As I prepare to go back to the US, I look back at the differences between South Africa and the US and some of the things I had to get used to.
One of the biggest changes for me was living in the dorms. Having to wake up at 6 in the morning and have room inspection and roll call before going to breakfast is very different from my normal morning routine. The dorm environment is a lot more scheduled than I was used to. We have roll call three times a day, specified study hours, and lights out at designated times. Another very big difference between Saint Stithians and Athenian is that Saints has chapel three times a week for about 45 minutes, while Athenian has no religious affiliation. The education system also has major differences as theirs is mainly focused on exams. Saint Stithians has 12 exams over the course of 3 weeks that determines the majority of their students’ grade. Athenian is more focused on day-to-day performance and homework and less on exams. We have 6 exams over the course of 6 days, but they count for less of our grade. Also their exams are more about memorization and remembering specific facts and don’t test critical thinking as much. The classes are very focused on preparing for tests and other major assignments and don’t have as many activities.
Another big difference is how important sports are in South Africa (mainly rugby). Saint Stithians’ main focus is on their sports program, which is very good. Their under 16 rugby team is 9th in the country. Their 1st team games have a very high turnout and attendance at some games is even compulsory. They also have war cries, which is very different from the attitude my school has towards sports. Everyone plays sports and most of them at a very high level.
The attitude of the general public is very different when it comes to traffic laws, as people cross the road almost wherever and whenever they want. Speed limits tend to be more of guidelines instead of laws and are very rarely enforced. Another big thing that stood out were all the beggars at intersections; there would almost always be at least one, if not more. The houses also have a lot more security than in the US and almost everyone lives behind an electric fence. This was very surprising to see when I first arrived, but makes sense because there is a lot more crime. The most difficult thing to get used to was load shedding, which is when the power gets cut for hours at a time because the government doesn’t have enough electricity to supply the entire city. The power could go out for any length of time between two and six hours. This was very annoying. Also, the government in South Africa is rather lax when enforcing laws and is very corrupt compared to the US. While I was in Johannesburg, two stowaways managed to sneak onto an international flight from O.R. Tambo to Heathrow, which is the same flight path that I took. The police are easy to bribe and aren’t terribly vigilant compared to most American police. The South African government doesn’t maintain or improve roads, it’s actually done privately. One road very near to where I was staying was widened by private contractors and paid for by residents who were unhappy with the amount of traffic on that particular road.
One of my highlights was when I traveled to Cape Town over a long weekend. We hiked up Table Mountain in the mist. It was a really amazing experience to be almost in the clouds and only be able to see a short distance around you. We also took a tour around Cape Town on one of the buses. This was a really interesting way to learn about the city and see different parts of it. We stopped and got off at Long Street and went to one of the street markets where they were selling a wide variety of goods. It was very interesting to see this type of market in an urban setting. Unfortunately we were unable to go to Robben Island because the weather was rather stormy. We did travel around Cape Town, however, and it is an incredibly pretty city.
Another highlight was going to Madikwe Game Reserve over midterm break. Going to the bush was an incredible experience. It was amazing to be so close to the animals. While there we saw lions, elephants, rhinos, cheetahs, wild dogs, and a lot of other animals. The bush was also a lot colder than I thought it was going to be. It was very beautiful, especially the sunrises and sunsets.
I thoroughly enjoyed my exchange to South Africa. It was a very enlightening experience to see how different the lifestyles are between the US and South Africa. I made some wonderful friends while I was there and it was truly amazing getting to know people on the other side of the world.