Section: archive

Notes from Abroad: South Africa

By Jane Simonton

It was a cold, gray afternoon this past March when I knocked on the door of writer-in-residence P.F. Kluge’s office to request a teacher recommendation for my study abroad program. He agreed, but scoffed as he wished me fun on my “junior year vacation.”

A few months later I was off, spending the fall in Cape Town, South Africa, studying multiculturalism and human rights. Professor Kluge’s words echoed in my head when I stepped off the plane in Cape Town six weeks ago.

It was nearly sunset, so the whole city was awash in an orange glow, and as we drove into the city in a minibus, blasting music from the radio and ogling the magnitude of Table Mountain, I could hardly believe I was actually here to study, and not just to spend the semester playing and enjoying the manifold natural beauties and tourist attractions.

Despite the ads I see everywhere for wine tours and shark diving, the strictness of my schedule frequently reminds me of my serious intent.

I wake up every morning at 6 a.m., board my bus at 7 a.m., arrive to the gym by 7:40 a.m., work out, settle in class by 9 a.m., break for lunch at 12:30 p.m ラ during which I thoroughly appreciate the abundance of avocados here ラ return to school by 2 p.m., go home at 5:30 p.m., arrive home ラ in Langa Township, an all-black area of Cape Town ラ by 6 p.m. and spend the better part of the evening either doing homework, playing cards with my 11-year-old sisi or watching Generations, South Africa’s favorite soap opera, with my family.

Most of my classes are various seminars dealing with topics of multiculturalism and human rights, which I feel Kenyon prepared me for well.

My only non-seminar class is the Xhosa language, which involves frequent tongue clicks.

The clicks are much harder to pick up on than I expected, but I’m having a lot of fun learning. Part of the School of International Training’s approach to study is “experiential learning,” which means I spend a fair portion of class time on field trips to museums, local schools, non-profit organizations and more.

Once, we were just dropped off in the city with a task to complete as a way to familiarize ourselves with the city.

My group got pretty lost, but I really know my way around the museum district now.

Part of the “experiential learning” process requires spending lots of time in our neighborhood with the people who live there.

So, I spent my first Thursday in Langa watching an African prophet prepare to perform miracles. A friend in my program’s host mama ラ a very religious woman ラ decided my friend’s relationship needed to be prayed for, so she collected pictures of my friend and her boyfriend, and brought us to a cafeteria-like room packed with people.

The other attendees had brought tokens as well ラ photos, bank statements, jewelry and anything else they decided represented what they needed a miracle for.

The tokens lined the room, and as everyone around us prayed frantically and loudly in Xhosa, singing songs and shouting to God, the prophet walked the aisleways of the room, praying over everyone’s tokens, wishing miracles upon them. Word on the street is that she hasn’t fallen through on a miracle yet.

When I’m not spending my free time with miracle-performing prophets, I’ve been exploring Cape Town. Spending time in a city has taken some getting used to; the level of crime makes me miss the quiet safety of Gambier.

All in all, though, I’ve had an incredible first few weeks, and I can’t wait to see what more I learn as I get deeper into the semester.

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