just the water. I’m not sure if it was possible to see Antarctica, but I like to think I did. The backdrop of Cape Town is Table Mountain, Devil’s Peak, and Lion’s Head. I summited each peak and was blown away with the views as each one presented a different side of the city. As a stereotypical American I had to partake in a safari to see the Big Five (the most deadly animals on the African continent) which consists of the elephant, rhinoceros, lion, leopard, and water buffalo. I was able to see four of the five; the illusive leopard escaped me. Other adventures that allowed me to appreciate the natural beauty unique to South Africa was cage diving with Great White Sharks, surfing at Muizenberg, and paragliding off Signal Hill to catch a bird’s eye view of Cape Town.
South Africa is currently redefining their culture as they are still facing remnants of apartheid. To have a better understanding of the past, I visited Robben Island, a secluded island six miles off the coast where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated. The trip to Robben Island and hearing the stories from ex-political prisoners, who now serve as tour guides, truly made me appreciate the system we have in America. We have due process in our country and for many ex-political prisoners in South Africa this was not the case. To hear their stories was shocking. What was more shocking to hear about was how racism still exists in a post-apartheid era. One of the American students from CIEE was not seated at a restaurant simply because of the color of her skin. This is a major cultural problem and directly related to the remnants of apartheid.
I ended my semester abroad on a high note. I met great people. I joined societies that allowed me to meet locals and truly have a cadre of international friends. I would highly recommend Cape Town to anyone looking to travel or study abroad. It expanded my world view and will serve me well in my career and life.