Since my return from exchange I’ve constantly been asked if I miss it. I’d like to say that I miss it with all my heart, but I don’t. Living in South Africa became my way of life. It’s difficult to miss it when I still feel like it hasn’t quite ended yet. I’m dreading the day that I wake up and realize I’m never again going to put on my Bridge House uniform in the morning, and I may never again eat my favorite banana bread from the school’s café.
I learned so much on exchange, both about myself and others. While the fact that I had the opportunity to live in Africa still amazes me, when people ask me what my favorite parts of exchange were, I often think of the things people don’t expect to hear. I loved adventuring around the Western Cape every weekend and exploring the beautiful landscape, but some of my favorite parts were much simpler. On the drive home every day I admired the beautiful orange sunsets, and I loved spending time at home with my host family and my friends from school. Being on exchange made even the most average things special, and it gave me a chance to see what life was like as a normal teenager halfway around the world.
I also had some amazing experiences that I could never find in the Bay Area. Every weekend brought a new adventure and gave me a chance to see the different sides of South Africa. One of the most memorable experiences I had was visiting the local township. These are informal settlements that were mainly formed during the time of apartheid and are the biggest indicators of racial segregation in South Africa. They are also centers for culture and life. We got the chance to visit small schools within the township. Choruses of adorable five year olds sang to us in English, Afrikaans, and Xhosa, and they loved listening to us attempt to speak their local languages. We were able to learn even more about the history of racial segregation, and it gave me a better understanding of what inequality truly is, rather than solely talking about it in a classroom.
Visiting the township was an important part of understanding life in South Africa, but I also loved touring all around Cape Town and exploring Franschhoek Valley. I observed all of the many similarities and differences between the U.S. and South Africa. On the drive to school every morning I passed by beautiful vineyards and farmlands that were quite the opposite to the typical Californian suburbia. Cape Town felt incredibly similar to San Francisco, until I was reminded where I actually was when I looked behind the tall office buildings to see giant mountains in the distance. I loved walking beach side in Camps Bay and listening to the local music, and we often visited the local Waterfront to explore small shops and to eat all of the delicious food Cape Town has to offer. We visited the local aquarium, traveled to the very tip of Africa, and I even visited Robben Island, which was used as a prison during the time of apartheid and is known for its most famous inmate, Nelson Mandela. Last but not least, I did get the chance to pet some adorable cheetahs. I loved going on a safari and seeing all of the incredible animals I thought I would only see in movies.
I could go on and on about my exchange just using cheesy clichés. It truly was the best eight weeks of my life, but I don’t want to feel like my experience only lasted for two months. The great part of exchange is that it actually becomes part of your life. I can still message my South African friends anytime I want, and I’m so incredibly excited for my exchange, Ella, to come visit me in California. It’s crazy to me that some of my closest friends now live halfway across the world, but it also makes me appreciate them–and my friends here at home–even more. I am so grateful for my beloved second family in Franschhoek and for all of the people that made my time at Bridge House so special.
Dankie Suid Afrika, for everything.