Justine del Monte departs South Africa
Since my return from exchange I’ve constantly been asked if I miss it. I’d like to say that I miss it with all my heart, but I don’t. Living in South Africa became my way of life. It’s difficult to miss it when I still feel like it hasn’t quite ended yet. I’m dreading the day that I wake up and realize I’m never again going to put on my Bridge House uniform in the morning, and I may never again eat my favorite banana bread from the school’s café.
I learned so much on exchange, both about myself and others. While the fact that I had the opportunity to live in Africa still amazes me, when people ask me what my favorite parts of exchange were, I often think of the things people don’t expect to hear. I loved adventuring around the Western Cape every weekend and exploring the beautiful landscape, but some of my favorite parts were much simpler. On the drive home every day I admired the beautiful orange sunsets, and I loved spending time at home with my host family and my friends from school. Being on exchange made even the most average things special, and it gave me a chance to see what life was like as a normal teenager halfway around the world.
I also had some amazing experiences that I could never find in the Bay Area. Every weekend brought a new adventure and gave me a chance to see the different sides of South Africa. One of the most memorable experiences I had was visiting the local township. These are informal settlements that were mainly formed during the time of apartheid and are the biggest indicators of racial segregation in South Africa. They are also centers for culture and life. We got the chance to visit small schools within the township. Choruses of adorable five year olds sang to us in English, Afrikaans, and Xhosa, and they loved listening to us attempt to speak their local languages. We were able to learn even more about the history of racial segregation, and it gave me a better understanding of what inequality truly is, rather than solely talking about it in a classroom.
Visiting the township was an important part of understanding life in South Africa, but I also loved touring all around Cape Town and exploring Franschhoek Valley. I observed all of the many similarities and differences between the U.S. and South Africa. On the drive to school every morning I passed by beautiful vineyards and farmlands that were quite the opposite to the typical Californian suburbia. Cape Town felt incredibly similar to San Francisco, until I was reminded where I actually was when I looked behind the tall office buildings to see giant mountains in the distance. I loved walking beach side in Camps Bay and listening to the local music, and we often visited the local Waterfront to explore small shops and to eat all of the delicious food Cape Town has to offer. We visited the local aquarium, traveled to the very tip of Africa, and I even visited Robben Island, which was used as a prison during the time of apartheid and is known for its most famous inmate, Nelson Mandela. Last but not least, I did get the chance to pet some adorable cheetahs. I loved going on a safari and seeing all of the incredible animals I thought I would only see in movies.
I could go on and on about my exchange just using cheesy clichés. It truly was the best eight weeks of my life, but I don’t want to feel like my experience only lasted for two months. The great part of exchange is that it actually becomes part of your life. I can still message my South African friends anytime I want, and I’m so incredibly excited for my exchange, Ella, to come visit me in California. It’s crazy to me that some of my closest friends now live halfway across the world, but it also makes me appreciate them–and my friends here at home–even more. I am so grateful for my beloved second family in Franschhoek and for all of the people that made my time at Bridge House so special.
Dankie Suid Afrika, for everything.
Justine del Monte arrives in South Africa
My first two weeks in South Africa have been filled with gorgeous African sunsets, lots of local slang, and an obsessive amount of pictures. Originally I thought I would be incredibly nervous during the beginning of my journey, but as I’ve slowly gotten used to using celsius and converting the local currency to US Dollars, living here has actually been quite comforting. I’m living in a small town about an hour away from Cape Town, called Franschhoek. It’s basically like Napa Valley, but with giant African mountains and these things called “townships”. These townships are the definition of culture shock for many tourists like myself. Townships are underdeveloped communities that are hard to miss, and are definitely a daily reminder that I am no longer in California. Being in Franschhoek Valley makes it very easy to forget that I’m living on an entirely different continent, but every time I drive past the townships or learn more about the history of the apartheid government here in South Africa, I am reminded of the privileges I have from living in the Bay Area.
While I still can’t quite grasp that I’m literally living in Africa and that I’m thousands of miles away from my friends and family, so far exchange has been an amazing experience. I’m living on Ella’s farm, where her family has made efforts to preserve the history of the area. I’ve explored the small town of Franschhoek, visited the local college town of Stellenbosch, and driven down to the main city of Cape Town. We’ve walked all around the city, exploring vintage stores and cute little cafes. This past weekend we even visited Table Mountain, which was incredibly surreal and probably one of the prettiest views I will ever see. During the week I’ve attempted to play netball, an interesting version of basketball, and I even tried learning one of the eleven languages of South Africa called Afrikaans. All of the activities I’ve done have been incredible and have given me the chance to immerse myself in my new South African world, but my favorite part of my adventure so far has been getting to spend time with my exchange and her family and friends.
Living in this new environment has allowed me to learn about myself and others in a way I didn’t think was possible in such a short amount of time. Of course I still can’t pronounce all of the local slang, and I probably will never fully learn how to play netball, but I am so excited for the next couple of weeks ahead me.