My exchange experience has been very unique and it has only just begun. I had already hosted Gia, my exchange, so I knew what to expect. I knew that we did not connect very well and did not have much in common. I was closer to Ethan, another student from St. George’s who was Hudson’s exchange so my relationship with my host had the potential to be awkward. Hudson and I flew together to South Africa and 33 long hours later we arrived. At the arrivals gate in Cape Town, I immediately recognized a familiar face, but it was not my exchange, it was Hudson’s. I frantically looked around for Gia, but with no luck, I went to greet Ethan and his family. After 30 panicked minutes later, thinking the worst about what happened to them, they arrived. Not the perfect start to my exchange that I imagined, but I was thankful to be there.
Driving to their house we passed one of the biggest townships in Cape Town. It is impossible to describe the feeling that I got when I saw it for the first time. I had seen videos before but nothing can prepare you for seeing them in person. As we arrived in Gia’s neighborhood, I suddenly noticed something different. Every house had a huge fence with either barbed wire or a small electrical fence on top. A huge change, unlike anything I had seen before. At his house, I was delighted to see that I had my own room and bathroom, which is an upgrade from my house. The only problem was that my room was on the other side of the house from where they spent most of their time, which led to me feeling somewhat isolated. The good news is that Gia’s sisters and mom are outgoing and very friendly and often invite me to spent time with them.
In the first few days, it became very clear that my family was special. They were immigrants from Italy and were very aware that they were treated differently because of that. It was obvious when we went out in public to restaurants or stores. Yet at school, the kids did not seem to care about any of that. They were fascinated with the American lifestyle. The first few days Hudson and I were like zoo animals, standing in the middle of a circle of twenty kids firing questions at us. It was exhausting meeting so many new people and the first few days flew by.
About a week later it was Mandela Day, which was something that I was unaware of. It is on his birthday and people are supposed to do 67 minutes making the world a better place, having each minute represent one year that Mandela did. For our grade that meant going to daycare and watching kids for a while. It was super impactful for me to watch after these kids in this building in a crazy neighborhood. Many of them didn’t talk and were very shy because of their situations at home, but when they opened up they were very fun. The 67 minutes flew by and all of the teachers were thankful for their break. The next day we went on yet another outing. It was easy for them because their class is so small and because of this, they are very close.
School has been very easy because I knew some students there before I arrived, but home has been more difficult. When we get home Gia and his sisters have homework and his Mom has work, so I often find myself alone in a seemingly empty house. Because of this, I have spent most of my time in my room. I have made an effort to go as many places as possible, be it dropping his sister at dance or running errands to the store.
English is not my host family’s first language, and they wouldn’t be speaking it if I was not staying in their house. They have made an effort to speak English but this has led to some strange situations because if they switch to Italian and I have no idea what they’re talking about. It can be frustrating not being able to understand what is happening. I hope as these weeks continue our communication gets better.
My exchange so far has not been perfect, but I have learned so much from it. The resourcefulness that they have here is something that I think we could learn from. To them nothing is broken and useless, it just needs to be fixed. My family doesn’t have a barbecue, but that’s fine; they just make a fire out of sticks from their tree and use the coals to cook their food. It has allowed me to realize how easy we have it in America.
In these next few weeks, I hope that I continue to have a good time, see more of the city, and strengthen my relationship with my host family. I have loved all of the time that I have spent here. Although it has not been perfect, I have made it the best I can.