Things We Could Never Say: Secrets of Living in the “Rainbow Nation”

For our final project in “Culture, Identity, and Globalisation in Africa” we were asked to come up with a presentation outlining how we have come to think differently about Africa. That’s it. No guidelines as to which direction to aim towards, which themes to focus on, or how to express ourselves. Full creative freedom.

Here is what we came up with. Enjoy!


The idea for this project was born out of the concept of secrets. What do people choose to share or not? How much do people keep inside about their experiences? And is there a way we can share these secrets, which may be too hurtful or shameful or dishonorable to speak openly about? PostSecret became the obvious solution to this dilemma.

My group members and I decided we wanted to pose a similar structure to our fellow study abroad students about their time here in South Africa. It is clear that we are all having the times of our lives and we love South Africa, but we wanted to dig deeper. So we set up an anonymous electronic survey online and asked:

“Coming to a new country, especially one as diverse and complex as South Africa, leaves all of us international students with some thoughts or feelings that we don’t think we can share. Whether you keep it inside because you’re afraid of offending someone, seeming ignorant or being judged – we all have our secrets. What is a secret that you’ve been keeping about your time in South Africa?”

By now you have seen our video and viewed the responses. The secrets covered a variety of emotions and experiences. By creating such a video, we hoped to create a memorialization or archive of our experiences. Students abroad typically document their travels through photographs and trinkets from markets. But how does the story change with this type of archive? We have focused instead on the people and the emotions experienced, not the places and locations. Additionally, how does viewing these secrets affect those who view them? We believe that this project was not only a process of self-reflection for those who participated in sharing secrets, but also creating self-reflection in those who view the video. We hope that by participating in our project students will learn not only about other experiences of their peers, but also about themselves.


I would love to hear what you think about our project!

To my fellow study abroad students around the world – how are secrets affecting your time abroad? Do you have any similar feelings to those my peers and I from South Africa expressed?

One of the secrets not included in the video was: “There is no way my friends from home could handle living here. They are too close-minded and naive.” How does that secret make you feel? Do you think it’s true?

Does any secret particularly resonate with you?

As always, thank you for reading and supporting me!
Much love to all.

The “Study” Part of “Study Abroad”

So there are these things called classes that are really getting in the way of my exploration of Cape Town. Here is a post dedicated to academia.

The University of Cape Town is absolutely gorgeous. It is located on Devil’s Peak, one of the three mountains in Cape Town, and the university is built into the mountain which creates three levels of camps: Upper, Middle, and Lower. All of my classes are located on Upper Campus, whereas Middle consists mostly of offices and Lower has the gym and some other dorms.

Here is a video I took while studying on campus yesterday:

UCT has more than 25,000 students, of which nearly 5,000 are international students from all over the world. This is what Upper Campus looks like on a normal school day:

As much as I’d rather be out discovering the city, my classes here are really great. I am taking three courses (which equal to 5 US credits each) that meet at least 4 times a week for 45 minutes each. All classes are taught in a lecture fashion with no less than 75 students enrolled. It is definitely a big adjustment from my school American University back in the USA… which has very small class sizes and a total enrollment of 6,300.

UCT is the #1 ranked university in Africa as well as ranked in the top 150 schools in the world. I definitely feel those vibes of prestige walking around campus. Everyone here works really hard. From what I understand there aren’t enough universities in South Africa for the amount of young people, but the cost discourages many from attending. I feel so blessed for the opportunity to earn such an incredible education in both South Africa and the United States.

It is also great that my classes here are supplementing by goal to immerse myself in this country. I am taking “South African History in the 20th Century” which has been instrumental in understanding all of the changes that have happened here. South Africa only broke free of the apartheid state 17 years ago. It is such a different dynamic than the US, whose constitution was signed way back in 1787. I am taking a course called “Culture, Identity and Globalisation in Africa” which has completely altered my world view on issues. My professor is a fabulous art curator who questions everything. I find myself wondering – “What would Siona think about this?” regularly. We talk about forgiveness, art, archives, the violence of photography, liberation movements throughout Africa, etc. etc. She encourages us to think creatively and out of the box. I love it. My final class is on International Political Economies but, while interesting, I don’t spend too much of my free time discussing it.

It’s hard to believe – and it pains me to write this – but I only have 6 weeks left in South Africa. While everyone else’s school year is finally falling into place, mine is nearly over. Classes at UCT finish on 21 October and I take my last final on 3 November.

I am so in love with this place and right now I don’t want to think about leaving – so I’m not writing about it anymore! Instead all of my efforts are focused on finishing the rest of my schoolwork because my wonderful boyfriend Daniel is flying to Cape Town in 11 days! I can’t wait to show him around my new home.

So on that note, I’d better get back to work! Thanks to everyone for reading :)

I’m a Freshman again

Monday 25 July

First day of school!!! If I could use only one word to describe my first day at UCT it would be… scrambling. So basically, I’m a freshman again. Even though I thought I had a good understanding of the Upper Campus layout and where my classes should be… the acronyms are totally throwing me off and I have to ask people questions all the time. At least I didn’t have my schedule or map out, but I think it was pretty obvious I was out of my element.

There are several ways you can figure out which venue your course will be held in, but none of them have consistent information. So I was literally frantically scrambling around campus for 20 minutes before my first class at 10am to find it. And once I did we found out that the university had double-booked the room! We split the class period so each class could have some sort of intro, so South Africa in the 20th Century was only twenty minutes long today (glad I woke up for that…).

