Studying abroad in South Africa

By: Essence Buckman, Staff Writer

With only a few weeks left of my study abroad program, I have so much to reflect on. Since last time I have had two more homestays and have begun working on my independent study project (ISP). One homestay was with a white Afrikaaner family.

Before starting this homestay, my class and our advisors had a debriefing. We spoke about the possible microaggressions and other issues of cultural difference that we would face living with people whose ancestors are known to have a history of oppressing South Africans of color. This conversation was also extremely relevant because the tension between the white classmates and classmates of color was at its highest point. The students of color and other marginalized identities confronted our white classmates about the microaggressions that we had faced from them.

I was lucky enough to be partnered up with another black woman in my class for this homestay, which was helpful in navigating the experience. The family was nice and the only uncomfortable thing about the stay was that their charwoman (cleaning woman) and gardener were the only other black people around. However, I didn’t feel any connection with this family, which could be because I spent most of my time working on a paper and didn’t feel any warmth or connection like I did in my favorite homestay.

My last homestay was with the same classmate in Bo Kaap, a predominately Muslim and colored neighborhood. We had a full house: a host mom, two host sisters, three host brothers, so many cats and another homestay student from Saudi Arabia who lived nearby. Oddly, this Muslim family also had a black housekeeper, which surprised me.

This homestay was hard because I lost my great grandmother at the beginning of it. I was devastated that I couldn’t be with my family during that time. I was already having a difficult time adjusting to this homestay, so hearing the news about my Gma Lulu’s passing while I’m so far away was overbearing. However, I felt like I had to keep a brave face and finish what I came to South Africa to do.

Regardless, the family was great to be around and I ended up really enjoying myself. Yet, my classmates and I still felt that, because we had multiple papers due back to back and weren’t able to spend as much time with the families, the bonds we formed were more shallow than they had been in the first few homestays. This homestay was the last one before we moved into our own housing to work on the month-long ISP.

I am currently in the process of conducting research for my ISP. The topic of my project is upward, occupational mobility experienced by black women in Capetown. This project is more than a requirement because it has personal meaning. I am on the same path as the women I have interviewed. I had a hard time finding any background research on my topic, which encouraged me even more in wanting to give my participants a voice they haven’t previously had. After this project is finished, I’ll have a week left before heading back to the U.S.

It’s hard to articulate this whole experience because I have no words or decided explanation yet. Indescribable; that’s all I can say. Am I walking away with a new mindset? Definitely. Am I walking away challenged and more knowledgeable? Yes. Am I walking away stronger? Of course.

Every limit that could be pushed was jolted. I never expected to be so blind-sighted by this experience. I’m surprised I’m saying this, but it’s time for me to return home. I have differences to make.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *