Although it seems like I arrived in South Africa just yesterday, my time in this beautiful country has come to an end. These past six weeks have flown by. I am beyond sad to leave my best friends, great experiences, and second home. Saying goodbye to everyone at Stanford has been harder than I ever imagined.
I will forever cherish the memories and friends that I made here, and hope to come back in the future to make even more. This past month and a half have been full of laughing with friends, wandering around the forest and lake, blasting many new songs during prep, trying lots of new food, and so many experiences that I will never forget.
A few highlights of my trip were adventuring around Cape Town, seeing many animals in Kruger that I would otherwise only see in a zoo, the social, 40 days (basically their version of senior prank day), and creating friendships and memories to last a lifetime. I spent a weekend in Cape Town with Mathabo and her family. Cape Town reminded me a lot of San Francisco, as it is on the water and the city itself has lots of character. We went to Robben Island to visit the cell where Mandela stayed for nearly 30 years, Table Mountain, Kirstenbosch Gardens, and many more exciting places around the city. The next weekend, we drove to Kruger National Park and saw lions, elephants, giraffes, warthogs, snakes, hippos and more.
Before I left for exchange, I thought that saying goodbye to my family and friends at home would be the hardest part of exchange. I was wrong. The hardest part of exchange has been saying goodbye to my friends in South Africa because I don’t know when I will see them again. I am saying goodbye to people that have given me unforgettable experiences, laughs and memories. I am so lucky to call them my best friends. I underestimated how painful and sad it is to say farewell to the people I have grown so close to in the past few weeks, but I can’t wait to hopefully see them again.
The culture there is very different from at home. It has become the norm for me and adjusting to life back at home has been very weird and hard. One major difference is that people’s academic success is more public. Some teachers announce grades from the front of the class. You get badges, ribbons and different colored uniforms based on how well you are doing in school. In some ways there are many more rules there, but in other ways there are more at Athenian. Everyone is extremely friendly and open to learning about new cultures. The students are very environmentally focused and always down for adventure. South Africa has welcomed me with open arms and I am forever grateful for this opportunity.
Applying for exchange was one of the best decisions I ever made. I highly recommend it for any freshman or sophomore with the opportunity. Through learning new languages, living with people I just met a few weeks ago, experiencing things much different than in the US, and creating lifelong friends, I have become a much more independent, open and accepting person. As I look back on this experience, I realize how lucky I am to have had this opportunity and I thank everyone who made it the best six weeks of my life.