I am currently attending Stanford Lake College in South Africa and am having so much fun. My exchange, Mathabo, and I get along very well and have already created a friendship that will last a lifetime.
I met Mathabo and her family on the 14th of July, when we had dinner with Lexi, her exchange family, my parents and my exchange family. From there, we went to Polokwane, where they live. We drove through rural towns, meadows and mountains to get to Polokwane, the capital of Limpopo. When we arrived in the city, I was shocked by the presence of rich neighborhoods and malls placed right next to poor rural places with families living in huts. I experienced many other differences the first few days, but it soon became normal to drive on the left side of the road and to convert Fahrenheit to Celsius.
As soon as I saw Stanford’s outdoorsy, close-knit and environmentally friendly campus, I knew that I would love it. We arrived in hostel a night early so that we could move in and I could get to know everyone. I spent that night laughing with friends, learning Sepedi, and comparing our two very different countries. This was a great welcoming to the next six weeks of my life.
I started school the next morning and followed Mathabo to her classes. Everyone went out of their way to introduce themselves to me and to make sure I was comfortable and having fun. I walked into my first class, greeted the teacher as ma’am and stood behind my desk, waiting for the teacher to greet us and allow us to sit down, a concept that is still very new to me. After a few classes, everyone made their way down to the dining hall for tea, which is similar to Athenian’s brief break except they serve tea, coffee and food. At the end of the day, people normally either go to sports practice, go to the gym, or run in the forest. After dinner and chill time, there is a period called prep, where you must be silently doing work in your room. Because I am an exchange student, I am allowed to go to friends’ rooms or do anything I want during this period. That is followed by second prep, and then we can all do whatever we want until bed. I am living in hostel here, which, at first, I was nervous about, but it has been one of the best parts of my exchange. I have gained 20 sisters that I can joke around, feast, and make many memories with. I’m so grateful for this opportunity.
As an American living in California, I am constantly asked, “Do you see celebrities everywhere?” “Do you live in or near Compton?” “You surf, right?” After answering no to all these questions, they proceed to ask, “So, do you like Trump or Clinton?” These stereotypical questions about America have made me realize how much power the US has over the rest of the world, but how many problems we have internally. Before I came here, if someone were to ask me about the South African election, I would have no idea who was running or what was happening, however, if you ask anyone here about the American elections, they know everything that is happening and have developed their own opinions on the issue.
The school is similar to Athenian in many ways, yet extremely different at the same time. The students all wear uniforms, so I stand out very much in my Adidas and Patagonia jacket. One thing that has really surprised me here is the amount of power you have based off your grade. Grade eight’s must collect the trash every morning, while matrics (12th graders) can give strikes for messy rooms, being too loud, or misbehaving. After 3 strikes, you must do early morning, which is normally exercising at 5 in the morning. If you want to shower in the afternoon, you must ask those on your floor that are in the grades above you if you can shower. Although the teachers are addressed as ma’am and sir, the teachers and students have very close relationships, demonstrating one of Athenians core values. The school is not as strict as I was expecting, similar to Athenian. Another parallel between our schools is how eco-friendly and adventure-focused they are. There is a similar excursion to AWE in every grade called Trek, where you must spend 8 days in the forest, with your classmates, learning how to navigate and live in nature.
So far my time outside of school has been full of holding lion cubs, hanging out with friends, and trying traditional South African foods. I have made many friends and memories here that I will never forget and will last a lifetime. I am already dreading the day when I will have to leave, but I can’t wait for the next four weeks!