Sophie Eckstein

Traveling to South Africa has been a roller coaster of emotions. I arrived in SA with my family nine days before the school’s winter term started. We saw vast canyons, Lucky’s potholes, animals while on safari, and the enormous Victoria Falls. A quick peak into the touristy side of Africa let me know that there was loads more fun to come.

The first day without my parents was scary, but the sweetest thing happened to me. That night instead of being alone in the boarding house with no family or friends, a group of girls from the 10th grade invited me out to dinner. That simple gesture was the first of many and the start of my exchange.  It took a while to adjust to the boarding house because of all the rules, but it also allowed me to bond with the other exchanges. The first week was really interesting and a huge surprise to me. There are currently four other exchanges who I have become close with (from Canada, Australia, Japan and Scotland). Jhana, Katie and I had to participate in a fashion show and attend practices in the very beginning of our exchange. It was a lot to be thrown at us not knowing anyone and have to strut down a stage, but we all got the hang of it and soon were having just as much fun as the other girls.

Along with the differences in rules in the boarding house, I’ve noticed differences in cultures. I sometimes disagree politically with people here in SA, but it’s helped me acknowledge my bias. The school culture is also a bit different. Athenian and St. Cyprians both want strong bonds with teachers, but here there seems to be a clear line between grades. The main differences are that it’s an all-girls school and a lot of the students speak Afrikaans.

My favorite part of exchange so far has been the Red Bus. My host and the other exchanges got on this huge double decker bus and rode around in the top half. It was quite windy, but I was able to talk to Mila (my host) and see the city. I was able to see spider monkeys, cute penguins, beautiful gardens, and pretty mountains all in one day. Another highlight was going to Boulders Beach and Cape Point. The beach is a national park and it is filled with penguins. Being a few feet away from adorable baby penguins was incredible. Afterwards we drove to Cape Point, where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet. While there I saw an ostrich farm right as the sun set.

Another one of my favorite weekends was when a girl invited all the exchanges and some of her friends to her beach house in the Grotto. Their beach house was amazing and right near a national park. I was able to see giraffes and the beach in one day. On a weekend the school hosted for exchanges, we were able to go to the Aquilo Reserve and see lions and rhinos. After the safari we went zip-lining over rushing rivers and along the mountain. That weekend also helped all the exchanges get to know each other really well.

Along with the amazing sites, I’ve been able to meet so many amazing people. It’s been so fun learning the lingo South Africans use and just what it’s like living in Cape Town. Despite being worried about the food in South Africa (since I am vegetarian), my host family has been really helpful with giving me meat substitutes and making sure I never go hungry. The only difficult thing to cope with is my sleeping habits. In the summer I normally wake up really late and I’ve had to wake up early for the busy weekends, but it’s been well worth it considering all the places I have seen.  I’ve been here for seven weeks now and I would definitely recommend going on exchange. Even if you’re more introverted like me, it’s an amazing experience.