Cultural eye-opener Past Review

By (Music Education, Trinity University) - abroad from 01/26/2012 to 06/13/2012 with

Arcadia: Cape Town - University of Cape Town

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
Gave me a broader cultural perspective. Raised questions about how people from diverse cultural backgrounds can get along. Forced me to act outside of my comfort zone on a regular basis. Definitely worth it - one of the coolest things I have ever done.

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? None

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

University of Cape Town is a challenging school. I felt like I worked harder at UCT than I did at Trinity, but received worse grades. The quality of instruction varies significantly depending on the class and instructor.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

The Arcadia part of the experience had it's ups and downs. The program coordinator, Alan Jansen, is very knowledgeable and friendly, though he sometimes appears very distant and unattached to what goes on in the program. He delegated the more "hands-on" affairs to two different employees, one of was a kind of secretary who rarely interacted with us, and the other which was our "go-to" person for questions or concerns. The "secretary" was competent, but left halfway through the program. The "go-to" person was friendly, but unreliable and irresponsible (she also accepted another job halfway through the semester). She sometimes showed up late to events, was hungover for morning activities and drunk for night-time activities. On the University of Cape Town side of the experience, it was very well structured and organized. The orientation sessions and registration process were long and tedious, but covered on the essentials with few slip-ups. This was not the case with the University of the Western Cape (an alternative option to UCT), which was generally unprepared and unresponsive to student issues.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

The apartment flats were comfortable and reasonably sized. There was a minor problem with bedbugs, but it was quickly resolved. Some students complained about the neighborhood, but I thought it gave a more authentic living experience than living in the "international" suburb. I never personally felt unsafe in our neighborhood. I thought it was the perfect blend of safety and authenticity (I woke up every morning to the sound of the Call to Prayer blasting from a nearby mosque - what a cultural experience!)

* Food:

Cape Town is a very international and culturally diverse city. You can find pretty much anything you could possibly want (including KFC if for some weird reason you crave greasy chicken and soggy "chips"). Personal recommendations: Boerwors (the most delicious sausage you'll ever have), Biltong (like beef jerky, but way better), Samoosas (Delicious Indian pastry stuffed with pretty much anything-mixed veg, apple-cinnamon, and many others), Ostrich (tastes like chicken - sort of - but it is tasty). Also, make sure to try out some Malaysian delicacies - just look for the "Certified Halal" sign!

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

The first thing to understand about South African culture is that there is no unified "culture." Many of the old racial/cultural divides still influence individual communication and ideological perspectives. My advice is not necessarily to try to "blend in" with any particular cultural group, but to embrace the differences and examine how the individual parts make up the collective whole.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

My roommate had an inexplicable bout of vomiting one night and had to be taken to the hospital. The emergency service was prompt, professional, and competent. The program coordinator (Alan Jansen) was so disconnected from the whole process that he completely misunderstood what was going on in communications with me the following day. Otherwise, from what I understand, the healthcare experience for him was relatively smooth.

* Safety:

Well, Crime is a problem in South Africa, particularly in the urban townships. While there were one or two crime-related incidents (objects being stolen) in the program group, I personally did not experience any significant safety problems. The keys to safety: know the safe areas and stick mostly to them, Have a look of confidence/walk with purpose, don't be an obvious tourist (talk loud, where expensive clothes/jewelry), and always travel with some friends when going out late (three or four is a good number). If you stick to these guidelines, you should be fine.

If you could do it all over again would you choose the same program? Yes


* Money: How easily were you able to live on a student's budget?

(1 = not very easy/$200+ on food & personal expenses/week, 2.5 = $100/week, 5 = very easily/minimal cost)

Cost of living is comparable to the United States. Some things cost more (imported things), and others are slightly cheaper (domestic food products).

* Was housing included in your program cost? Yes
* Was food included in your program cost? No
Not including program expenses, about how much money did you spend on food and other expenses each week? $40 (I'm a HUGE cheapskate, though).
Do you have any general money-saving tips for future study abroad participants? Careful on souvenir spending - it's a tourist trap, especially in certain areas of Cape Town. I recommend looking for authentic gems - many souvenir products (especially "traditional") are mass-produced. Save up for trips - they are way more worth the money than the trinkets/accessories.


* Did your program have a foreign language component? No

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Apartment
* Who did you live with?

Select all that apply

  • Americans
* Who did you take classes with?

Select all that apply

  • Local Students
  • International Students
About how many local friends did you make that you will likely keep in touch with?

A Look Back

* What did you like most about the program?
  • South Africa!
  • Academic challenge
  • small program size
* What could be improved?
  • Arcadia Program organization
  • more Arcadia-sposored trips
  • not much personal connection with locals
* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? Claim your education! Don't be afraid to explore on your own - make as many personal connections with locals as you can. Get involved in Campus organizations - with local students! SHAWCO is an excellent program (tutoring in the townships). Don't get sucked into a routine - always try new things!

Reasons For Studying Abroad

To help future students find programs attended by like-minded individuals, please choose the profile that most closely represents you.
The Academic or Linguist
You went abroad with specific academic goals in mind; the program credentials and rigor of your coursework abroad were very important to you. You had a great time abroad, but never lost sight of your studies and (if applicable) were diligent with your foreign language study. Good for you!

Individual Course Reviews

Course Name/Rating:

South African Hunters and Herders

Course Department: Archaeology
Instructor: Judith Seely
Instruction Language: English
Comments: This course was incredibly challenging, especially for someone with little scientific/archaeological experience. However, the course offers the unique experience of visiting ancient hunter/herder sites. Provides a uniquely South African perspective on such issues as the origin of modern humans and the clash of the hunter-gatherer lifestyle with colonialism.
Credit Transfer Issues: no issues.