I knew I wanted to take English classes related to my major when the time came for me to study abroad, so the obvious choice for a semester program seemed to lie in England or Ireland. But when I looked over the cost sheets, the price range was definitely too large for my budget. I began to feel discouraged; it had been my plan for a long time to study abroad in college. Luckily, a conversation with a study abroad advisor changed my mind. She suggested a program I hadn’t considered: Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa. At first, like many Geneseo students would be, I was wary because I knew very little about South Africa besides the history of apartheid. I picked the program anyway, however, and I was en route to South Africa by July of 2013.
It was the right choice. For around five months, I lived in an all-girls dorm called Beit House and took classes on the Rhodes campus. I ate in the dining hall with South Africans from around the country, and we got to know one another over plates of vetkoeks and meat pies. Oh, and we drank plenty of rooibos tea. The temperature was generally around 70 degrees, and it wasn’t uncommon to see students strolling barefoot around the brick-laid pathways of campus.
Life was slower and sunnier than it is here in Geneseo, but my classes were fascinating. Imagine reading William Faulkner in a South African classroom, listening to an Afrikaans professor emotionally reciting a poem from the Boer Wars or watching theater students act in multi-lingual plays about apartheid. I was constantly surrounded by different languages––IsiXhosa clicks, rolled Afrikaans “r” s and English “Cheers!” all in unison in one room.
In my spare time, I explored the small city of Grahamstown. The town was a mixture of people, activities, grocery stores, street markets and Indian restaurants all separated by just a few blocks. On the weekends, I would visit the beautiful beaches where you could watch whales jump in the distance, or I would go on cheap drive-yourself safaris with other exchange students. On some of these rides, I saw elephants, zebra, lions, rhinos, hippos and other game animals such as kudu and springboks.
Over spring break, we went on a 10-day drive to visit Cape Town via the famous Garden Route, which traces the southern coast of South Africa. While in Cape Town, we visited Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned and took a gondola up Table Mountain. We drove to the Cape of Good Hope, saw penguins at Boulders Beach, and went on a wine tour in Stellenbosch.
Returning home was bittersweet. I still miss the friends I made at Rhodes, and in winter weather I miss studying outside in the sun. What made the transition back easier was becoming a study abroad mentor here at Geneseo. I get to tell my story and encourage other students to find their own journey toward study abroad.