Why did you choose this program?
I wanted to go to a country that most students don't consider and be able to have an entirely different experience than most students do.
My advisor had a pretty good idea of the issues I am passionate about and was really familiar with South Africa. She suggested that South Africa would be a really great choice for me personally. I was really trusting of her so I explored the different options, which were quite limited, of programs and types of experiences.
AIFS's program in Stellenbosch, South Africa sparked my interest because it was located near Cape Town, I could live in a flat with other students, and I would have a really consistent living situation that some other programs didn't provide. AIFS Stellenbosch was really the best choice for what I needed and really fulfilled those requirements.
What did your program provider and university assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?
My University helped with the initial application and getting some G.E. requirements approved. I had to organize the approval of major and minor courses, which can be difficult, but is expected.
Once the application was done and I was accepted, AIFS contacted me and sent all the information I needed including a packet with the next steps. AIFS was extremely helpful through the entire process. I had an advisor through AIFS that was almost always available to answer all my questions along the way.
AIFS assisted with advice about getting my student visa and I organized the paperwork I needed to take to the embassy. They offered a flight package, but I purchased my ticket on my own. On request and for a small fee, I was picked up from the airport and driven to my flat. They arrange the entire living corridors and the stipend for food throughout the semester. They also provided health insurance, which I did use.
AIFS really provided just about everything I needed and I had constant help with anything thanks to the Resident Director. When I needed to see a doctor, she organized the appointment, the pharmacy pick up and even offered to get me an Uber to and from the doctor. There was not much I had to do on my own.
What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?
If you are going on this program, take advantage of every trip, cultural experience, even if it costs extra. Every trip I went on was worth every penny. They are extremely well-priced and really make the entire experience even more powerful.
Also, get out and explore always. Unless school work is holding you back, travel. It is so inexpensive and there are many day-trips or weekend trips available within a short distance. These are things that should definitely be taken advantage of because it is a program full of amazing opportunities.
What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?
Depending on how many units each student is taking, there will be class most weekdays. Most of these classes occur in the morning or in the evening. Personally, we would go grocery shopping once a week and cook almost every meal during the week.
On weekends, we would hike, explore the town, take the train into Cape Town, go explore the nightlife and new restaurants, occasionally go to the relatively large shopping mall, visit the local botanical garden, go to the gym (they have a huge student gym which you can have access to for an additional cost), go to the beach, visit local wineries, and even more. Each week was a little different though.
Some weekends, there would also be a Saturday test. These are normally only for classes that are actual university classes (not international student classes).
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 fear was not making friends. Looking back this was kind of silly. I didn't know anyone on my program, which I intentionally chose. I was pretty insecure that everyone would find cliques and I wouldn't.
I made sure to do things I normally wouldn't do, like attending the braais (South Africa's version of a barbecue, but much better), going out with people even when I wasn't feeling social, making very intentional decisions to talk to people on my program and people who weren’t.
Pretty quickly I found my little group that I loved. They became some of my closest friends. It was definitely something I didn’t need to necessarily worry about, but rather make conscious decisions to meet people and spend time with them.
What was your favorite experience during your study abroad?
My favorite experience was probably my decision to travel for a week after classes had ended. I planned, with three other girls on my program, to fly up to Durban and then take a greyhound to Johannesburg.
We got a tour of Durban by a local who owned the backpackers we stayed at for two nights. We got a tour of local spots tourists don't have access to. While we were on the tour, three young adults stopped us and asked if they could take a picture with us simply because they had never seen a white person before. We got to talk with them briefly and it was a very unique cultural experience coming from a predominately white place.
We also went to Johannesburg. We got to play with lion cubs and also visited the location of the most complete hominid skeleton found globally. It took twenty years to excavate and is 3.6 million years old. We were able to explore the caves where the skeleton was being excavated and when we visited still hadn't finished excavating it. This was probably my favorite experience because we were able to experience such magnificent aspects we could never do in the U.S.