If our experience in South Africa were a honeymoon–South Africa being the bride and me being the groom, of course–this Sunday would have been the day we got back from Hawaii to find a leak in the roof and a message from the best man asking to have the toaster he gave you back so he can make Pop Tarts.
The leak in the roof part is more than symbolic; Cape Town apparently saw its largest rainfall in 52 years Sunday and in a fit of generosity, our Kimberley House roof decided to share some of the water with our kitchen floor. Thanks!
Past participants in this program told us that the first few weeks were both extremely enriching and at times frustrating. But after the first week of visiting our work sites, standing at the top of Signal Hill, planning to climb Table Mountain and experiencing some of the city’s most beautiful and captivating attractions, we may have overlooked some of the reasons we are here; namely to work and study.
The study part began to kick in this week. We have been at the University of the Western Cape each day since Monday, attending the multiple classes we signed up for and trying to find a way to build a schedule that allows for us to be on campus two days a week (we need two days for our work sites and one day for the two courses we are required to take) and classes to transfer back to Marquette. Because teachers often don’t show up for classes during the first week and the classes they do show up for are often relocated, some of us still have unanswered questions about what classes we will be able to take, what classes will transfer back to Marquette and what classes we should take to make the most of our time in Cape Town. As I pored over course schedules in the UWC Student Centre and sat in empty lecture halls only to realize that the class had been re-scheduled to a building across campus, I felt as helpless and confused as I had my first day of freshman year.
I wouldn’t have it any other way.
When I used to think about studying abroad in South Africa, every aspect was glossed over with an unrealistic, paradise-like allure: a sun that shines perpetually, ocean waves made for surfing, exotic foreign food that always agrees with your stomach and streets made for walking barefoot. Not only does this place not exist; it isn’t why we’re here.
This is an immersion program. We’ve come to live amongst Cape Town’s citizens, not experience the city’s best attractions from the confines of a tour bus. This means going to school and our work sites, grocery shopping and cooking (which has already given me a new appreciation for what my mom does for my family every day) and balancing money, schedules and activities. None of this may sound as glamorous as sitting by the waterfront or taking safaris every day, but I doubt people who live in Hawaii surf every day either.
The funny thing is that the more we’ve begun to fall into a schedule, the more I’ve felt connected with this city. The names of stores and restaurants are becoming as commonplace as those on Marquette’s campus. We’ve made UWC friends who we spend time with off-campus. One of our housemates even joined the water polo team at UWC. A little regularity that extends beyond tourism can go a long way in making you feel at home.
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For the first time since Saturday, today saw the sun was out the whole day. It was the first sunny day since we made the transition from feeling like tourists to feeling like Cape Town regulars. One of the first things I remember hearing when we got to Cape Town was that you can experience all four seasons in a day here…warm and sunny vs. cold and rainy. You have to spend a little time in a city before you appreciate all of those dimensions: the good weather, the bad weather, the beauty of Table Mountain and the deprivation of the township shacks. Our relationship with Cape Town hasn’t yet reached the point where we’ve experienced the city at both its best and worst, and Cape Town has yet to see the best we have and our most challenging struggles. And though as far as I know I’ve never been married, the more time we spend here, the more we move past the blind satisfaction of a honeymoon and into a more wholesome appreciation and understanding in what is shaping up to be a long relationship.
Hey-oh for the metaphor?