Ten Pieces of Advice for Studying Abroad in Stellenbosch, South Africa

Categories: Uncategorized

by Madison File

1. Take a Few Days to Adjust to the New Environment: If you have never studied abroad before, or even if you have, it is important to give yourself grace on the first few days as you orient yourself to the new environment which you will be living in for an extended period of time. At every location you study abroad to, there will be some sort of degree of culture shock associated, compared to living in the United States. While in Stellenbosch, I had to give myself about a day and a half to become oriented to this new place and the weather patterns (sometimes rainy in the winter) and then I was ready to explore! Most programs abroad are designed to give you a little time to adjust before jumping into course material!

2. Connect with the Locals!  Stellenbosch, South Africa was filled with some of the sweetest people I have ever met, always willing to have a conversation with you or give you some good recommendations while abroad! Always take a few minutes out of your day to connect to people around whether it be the coffee shop staff, students within your classes, or people you may pass while walking on the street. The Student Union at the University had a coffee shop called “My Brew” which had the most delicious cappuccinos for only 1 USD. My favorite part of each morning before class was talking with the staff at the coffee shop and asking them about how their day was going and they would always love to hear about mine.

3. Take an Excursion to Cape Town & Visit Table Mountain: Cape Town, South Africa is most likely the city where you will be flying into when arriving in South Africa. The approximate distance from Cape Town to Stellenbosch is about a 45-minute drive (driving on the opposite side of the road than in the United States)! If you have a chance while at Stellenbosch, go explore the city of Cape Town! There are a lot of cool activities to do and one of the most notable attractions is Table Mountain! This mountain is located at an elevation of 3,563 feet and the peak can be reached by either hiking a rather strenuous trail or taking the cable cart up. The view at the top gives a great view of the entire Cape Town city! Before going to visit Table Mountain, make sure to check the weather if you go during the winter (our summer) to make sure that it won’t be foggy on that day so you can actually see the city below.

4. Step Outside of your Comfort Zone and Try New Things! Studying abroad in a different country can often be daunting, but it is important to realize that the reason you are there is to immerse yourself in a new culture while learning more information. Therefore, it is important to expand your horizons and try new things whether that be hiking, a new activity, or food. While studying abroad, I hiked the Lions Head trail, located beside Table Mountain, which turned out to be a fairly strenuous hike. However, the hiking was totally worth it once I got to the top and saw the aerial view of the coast off Cape Town, South Africa. Top 5 views of my life for sure!

5. Find a Balance Between the Studying and Abroad Aspects: While in Stellenbosch, it is important to make sure that you keep up with your academics and grades because you are utilizing these studying abroad credits toward your major at Charlotte. However, it is also important to note that creating time to immerse yourself in the area you are in is also extremely important to fully get the most out of your experience. While in South Africa in 2023, I would try to get most of my assignments completed at least a few days in advance, so I would not have tight deadlines for the day-of incase I wanted to go out in town to grab dinner or hang out with some friends! Staying ahead of your classes while abroad is definitely the way to go in order to get the most out of your experience!

6. Prepare for Load Shedding & Pack Proper Equipment: South Africa does not currently have a stable power grid consistently, resulting in the phenomenon of Load Shedding. Load Shedding is when the country of South Africa experiences power outages, usually at a daily rate, because of the higher-than-expected demand for electricity than what the major grid can store. Load Shedding occurs for different lengths of time based on your location in South Africa. While I was there during the Summer of 2023, we would experience these power outages ranging from 6-14 hours each day. It is not as scary as it sounds because you will quickly learn how to adjust your routine in order to accommodate this occurrence. Most of the dorms and buildings associated with the University have backup generators which will restore some light and power when this occurs. However, it is important to be in a residence hall when load shedding occurs at night, because the streets of downtown Stellenbosch will turn pitch black. There is an app you will download upon arrival that gives approximate times for this to occur so you can be knowledgeable and prepared and also make sure you have a flashlight handy, and your phone fully charged before these outages occur! After the first few times, it was something I had adjusted to and was not by any means difficult to work around.

7. Be Aware of Your Surroundings and Location: While abroad in South Africa I never ran into any issues regarding safety, but I also always watched my surroundings closely and kept personal belongings close to me. This is not meant to scare but more for education, as certain safety facts are important no matter where you are going abroad, just like while you are in the United States. During orientation the first few days, one of the faculty members at Stellenbosch University took my group around the campus, helping us to get oriented, but also showing us areas that we should avoid whether that be in groups or alone. It is important to pay attention to and absorb these safety facts! Furthermore, as mentioned above, it is always better to stay in your room during load shedding at night or grab dinner and get back before load shedding occurs. Also, traveling in groups is always preferred to ensure your safety!

8. Love Chocolate? Make Sure to Visit Morro Chocolate Shop! Within a five-minute walking distance from Stellenbosch University is a chocolate shop called Morro! It was located in the central downtown area and was the most beautiful store! All around the counter were fountains that poured out rich, dark chocolate. The chocolate I had here was definitely the best chocolate I have ever tried in my life! Morro had hot chocolate options crafted with this chocolate and a large gelato selection! The price of these chocolate desserts was less than $3 and was definitely a weekly stop for my group while abroad!

9. Go Visit Robben Island! Robben Island is located about a 40-minute boat ride outside of Cape Town, South Africa. This island is where Nelson Mandela was held during his imprisonment for leading the African National Congress (ANC) which opposed apartheid policies that kept South Africans segregated. The tour guide that delivered our tour on the island was actually a man who had been imprisoned when Robben Island held inmates, giving us first-hand information of his time there. While very sad to imagine Robben Island being used as a prison, for those such as Nelson Mandela, it was extremely interesting to learn more about the place and even take a tour of where Mandela was imprisoned for the length of his sentence.

10. You are in South Africa… So Go on a Safari! South Africa has a plethora of animals that can been seen by going on a safari! My program organized a 2-day safari experience for us through the Aquila Private Game Reserve. We were able to stay overnight and then go out for an evening and morning safari. During this experience, I was able to see lions, giraffes, hippos, ostriches, and the cutest baby rhinos. When on the evening safari, we took a brief stop and were able to get out of the car in order to enjoy some snacks and drinks provided as a half-way point on the safari. While the snack tray was sitting out on the stone, a baboon came over and started snacking! It was such an interesting experience to be that close to a baboon who clearly did not mind being close to people! However, I think my favorite part of the safari was seeing the lions and getting so close to them! They are extremely beautiful animals!