Ever since learning that most Notre Dame students study abroad when I was a junior in high school, I knew that I wanted to take advantage of this opportunity as an undergraduate student to travel somewhere new and live there for a while.
Four years later as a junior in college in spring 2023, I studied abroad at Stellenbosch University in South Africa for five months. I thought, “Why study abroad in Europe when I can study abroad in Africa?” I had a lovely experience abroad and made memories that I will never forget.
Unlike most students who study abroad in Europe, I spent basically all of my time abroad in one country. While studying abroad in a new country presents the opportunity to travel to neighboring countries, it also provides the opportunity to explore the country that you are studying in.
I have done and seen so many things during my time in South Africa. I met other international students from around the world and South African students. My new friends and I went hiking, spent nights in, danced to music, played games, went to markets, went on roadtrips, had many tastings, and ate lots of delicious food.
The country had so much to offer. I shopped and ate at markets like Boschendal, Neighborgoods, Oranjezicht, Route 44, and Mojo. I enjoyed activities like canyoning, bungee jumping, horse riding, skydiving, zip lining, paragliding, kayaking, tours, museums, and a safari. I saw animals like zebras, elephants, seals, baboons, giraffes, whales, and penguins. I hiked mountains like Coetzenberg, Lions Head, Constantiaberg, Jonkershoek, and Table Mountain. There were so many beautiful landscapes: the mountains, the view of the city from the mountains, and the beaches were all so beautiful.
I picked up hobbies like crocheting, the ukulele, and weightlifting. I also volunteered at a primary school where I created and taught a few lesson plans. I spent more time “adulting” grocery shopping at the mall nearby and making my own meals when I didn't eat out. The foodie in me was very content as I had a lot of delicious meals in my flat and at local restaurants. Special shout-out to pasteis de nata, mangos, samosas, lamb, pork dumplings, hot chocolate, smoothies, and Jack’s Bagels.
I can’t forget about all the work I did in the classroom! My courses taught me so much, especially about South Africa and its history. I loved my classes (most of the time) because I could feel my brain getting bigger as I acquired new knowledge. I enjoyed learning about and from an African perspective in history, philosophy, education, and political science.
While I loved studying abroad, it did not come without challenges. Students tend to fantasize study abroad, but I will be the first to tell you that your problems do not just disappear when you are there. I struggled with my insecurities, balancing my time, focusing on my mental health, and missing home. I had to give myself extra care and compassion. It was also disheartening to see the vast inequalities within the country as a result of colonialism and apartheid. Even though this is a stark reality I had to face, it was important for me to be aware of current issues happening in the county where I was studying.
I say all of this to encourage you to study abroad for a semester or over the summer. And if not study abroad, then just travel abroad if you are able. It is such a beautiful experience to explore a new place and meet new people from around the world. And when you are abroad, do everything you can and learn about the place you are visiting. Make a bucket list of everything you want to do and all the places you want to see. Do it all. Soak up every second of it.