Tuesday, January 31, 2012

So this is Africa

Hello everyone!  Sorry that my first post took so long to get up here.  It took awhile to get internet, and then I’ve been so busy that the only time I'm in my flat is for socializing or sleeping!  I typed up my first post in a Word document last week, so here it is!

Tuesday January 24, 2012

“Guys, we're in AFRICA!!!”  I’ve heard and said this about a million times today.  It’s so crazy that after months of brochures, applications, planning, packing, and everything else, we’re really here.  Stellenbosch is BEAUTIFUL, even more beautiful than I thought it would be.  We got in around 1 AM this morning, so it was pitch black.  When we walked out of our building today, we were in for a grand surprise.  There are mountains EVERYWHERE.  I thought the Adirondacks and the Green Mountains were gorgeous, which they are, but nothing compares to how incredible Stellenbosch’s mountains are.  They pop up out of nowhere, surrounding the city with beauty.  The campus itself is huge, which is going to be interesting to navigate, coming from such a tiny campus at home.  Today we had a mini orientation for AIFS.  Mainly it showed that AIFS is the best program ever.  We get priority on so many things, like our student cards for instance.  We also have amazing excursions, many which are paid for by AIFS.  They’re paying for us to see Freshlyground in March!  I had been listening to them a lot before I came.  They’re the backup band in Waka Waka (which has been stuck in my head alllll day – this time for Afrika!) and they also have cute videos; check this one out!

We cooked dinner together as a flat for the first time today, adorable.  My flatmates are Shana, Hallie, and Brooke.  They’re all wonderful!  None of us are exactly chefs, but we did a pretty great job!  We made spaghetti and meatballs in a yummy (store-bought) sauce, with some veggies on the side.  After we made dinner, we went out in Stellenbosch for the first time.  Our student advisor, Janien, drove us to town so that we could learn the “green route.”  The green route is patrolled 24/7, and is the safest way for us to walk around Stellenbosch.  We fit 27 people in a 14 passenger van, in true South African fashion.  Here they have mini bus taxis that don’t leave until they’re full, and usually they have many extra passengers.  People also ride around in the beds of pickup trucks all the time.  Most things about South African driving are completely different from America.  For one thing, they’re on the opposite side of the road.  And while the pace of life here is quite leisurely, their driving is INSANE.  Stop signs are apparently optional, and we’ve all come pretty close to getting hit by cars.  Sometimes they speed up when you’re crossing the street to get you to hurry, nice adrenaline rush there.

So we finally got downtown, and had a blast!  Even on a Tuesday night there are tons of people out in Stellenbosch.  It’s a great college town.  We went to a place called Bohemia first, where we will probably be spending a lot of time.  Then we went to dance at Mystic’s, which plays dubstep after midnight.  We celebrated Raemy’s 21st birthday tonight too!  It was awesome getting to know all the other Americans in my program.  Everyone seems really cool and like the kind of people I would have hand-picked to go abroad with!  It’s also great getting to talk to locals and other foreigners – everyone is SO NICE here that there is always someone new starting up a conversation.  So far, I LOVE South Africa!!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Why I Chose to Study Abroad!

I've always wanted to study abroad, and Saint Mike's makes it extraordinarily easy to do so, so perhaps this post would be better titled, "Why I Chose to Study Abroad in Stellenbosch, South Africa."  I honestly always pictured myself studying abroad in Italy, living in the land of my ancestors (my full name is Samantha Montana Francesca Giglio; don't let my red hair fool ya!).  When I picked up my Sociology/Anthropology major at SMC, I was informed that students on the Anthropology track (which is the track I'm on) are required to study in a non-western country.  I jumped at the chance to go somewhere more exotic than Europe, especially seeing as I've already been to Italy with my parents and I'm sure we'll return in the near future, and was also excited that this requirement would gently force my parents to allow me to go somewhere that they may have not normally regarded as acceptable (read: safe for their only child and somewhere they could easily visit).  

After months of looking through study abroad brochures, spending plenty of time in the study abroad office, researching cities and universities, and talking to professors and fellow students, my advisor (hope you're reading this Ari!) suggested that I go to Stellenbosch, South Africa.  He had had students that had done this program in the past and absolutely loved it.  Since he has always given me great advice, I went back to the study abroad office to talk to Peggy Imai about it.  Peggy knows EVERYTHING there is to know about study abroad programs, and she easily tracked down the provider of the program Ari had told me about.  It was AIFS, American Institute of Foreign Study.  

As I looked through the AIFS Stellenbosch booklet, I immediately fell in love with the program.  It had everything I wanted - an incredible service learning course that would allow me to work with South African children, getting to see Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned, hikes, wine tours, beaches with penguins, even A SAFARI. The list doesn't stop there - I have to save some surprises so you keep reading!

The program is a really important part of the study abroad process - there are a ton of countries that I would love to go to for a semester, but this program through AIFS was by far the best one for me.  As far as the country itself goes, South Africa seems absolutely AMAZING. It's incredibly beautiful, with mountains and oceans and just about everything in between. Everyone that has been there cannot say enough about the kind, welcoming people of the country. There is ample opportunity for hiking and other outdoor activities, as well as gorgeous sites to see.  I hear there is great shopping too, yay! And of course, culture.  I will be volunteering in a township school surrounded by poverty, which is something I’ve always imagined myself doing.  South Africa has a tumultuous history, which is terribly sad, but also quite interesting.  While I’ve been reading up on the Zulu Wars, Apartheid, the AIDS epidemic, and other parts of South Africa’s turbulent past and present, nothing will compare to learning about these things in the very setting in which they took place.

After all of this thinking, I'm sure that South Africa is the perfect place for me to spend the next five months!  This weekend I am off to a beautiful country to have the experience of a lifetime, and the next time I update my blog, I'll be in South Africa!!