My next class didn’t meet until 3PM so I went to the grocery store to pick up some more food (turns out you aren’t allowed to bring a backpack with you so I had to “check” it…) and then went back to my room and wasted more time.

At around 2PM I took the Jammie back up to UCT and started scrambling again to find my Urban Politics and Administration class. It was in one of the Graduate Student buildings so nobody had any idea where it was when I asked. The class is super interesting but I’m afraid it won’t translate well with my International Relations major as its more of a local government/Political science class… hopefully my AU advisor will e-mail me back soon so I know for sure!

Today was the first day I could feel the culture shock setting in a little bit. UCT is so vastly different than AU. I feel like I’ve met a lot of people so far on this trip, but I still can walk across the entire Upper Campus and not see a single person I know. My classes are pretty small (50-75) compared to the 200-400 person projections I was told about, so that was a relief. I will never get used to Devil’s Peak looming over campus all the time, but that is a change I am very happy about!

Hopefully I will have more luck finding everything tomorrow :)

^Above: Jamieson Hall. One of the main buildings on Upper Campus. (This was obviously taken at night so you can’t see Devil’s Peak right behind it!)

PS: Mom I tried to take a “First Day of School” picture this morning and nothing wanted to cooperate with me :( Another day I’ll pose for one and we can pretend like it was the first day!


Tomorrow is our official registration so today I (finally) decided what courses I will be taking this semester here at the University of Cape Town:

10AM: South Africa in the 20th Century
2PM: Culture, Identity, and Globalisation in Africa
3PM: Urban Politics and Administration

They each meet 3 times a week, but I’m not sure what days yet. I also decided to volunteer with Passop, the non-profit that works with immigrants and refugees, in my spare time. I thought that organization would be the best complement to the classes I am taking and the field I hope to go into.

(Above is some awesome street art I found today while walking downtown.)

SA 101

Wednesday 13 July

This day was basically full of CIEE rules and regulations, your typical “do’s and do not’s” day. I’ll only hit you guys up with the really important and fun stuff though!

Race is a really important issue here in South Africa. Basically, you can take any issue whether it is social, economic, political, etc. and race always comes into play. However, here they are a lot more open about the distinctions and aren’t as “politically correct” as we are in the US (like saying “African-American”). The main racial groups present are whites, blacks, Indians, and coloureds (those of a mixed race, not necessarily solely from a white parent and black parent). Here only black people are allowed to say the “n” word. And under no circumstances are you allowed to say the “k” word. If you didn’t already know what they were referring to, the staff wouldn’t even say the word out loud. It’s that bad.

We also took “South African English 101”! Here are some of the main words we learned:

  • Lekker – cool
  • Robot – traffic light (because people used to direct traffic and then these “robots” took over)
  • Jol – an “apeshit”/really crazy party
  • Braai – the closest word we have is barbeque, but it really is its own distinction of food
  • Just now/now now – phrases describing “South African time,” which basically means people will do things when they feel like it/eventually. There is no sense of needing to be exactly on time here (and definitely not early)
  • Shame – used at the end of a sentence and basically means “your life is worthless”
  • A weh – informal greeting
  • Chana – friend
  • Kiff – really rad/cool (surfer term)
  • Siff – really gross/bad (surfer term)
  • The Pirates and The Chiefs – the main soccer teams
  • Handshakes are given similarly to a “bro hug.” Basically you do an informal handshake and clap each other on the back. Western traditional handshakes are not cool

We also found out about our living arrangements! I am going to be living in the Liesbeeck Gardens dorm which is located about a 10-15 minute walk from campus. I will be living in a flat (apartment) with 4 single rooms – 2 American students from by program CIEE and 2 South African students. We also have a communal kitchen and living room area. The dorm itself is equipped with a swimming pool, TV room with pool tables and free laundry services. We all move in to our new places on Saturday 16 July.

After things wrapped up for the day, some of my new friends and I decided to go on an adventure up to Upper Campus of UCT, where all of our classes will be located (our dorms are on Lower Campus). The campus is literally built on Table Mountain, just in front of Devil’s Peak, so it was a pretty steep hike up the hill to get there. But when it finally came into view, it was absolutely breathtaking. The main building at UCT is called Jameson Hall and is a huge, beautiful building with large columns at the top. There is ivy growing on all of the buildings, with lots of palm trees, cactuses, and other plants everywhere. I can’t believe that it’s only going to become more gorgeous as I continue to stay here, because once Spring rolls around everything will be green and blooming again! AU is really pretty in its own way… but it can NOT compete with UCT in any way! UCT is also enormous; there are about 25,000 students that attend here. Definitely going to get lost on my first day!

That night I was really tired and was heading to my room for some down time, when my roommate told me that she and some friends had found tickets to a showing of Harry Potter at a nearby theatre. Naturally I had to go! We took about a 10 minute cab ride to Kavendish and bought our tickets for the 22h50 showing. Movie theatres here assign seats when you buy tickets, so there was no need for us to wait around. Instead, we went to a restaurant nearby and I ordered my first legal beer! Needless to say, I was pretty excited. A little bit less climatic than I had thought it was going to be (nothing like a 21st birthday bash that everyone in the States thinks about), but it was a good time! I had a Castle, which is one of South Africa’s most famous beers. I think it was a solid choice. Anyway, we eventually got to HP 7 Part 2 and it was wonderful! I thoroughly enjoyed it. It really does feel like I am officially an adult now though! I had my first legal beer and the era of my childhood ended all in one night.

All in all, I am so happy to be here! Everything is so exciting and absolutely beautiful.