When most people think of studying abroad, they think of sipping fine wine in Italy, or shopping in London, or even swimming off the beautiful beaches of Greece. Most don’t envision themselves sitting on a dirt floor in a shack drinking illegal beer out of a paint can. Then again, I’m not most people.
There are so many misconceptions about Africa, one of which being that Africa is all one in the same, that every part of Africa is similar enough. Obviously this is far from the truth because the continent of Africa is home to over 1,500 languages, 54 countries, and countless different ethnic groups. South Africa is amazing because it encompasses much of what makes the African continent so incredible. South Africa recognizes eleven official languages, with many more unofficial languages spoken. On top of the many languages, South Africa is home to so many unique ethnic groups and people. In my time in South Africa, I spent time with the Xhosa people, which are the people from which we were given the great Nelson Mandela. So, for a history major and anthropology minor like me, you can see why this was an obvious choice. But what if you’re not so into history or the study of other cultures? What can you even do in South Africa?
Well, for starters, you don’t need to go to Italy to find some tasty wine. During our study abroad, my professor took us wine tasting at Vergelegen Vineyard. In South Africa, drinking wine at 10 AM is totally acceptable and, as it turns out, South Africa is actually a powerhouse in wine production, they just like to keep a lot of it inside the country (and I can’t blame them). We were even able to sample Napoleon Bonaparte’s favorite dessert wine at Groot Constantia. I brought home multiple bottles as gifts, one of which is still in my wine rack at home. If you study abroad in South Africa, you better enjoy a good wine.
Wine isn’t your thing? No big deal. The lovely Xhosa people of Langa Township invited us into their Shabeen, which is a one room structure in which they brew a traditional beer and serve it communally (basically, it’s served in a paint can, but I’m always up for whatever). After all, the best way to experience a culture is to immerse yourself in it, and the best was to become fully immersed, is to drink with the locals.
What better way to wrap up a day of drinking with the local people than with a night of drinking on Long Street? Basically, Long Street is the Bourbon Street of Cape Town, but way better. I know what you’re thinking, “Abbie, it isn’t safe to be drunk on the street in an African country by yourself.” Maybe you’re right, but Jesus loves us, which is why he sent us Uber. Due to the exchange rate in South Africa, Uber is super affordable and extremely safe, as all drivers must be background checked. Once you arrive on Long Street, you will find a number of security guards walking the street should an incident arise. Now, I’m not saying you can just be a drunken buffoon, you will get your phone or wallet stolen, but it is no more dangerous than being a drunken buffoon in Greenville, North Carolina. So, now that you know Long Street is just as safe as any American city, you’ll be excited to know that you will definitely bump into other Americans, as well as Europeans and folks from all over the world. Thanks to nights out I have made some lifelong friends from all ends of the earth. So, if the nightlife experience is what is drawing you to study in a different city, I’m telling you that Cape Town is the place to be. I swear I’m not a drunk, and there is so much more to South Africa than its incredible alcohol, but it’s also fun as hell and I’m trying to make a point.
If you’re a more adventurous soul, I’m not sure why you would chose to study abroad anywhere else. By the second day of the trip, my professor and guide were dragging me up the side of Table Mountain (one of the seven new wonders of the world). The experience was so spiritual for me that I came home and got a tattoo of Table Mountain’s silhouette. For the hiker, Cape Town is heaven on earth. If the beach is more your thing, you can go surfing literally all over the Cape. For beginners, my recommendation would be Muizenberg beach where you can rent a wetsuit and board for next to nothing. Plus, a lot of surfers have dogs which is a major bonus. If all of this seems a bit too boring for you, there is always the option to go cage diving with great white sharks. For those who are glued to their TV during shark week, you know that South Africa is home to Seal Island, which is where I embarked on my sharky adventure. Within minutes, our boat was being circled by sharks over twelve feet long. For me, being in the water with these creatures was so powerful that I have made it my duty to make sure that they become better understood.
Okay by this point I know that you’re only still reading in hopes of seeing a photo of a cute animal. For the Animal lover, South Africa is heaven on earth. A quick drive to Boulders Beach will have you catching some serious rays with adorable little African Penguins (Just don’t get too close). A visit to the Cape Of Good Hope ensures an encounter with baboons and ostrich, and even a ride down the highway can lead to zebra and bontebok sightings. Though you have to travel to the northern part of the country to see animals like lions, giraffe, rhino, and elephant, in their natural habitat, there are plenty of game reserves all over the country where you can go on a shorter safari and still see all of the wildlife Africa is famous for. We went to Botlierskop private game reserve near Mossel Bay, and within three hours we saw every animal on my bucket list up close and personal. No matter how you experience the wildlife of South Africa, you sure as won’t experience anything like it anywhere else on earth.
So, as if I have left you any choice, take the plunge, study abroad out of your comfort zone. Save Europe for another time, and experience the magic of South Africa while you’re young. South Africa holds such a place in my heart that I’ve spent my whole week as a college graduate trying to get a job in Cape Town so that I can experience this magic all day, every day, for the rest of my life.