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Greetings from Cape Town! After a long thirty hours of traveling, I glanced out the plane window and saw the beautiful overlook of Cape Town. Clouds hung in the sky and the city that I would soon call my home was lit up with glinting lights. I smiled to myself and took a deep breath, more than ready to begin my six-week adventure.
I flew from Los Angeles to Amsterdam because my exchange was traveling across Europe and was going to meet me there. Their plane wasn’t supposed to land for another eight hours, however, so I stayed in the unaccompanied minor lounge until they arrived. My exchange, Chloé Geldenhuys, and I hugged tightly, and I was embraced in a big hug from her parents, Vanessa and Stuart. Her mother asked me to call her “V,” and I immediately felt comfortable with her because she became personal. We had a nice dinner, a hot shower, and a long sleep, and the next day, we hopped on a plane to Johannesburg. After we landed in Johannesburg, we drove to Stu’s mother’s house and stayed there for the night. In the morning, we headed to Pretoria, South Africa’s capital, to apply for a Swiss visa for Chloé. Unfortunately, coming to the United States was not possible for her, so she decided to study abroad in Switzerland for a few months. After having a nice lunch, we hopped on a plane to Cape Town, landed, met some friends, and went to a small party. I was overwhelmed by hugs when I arrive, and I realized that hugging was their traditional way of greeting people in South Africa. It made me feel very welcome! We were exhausted, but it was worth it for me to meet some of her classmates and friends from outside of school!
I arrived in Cape Town about two-and-a-half weeks ago, but this is the beginning of my second week at St. Cyprian’s. It is very different from Athenian. It is an all-girls school, the uniforms are very strict, no makeup is allowed, there can only be one earring in each ear, and you must wear your hair up if it is below the collar of your shirt.
As an exchange, on school days I am required to stay at Katherine House, which is St. Cyprian’s boarding house. Usually, the students are grouped by grade into one big room, but every girl has their own small room that has a door, so they are separated from everyone else but can still talk to one another. Another exchange student and I are an exception, however, as we have our own separate room with two beds and two closets. It is upsetting sometimes to be separated from the others because we have all become friends, but it is also nice because they are quite loud and it sometimes difficult to fall asleep with all the noise.
The boarders have an exclusive set of rules as well, which includes signing out before leaving. Even if we are just going outside of Katherine House to say hello to a friend, we must place our hand on a fingerprint sensor to be let out of the boarding house. We have to be out of the bathrooms and friend’s dorms by 9:45 pm and must have lights out by 10:00 pm. All meals are mandatory, and if you are not at a meal at a certain time or don’t show up, you will be punished. Breakfast is from 7:00-7:25 am and dinner is at 5:30 pm.
There is also a very nice common room in Katherine House that has a pool table, air hockey table, two large bean bags, and a huge kitchen where we can help ourselves to juice, tea, hot chocolate, coffee, and biscuits every day. It is opened immediately after we get home from classes at 2:40 pm and closes at 9:40 pm.
The classes are much more relaxed at St. Cyprian’s than they are at Athenian, which is strange because one would think they would be harder due to the many rules and strict requirements. Over the period of the week-and-a-half that I’ve been here, I haven’t seen any teachers assign homework or seen my exchange do any homework or even talk about it.
Each student is also required to do a sport. Chloé is very into field hockey and is on the first team at St. Cyprians. In the Geldenhuys household, every Saturday consists of waking up early and driving 45 minutes to an hour to get to a hockey match. I watched my first one this weekend, and it was very entertaining, considering they only play ice hockey in the United States and not even in California! I was considering doing netball as my sport, but since volleyball is so important to me, Ms. Bilski, the exchange coordinator, decided that it was fine for me to do my own independent training to prepare for the season awaiting me when I arrive back home.
Chloé and her family were very welcoming when I came. When Chloé is not playing hockey, she is hanging out with her friends or boyfriend. She is very social, and she has introduced me to a new way of life that is not very familiar to me. People in my age group in Cape Town rarely hang out with just a few people. They like to mingle in big groups for very long periods of time. The other night, Chloé wanted to stay out at a party for almost nine hours! The Geldenhuys live in the beautiful town of Camps Bay, and you can see the ocean from their living room. They have two big dogs, Bilbo and Layla. Unfortunately, both of them were injured while the family was away on holiday. I don’t get to stay at their house during the week, which I miss, but it is also nice staying with the other exchanges in the boarding house and meeting people from around the world.
My first couple of weeks at St. Cyprian’s have been very busy. The grade ten girls and a few teachers are preparing for a big fashion show that has been in the making for several months now. It is done every year to raise money for the Matric Dance. Matrics are known as seniors in the United States, and it is seen as a great privilege and honor to be one. They wear different colored sweaters and must be let into the classroom first as a sign of respect. They have their own dorm and separate gathering room in the boarding house, which is a tribute to their hard work. We have been busy selling tickets and having three-hour practices every day to make sure that the show is as great as it can be. The students in the design class, which I am taking right now, had to make their own outfits for their scenes, which seemed like a pretty impressive project. In design, we are currently working on a project where we have to buy a cheap house on land that we like, renovate it, and build a model out of cardboard. We can spend no more than four million rand total, or $293,470 USD. Supposedly, it will cost 800 rand, or $58.69 USD a day to pay for workers to build the house.
Until the end of my stay, I will be taking Design, Biology, Consumers, Life Science, Life Orientation, P.E., Mathematics, and English. I am very excited to learn more every day! I can’t wait to spend the next month at St. Cyprian’s and embrace this new culture that I admire more and more every day.