So you’re an international semester abroad exchange student in South Africa, or maybe you’ve always wondered what it would be like, too afraid to take that first step of sending in your application forms. This is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure that could open your eyes to an academic experience you never knew existed, and for Brice Smith this has become his new world.
Nothing could have prepared Brice for the drastic transition which he faced during his time at the University of Cape Town in the first semester of 2012. He admits: “You’re not really ready even when you’re here. You have to really adapt.”
Brice worked through an agency called CIEE (Council on International Education Exchange) and they were tasked with creating a program for him and 280 other American students in Cape Town ultimately geared towards helping them reach greater independence as young people in a foreign country. He says “after a short period of time some were victims of crime, people had their flats broken into, friends from Boston College had their house broken into.” The discussion between CIEE and the other semester abroad agencies was how they should better prepare Americans before coming to South Africa, and so making it easier for them to come to terms with the radical culture shock that inevitably awaited them. Brice says that they didn’t do enough to assist him with the cross-over from Pennsylvania State University to UCT.
“I had an issue with academics. That was the shock to me how Americans could achieve a hundred, while here the highest you can achieve is a seventy five. So, I had an issue with adjusting and I remember failing my first science exam and that was devastating to me because that was the first exam that I ever failed in college, so I felt very lost. I can’t exactly remember CIEE’s position; I don’t think CIEE wanted me to drop below the minimum credit line of fifteen credits.”
Brice was forced to be self-resilient and become far more independent than what would have been expected of him back in the States. “You have to take this on yourself to get out of your comfort zone and make new friends, by embracing new cultures and deal with many issues. People say that studying abroad isn’t for everyone, but I guess you’ll never really know until you get there.”
Brice, now a post-graduate student at UCT in the law faculty, is gripped by the great need for social justice in South Africa which he never would have witnessed first-hand if not for his half year stint in Cape Town in 2012. This is the path he has chosen and is eager to practice law in a country which has a young democracy ripe for change.
An essential element to any international student coming to Southern Africa is taking time out of the rigorous academic side of the exchange program and exploring this land’s many facets of natural beauty. Michael Gathercole, founder of 2 Way Travel- an international student travel agency in Cape Town, explains that “the travel experience is richer when it is more interactive. If you’re an American and you don’t meet a single South African while staying here you’re actually not getting the full experience. It’s much more enriching if you can meet and engage with local South Africans.”
2 Way Travel’s most popular package is the overland camping safari from Botswana to Victoria Falls. They have taken over a thousand American exchange students from UCT to Botswana and Victoria Falls. The tendency nowadays though is to just go online instead of booking your travel arrangements through a tour operator, but Gathercole concludes that “the one good reason why you should use [2 Way Travel] is that you will have a personal contact point while in Cape Town.”
If you’re from UCT and are interested in studying abroad contact IAPO (International Academic Programmes Office) on their website- http://www.uct.ac.za/about/iapo/overview/welcome/
For application forms about becoming a semester abroad exchange student in South Africa, visit CIEE (Council on International Educational Exchange) on their website here- http://www.ciee.org/study-abroad/