Now that my preliminary blog is out of the way, I will do my best to spend a bit more time attempting to describe the city, my life here, and all of the cool experiences I’ve had thus far. Cape Town, on the surface, reminds me of most American cities. There is constant movement, different pockets of the city that have different vibes, and consists people from all walks of life. There are green spaces all around where I people can be found laying in the shade, or school students will be walking in their uniforms. Often times when I walk down the street from my apartment on Orange Street and watch all of the cars drive by (or run across the street to attempt to avoid the cars from hitting me even though the light has turned green), I become part of the noise and traffic. When I finally take a second to look up from the street I see the overpowering and mystical presence of Table Mountain. It not only reminds me that I’m in South Africa, but it reminds me that among the noise you can find peace anywhere. I believe this could be why I feel so connected to Cape Town, you can have the wonderful motion and life of a city with the ever present reminder of nature in the background.
Returning to Cape Town has been an interesting experience. On the one hand the transition has seemed effortless, and on the other, there are a lot of things that are still new to me. Visiting a place for a few weeks, and moving there for a year allows you to see the place from different perspectives. Before, I got to know some areas of the city, a lot of the tourist spots, what locals generally do for fun, and where the awesome shops are. This time, I get to take comfort in knowing those basic things, but also have to learn how various systems work. For example, getting set up with a cell phone, bank account, student ID card, etc have helped me better understand those systems and how they work in South Africa. Attending University has given me a different perspective of the culture, as everything here moves a bit slower and information seems to be given no sooner than when you actually need it. Jessica and I managed to find a nice apartment in town, so we have been using the Jammie Shuttle to get to campus, and have been walking everywhere. This has also given me a new perspective of the city. As I get more comfortable, I hope to continue to go into new areas that I did not get to experience last time I was here.
In order to settle in here, I’ve tried to maintain my normal routines from home, and try out new things that are part of life here. For example, the first few days I tried to go without coffee because getting coffee here that isn’t instant proved to be a bit of a mission. I gave in after 2 weeks. After sipping my real cup of coffee on the balcony in the morning I realized that coffee is one way that I connect myself to a place. I have fond memories of times spent alone or with friends in places drinking coffee that somehow it helps me feel more at home. I also find that I like to explore places before I get settled in them, and once I’m settled I often stick to my normal routines. Therefore, I’ve made it my goal to jump into life here by experiencing new things with new people whenever the offer presents itself. I’ve also signed up for different groups on campus that are service related, and hope to get involved. In addition, i've joined a gym here that will hopefully motivate me to stay in shape.Within the last few weeks, My roommate and I have managed to partake in quite a few fun adventures. We attended the summer concerts at Kirstenbosch gardens where we had a picnic with friends and listened to a local South African band, Zebra and Giraffe. We went on a hike to a spring at Bain’s Kloof where we spent the day laying on rocks, jumping off of them, and swimming. The drive also provided quite the view of Cape Town. We met up with some of my friends on the beach to watch the sunset. We also had the pleasure of going to a braii (a BBQ with South African meats), which is a big part of life here, and one of the traditions I remember from three years ago. All in all I’ve found my friends (old and new) have been eager to show me the beautiful parts of Cape Town, as well as some of the more touristy parts.
This week has been the start of coursework at UCT (University of Cape Town). I will be getting my master’s in the Environmental and Geographic Sciences department where I take coursework for a year and do a dissertation for 6 months. The courses I’ll be taking this semester are Managing Complex Ecosystems and Climate Predictability and Variability. I will only be taking class twice a week on campus, but it will eventually equate to about 40 hours a week of work. The courses will include lectures, fieldwork, and practical use of skills learned throughout the semester as well as exams, projects, and presentations. Once I get a better feel for the courses I’ll comment on them. In September I will be proposing a research project, and at this point I will be focusing on water conservation and management in the Berg River hopefully focusing on the community level.
Another fascinating part of my experience has been the conversations I’ve been engaged in with people that I meet. In general it seems that people here have a greater understanding of what is going on in the world, including America. At the bank the other day Jessica and I had an hour and half long conversation about what is going on in Egypt, the corruption in the South African government, Obama, September 11th, the end of apartheid and the current wars. In talking about our government, I was able to appreciate the level of democracy we have, and how strong our voting system is compared to most other countries. It felt great to be able to have a conversation about politics and current world events especially from different perspectives. I have found that many people here have a higher level of awareness and are eager to discuss American politics and what is going on in the world with us. It’s been a great way to find common ground with South Africans, and point out what it is I like about South Africa while also appreciating how things are run in America. Without reinforcing stereotypes, or giving an extreme opinion, I’ve been able to connect with a lot of people here just by discussing tactics to improve the world and reflecting on history to learn from. To me, this is a large part of what the Ambassadorial Scholarship is about – opening doors through conversations, paralleling two cultures, and connecting with people over the desire to make the world better.