Mary Cottrill is in South Africa

After two long days of travelling, I arrived in South Africa on July 21st. I was pleasantly greeted by my exchange, her mom, and her best friend. The first initial change I saw from California was that they drive on the left side of the road. The car ride from the Cape Town airport to my home for the next six weeks was one I will never forget. The whole car ride I was looking out the window taking in all the new, beautiful views. I was amazed by the mountains we were surrounded by and how they differed from those in California. Along the highway I continued to see farms and vineyards up until my exchange’s house.

My first three days were the hardest because everything was new. I was still settling into the fact that I was across the world form all my friends and family, and at the same time I was being introduced to a whole new culture and family. My first day of school was very overwhelming. I was meeting so many new people in a short amount of time and Bridge House is so different from Athenian. Two differences from Athenian I immediately noticed were how the students referred to their teachers as Ma’am and Sir, as well as how they wore uniforms. It took me about a week to settle into the school and find my way around because the campus is bigger than the Athenian campus.

I have been staying in a small town called Franschhoek, which is only about 15 minutes away from my school. The town isn’t drastically different from Danville, but there are some differences I’ve seen. The town is much smaller than Danville and everything is within walking distance. It also has more extreme differences between poverty and wealth. Within a minute driving down the main road you can see a township, showing extreme poverty, and then an expensive restaurant ranked top ten in South Africa. It has been very eye opening to see the extremes of both poverty and wealth in such a small area, and how people in the community are continuously helping each other.

So far, I have been able to climb Lions Head and Table Mountain, which were both a lot of fun. Unfortunately, when we climbed Lions Head the fog was very bad so there wasn’t much of a view, but we still made the most out of the situation. I have explored Cape Town, gone on a sunset boat ride, and driven to Hout Bay to go to a famous market. I have enjoyed seeing these different parts of South Africa and embracing the culture and traditions.

Exchange as a whole has been the most amazing experience of my life. It wasn’t easy at first–in fact, it was very hard–but in the end it has helped me to become a better person. I am more confident in myself after having to make new friendships with people I had never met before and coming alone to a country across the world. Being alone throughout this experience has allowed me to learn a lot about myself that I couldn’t without exchange. I have learned to enjoy every moment, no matter how small, and not to be afraid to do things out of my comfort zone.

It might seem scary to leave home all alone and travel to another country, but I highly recommend going on exchange because it is such an amazing experience you can grow from. I have made friendships that I will never forget and will cherish forever. I have been so lucky to have such an amazing exchange experience and amazing exchange partner to experience it with. South Africa and the people here have changed my life. I will never forget the things I have learned and the people I have met.

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