Alumni Spotlight: Sarah French


Sarah is a junior pre-med/ biological sciences major from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In spring 2017, she studied at the University of Cape Town in South Africa through IES Abroad.

Why did you choose this program?

I wanted to go to South Africa because it was out of my comfort zone and felt like it would be a unique cultural experience. I chose IES Abroad because I really liked what they had to offer in terms of housing, service-learning opportunities, and organized field trips.

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

IES was extremely helpful in terms of helping me organize my experience. They provided a timeline of when forms were due. Additionally, they informed me of when I needed to get started on certain items such as applying for a study visa. IES even provided me with a knowledgeable advisor who was always available to answer any of my random questions.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

My biggest piece of advice to anyone who is thinking about studying abroad is to just do it. Going abroad was probably the coolest thing I have ever done.

I learned so much from my experience and would do it again in a heartbeat if given the opportunity.

My biggest piece of advice if you are planning on studying abroad in Cape Town is to pack more warm clothes than you think you need. Winter in Cape Town was colder and windier than I expected and buildings are not well insulated and do not have heating.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

An average week for me while living in Cape Town was always very busy. On weekdays I went to class, did homework, and volunteered with a mobile health clinic called SHAWCO Health.

I also tried to go hiking at least once a week and in the summer I ended up going to the beach at least one day a week too.

On Saturday mornings I nearly always went to the Old Biscuit Mill market to shop and eat lunch. The rest of the weekend was dedicated to going on adventures, exploring, and trying new things. I had no problems coming up with new things to do, even at the end of my time in South Africa.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

My biggest fears were probably being so far away from my friends and family and being in a new culture that I knew almost nothing about. However, when I actually arrived in Cape Town I realized just how easy it was to adjust to living in a new environment.

I quickly got used to living in Cape Town and to all of the new challenges that I had to face living in a different culture. Additionally, while I did miss my friends and family, I found that it was super easy to stay in contact with them. Plus, I made tons of new friends in Cape Town.

Did you get to travel outside of Cape Town?

Unlike in Europe, Africa is a big content and South Africa is a big country so I was not able to travel every weekend. However, I still had plenty of opportunities to travel.

Over the mid-semester break, we took an IES trip to Kruger National Park and Johannesburg. I was also able to travel to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, Chobe National Park in Botswana, Walvis Bay in Namibia, Durban in South Africa, and the Sani Pass in Lesotho.

What are the top 5 coolest things to experience while in South Africa?

  • Sandboarding in the dunes. I love to snowboard, so sandboarding seemed like it would be right up my alley. It was. If standing up on boards isn't your thing, you can go 4-wheeling in the dunes too.
  • Hiking Table Mountain, Lion's Head, or Devil's Peak (or all three). One Saturday three of us did the Three Peak Challenge, where we spent the day hiking all three peaks back to back. It took 12 hours and my legs hurt for a week afterward. That being said, I still highly recommend this!
  • Try your hand at surfing. Muizenberg Beach has amazing waves for surfing all year round. It is cheap to rent a board and a wetsuit and it is super fun whether you're a pro or just starting out (like me).
  • Have dinner at Mzansi Restaurant in Langa. Langa is the oldest township in Cape Town and unfortunately, many people are scared of even entering townships. Mzansi (which means South Africa in isiXhosa) Restaurant provides a great atmosphere, and delicious, home-cooked traditional South African food. Highly recommend.
  • Safari! Seriously, game drives are the coolest thing ever. I went three times and each time was amazing. I highly suggest going on the mid-semester break trip to Kruger National Park. It was tons of fun. I even saw all of the big 5!