South Africa: Best Decision Ever! Past Review

By (International Relations-economics, Wellesley College) for

ISA Study Abroad in Cape Town, South Africa

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
My study abroad experience was the best, and it a lot of ways I think I really got lucky meeting my group of locl friends. They were always so eager to show me around and we all enjoy traveling and driving so we would take drives to all these places. I think by making local friends, I got to go, see and do a lot more things than other study abroad students. I feel like I've been friends with them my entire life, and even their families have welcomed me into their homes for several dinners and brunches. In terms of my academic interests and future plans, this experience also really channelled and clarified what I want to do. My sociology class specifically helped me discover a very specific field that I'd like to work in the future. I also learned alot from interacting with locals in the townships and during my trip to neighboring countries. It helped me understand African poverty in a way that books never quite were able to do.

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? 6 months+

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

Coming from a liberal arts college, I came to appreciate the quality of a Wellesley education. There were hundreds of students in all my classes and a tutorial just isn't the same as learning from a professor. However, the topics that the classes covered were much more interesting and all of the classes that I took actually applied what we learned in to our lives. Even though the caliber of teaching may have been below what I was used to at Wellesley, the content was much more interesting and I felt more connected to the things I was learning.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

Interstudy seriously has the best staff ever. Ouma, the Resident Director, is like a mmother to us all. I had appendicitis while abroad and ended up having to get surgery. Ouma really looked after me and also arranged transportation to and from the airport for my mother who was coming to see me. Any time there was a problem, we would let the interstudy staff know and it would get fixed almost immediately. They are really nice, friendly, efficient, and good at what they do.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

The quality of housing differs widely. The apartment my roommate and I stayed in was probably the worst out of all of them, but when I first walked into the apartment (without seeing anyone else's housing) I thought it was decent. Everyone has their own room and you share a kitchen and bathroom with your housemates. Each apartment houses 2-3 people. Everything was provided by interstudy, and if the apartment was missing someting (like a trash can or some extra frying pans, kettles, etc) interstudy brought it over. We also had cleaning ladies that came and cleaned the apartment once a week. The neighborhood was a little sketchy, but not dangerous. It got really loud at night with drunken locals fighting, and drunken American students as well. Soundproofing isn't that great so you tend to hear everything going on the street. It also got a little too cold in the winter because there was no heating.

* Food:

Groceries are really cheap in South Africa so I really got to experiment a lot with cooking. Eating out is also really cheap and Cape Town has some of the best fine dining eateries that are very affordable for American students. They have a lot of sushi restaurants, italian restaurants, cafes, steakhouses, bakeries etc...

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

I literally had the best time in South Africa. Arranged by my program (all expenses paid/included in program fee): - Local tour of Cape Town - Weekend safari at a 4-star accomodation (it was REALLY REALLY nice) - lunch cruise - farewell dinner at an African restaurant Personal excursions: - Old Biscuit Mill is a weekend farmer's market type place with a lot of vendors from famous restaurants and bakeries around town...there are a lot of new designers as well selling clothes and jewelry - Winelands (franschoek and Stellenbosch, where some of the world's greatest wines come from) - Rugby & Cricket matches (rugby is HUGE in South Africa, you HAVE to be a part of that scene!) - Hiking various routes on Table Mountin - Picnicking at the lush Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden (they also have summer weekend concerts where famous bands play every weekend during the summer) - Garden Route road trip - The World Cup!!!!!!!! It was very exciting to be in South Africa during the world cup as the people and cities were all very vibrant - Spring Break 10 day safari to Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Victoria falls

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

* Safety:

I had appendicitis while I was in South Africa and needed surgery. In South Africa, the healthcare system is excellent if you have money. Most students who go abroad are all insured, and my program's insurance company CISI, paid for everything. The only ting is tht the hospitals demand upfront payment for most procedures and doctor's visits. CISI reimbursed me for all these costs, and sent over checks for any costs that were later on billed to me (these were mostly lab tests) I didn't need any vaccines going to South Africa, but when travelling outside of the country, I had to take malaria pills which I purchased locally. Malaria pills are MUCH cheaper in South Africa than in the US and actually the ones that they prescribe in the US can cause serious health problems.

