South Africa: Always Fascinating, Never Boring Past Review

By (studio art, Texas Christian University) for

CIEE: Cape Town - Arts and Sciences

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
Studying abroad helped me to become more independent and confident. It also opened me up to Africa. I knew little of South Africa before I went. But now I am in love with the country and I am much more interested in Africa. This program helped me realize just how complex South Africa is and often how misunderstood South Africa and the African continent is.

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? 0-2 weeks

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

The workload and teaching methods were basically the same as at TCU. However the grading system was very different. In South Africa, anything above a 75 is, according to CIEE, an A. Unfortunately it's rare in most classes to get above a 75 consistentlty. (Above a 75 is considered exceptional, more the equivalent of an A+) South African teachers simply don't give them out very often. There is no GPA in South African schools that equates to American GPA, so programs it seems arbitrarily determine the grade translations. This can be very confusing and at times seems unfair. Because of this awkward translation, sometimes work done in South Africa that receives a B, would likely receive an A in America.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

I was overall pretty happy with CIEE. They're very involved with program students and are always accessible.They're constantly sending out messages and opportunites for students. The first week is filled with a somewhat intensive orientation week. I'm a fairly independent person, so I found some of this to be slightly irritating and too much. However, overall it was fine, and it was convenient to know that should our stuff get stolen (which happened frequently to students) they were there to help out immediately.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

CIEE arranged everything with my host family. I filled out a housing survey including information about my personality, habits, and what I wanted in a host family, and CIEE matched me with a family with two older kids in Mowbray. I also lived with two other Americans in the house. I loved the family, the house, the neighborhood, basically everything. My family was very nice and treated me as a member, I ate dinner with them whenever I could. Everything was provided for me. I had my own room and they even did my laundry for me. I was in Mowbray. It took about 20 minutes to get to main campus (walking and a shuttle ride). The neighborhood was beautiful (just like every place in Cape Town). My street had a stunning view of Table Mountain. There are clubs and bars in Claremont (about a 5-10min taxi ride) and Long Street in downtown (about a 20 min taxi ride) which are excellent for the most part. (Some homestays however are in Plumstead which is a VERY long commute to school)The neighborhood was very safe (by South African standards). South Africa isn't the safest country in the world, so you sometimes need to be aware at night. Although as a guy I was safe walking by myself at night, girls usually did not. However, CIEE provides night transportation (the guardian angel cab)for anyone who feels unsafe walking.

* Food:

I'm not vegetarian, but South Africa is a vegetarian and even vegan friendly country. However, South Africa is still a heavy meat eating country. Expect to go to braais nonstop, which are basically meat eating feasts of chicken, boerewors,steak, and sausage. The portions are basically (how about I say basically a few thousand more times) the same as the US. South African pizza is different from US pizza and amazing. The best pizza is Debonairs. The cheapest pizza is Scooters. The spiciest food is Nando's. The best burger is Royale on Long St. The best and cheapest curry is The Middle Eastern Bazaar near Greenmarket Sq. Do not go to Mama Africa, it looks cool, but the food is...unsatisfying. The best ice cream is Sinful Ice Cream, in Camps Bay and Rosebank. If you enjoy piles (literally) of delicious meat, then go Mzoli's in Gugulethu (they also have a vegetarian option)

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

If you're planning a trip do not use Two-Way Travel. I can't stress that enough. They do "all-inclusive" trips to many places however they're large, extremely overpriced, and Two-Way themselves are very pushy and misleading with travel advice. Don't go to them for advice or even step foot in their office. For Spring Break, I traveled with friends to the Okavango Delta and Chobe in Botswana and Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. We planned the trip completely by ourselves. It was an amazing trip. It was also the exact same trip Two-way did except for double than what we ended up paying when we did it ourselves. If you go to Botswana do it yourself. Planes and excursions are cheap and renting a car is easy. Hitchhiking is also easy and safe in Botswana and Zambia (but not South Africa as much). Since there are few taxis in these countries, hitchhiking is common and hitchhikers are expected to pay a very small fee for the ride. If you do Victoria Falls, go on the Zimbabwe side, it's a much better view. Shark cage diving off Cape Town is a must-do. Africaburn (Africa's version of Burning Man)in April is also a must-do and is only 4 hours outside of Cape Town in the Karoo desert. There are also many electro festivals and concerts throughout the summer outside Cape Town, but these can be nearly impossible to get to without a car, and car rental isn't always cheap in Cape Town.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

* Safety:

South Africa has a very high crime rate and is considered one of the rape capitals of the world. However it is also a country of extreme contrasts with some areas being very safe and others extremely dangerous. Most of the crime springs from the extreme poverty of the townships and township areas are basically off-limits to go to (or even drive through sometimes) by yourself or with other Americans. But crime is also very common outside townships. It's not always safe to ride a minibus taxi if you're the only passenger riding (which is rare since 20 people are usually packed into these things). Girls are advised not to walk alone at night. Riding in unmarked taxis is unwise. Overall it's best not to advertise you're American. American equals rich to would be muggers. Most instances of muggings and pick-pocketings happen to Americans who are in large groups, speaking in loud American accents. The one instance where I was pick-pocketed and nearly mugged was in a large group like this. Leaving bags and wallets unattended at bars and clubs can also be dangerous. However, the area around campus in the Southern Suburbs is very safe. I never felt in danger in these areas.

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)

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Host Family
* Who did you live with?

Select all that apply

  • Americans
  • Host Family

A Look Back

* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? This program is extremely worthwhile. South Africa is diverse, offbeat, and never boring. Any student who does this program should be open to these facts.