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)

Not including program expenses, about how much money did you spend on food and other expenses each week? Food - weekly grocery expenses about $30 - weekly eating out expenses about $50 Personal expenses - airtime credits: $30 per month - drinks, taxis, touring, leisure activities etc: $300 per month drinks on average cost about $1.5-$2 for a beer, $4-7 mixed drinks/cocktails, clubs are usually free or have a $6-7 cover charge...South Africa has a lot of 2 for 1 drink specials so if you go to those places depending on the days of the week you can save a lot of money.. a full meal at a restaurant including drinks, appetizers, main, desserts alltogether will cost about $15 per person
Do you have any general money-saving tips for future study abroad participants? I didn't realize how much time I would spend traveling. I had planned to minimize travel because of all the horror stories I heard about South Africa, but when I realized that wasn't the case, I wanted to do a lot of activities. There are A LOT of things to do around Cape Town and in South Africa. Also, I ended up going on a 10-day safari through a travel agency, and I did it because almost all my friends were doing it. The expenses were about $1700 and the agency made it seem like it was all inclusive (including additional activities), but it turned out it wasn't. All these travel agencies go through another travel company called Nomad Adventures, but if you book directly through them it costs a fraction of the price for the same tour.


How would you rate your language skills at the beginning of the program? None

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?

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  • Local Students

A Look Back

* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? Out of all the programs, interstudy hands down definitely had THE BEST EXCURSIONS. Our excursions were not only awesome, but they were pretty luxurious and high class. All of it was already included in our program fee, which was actually the same or cheaper than other programs. They also automatically set up your phone and banking which is really convenient, and again, included in the program fees. Another thing about interstudy is that it places students in housing that has 2-3 students as opposed to 8-10 people housing which can actually be little much at times or have unwanted issues. Really, any type of student would benefit from this program, and I would HIGHLY, STRONGLY recommend going to UCT through interstudy.

Individual Course Reviews

Course Name/Rating:

Introduction to Environmental and Geological Sciences

Course Department: GEO 1009F
Instructor: John Compton, Mike Meadows, David Braun
Instruction Language: English
Comments: This course was an introductory geology lab course. It was one of the most interesting and interactive courses that I ever took. It was also probably the best course to choose to take as a study abroad student. Cape Town has absolutely fascinating geology with breathtaking Table Mountain on the one side and gorgeous oceans on the other side. This class incorporated geological methods by intensively studying the geology of Cape Town, and because of that, I ended up absorbing the material very quickly. We went on 3 half day excursions to Chapman's Peak Drive and Hout Bay, the Malmesbury Shale hills, and some local caves. All of these places are actually top tourist spots, so I ended up getting a really good education while enjoying the landscape.
Credit Transfer Issues: No issues--Wellesley granted me 1.0 credit and the geology department approved this as a lab course.
Course Name/Rating:

Poverty, Development and Globalization

Course Department: SOC2030F
Instructor: Jacques De Wet
Instruction Language: English
Comments: The title reflects this course perfectly. We learned bout poverty, development and globalization in Africa, using various regions in South Africa as case studies. We had guest lecturers almost every Friday who were professionals in an aspect of poverty, development or globalization we were studying that week. We also spent some time learning about the 2010 South Africa World Cup and analyzed its potential impacts on development in South Africa. This was another course that helped me really understand South Africa as a country. There were a lot of Americans/study abrod students in this class, but I think it is definitely worth taking as it really teaches students to view poverty in South Africa, development in South Africa and the impacts of globalization in South Africa. South Africa has a very complex history, and this course basically helps students understand the modern social complexities of South Africa by examining its past.
Credit Transfer Issues: No issues, Wellesley gave this 1.5 credits
Course Name/Rating:

Economies of Feast and Economies of Famine

Course Department: HST 3038
Instructor: Leigh Gardner, William Attwell, Maanda Mulaudzi
Instruction Language: English
Comments: This course could have been really interesting, but the professors were some of the worst. Because it was an advanced level course, we had weekly seminars that required 1500 word essays (about 5 pages). I learned a lot from this course but it was because we had a lot of readings and we had to write a lot of essays. If you have independent learning skills, then I would highly recommend this course because it compares rich countries and poor countries and then looks at South Africa as a developing country. The best part of this course was the Economies of Famine part as it examined 3 different countries from 3 different periods that struggled with famine. Each time the reasons for famine were diferent, and in most cases, there was always enough food.
Credit Transfer Issues: Wellesley gave this 1.5 credits. However, I'm still having troubles getting this approved as a 300level course even though it was one of the most demanding and rigorous courses I've ever taken.