Curry Spray is a Computer Engineering major who studied abroad at the University of Western Cape in South Africa. At Missouri S&T he is involved in a fraternity and with Engineers without Borders.
I’m probably not the right person to be describing the wonderful, life-changing experience that studying in a foreign country, in a totally new environment, will be for someone, but I’m here to give it a try. I am a student at Missouri University of Science and Technology and I studied in South Africa during the Fall of 2013. The three keys to having a successful study abroad are patience, professionalism, and preparedness.
After several months of packing and getting ready to travel south, to the tip of Africa, I finally arrived at my residence for the next five months, Kovacs. I had forgotten plug converters, I had no way to charge my phone and get ahold of someone, the campus was isolated from the nearest town, and everyone was gone for the weekend. It was scary. I was not to be deterred though. My second day there I wandered outside of the confines of campus and caught what appeared to be local transport towards a destination that I hoped was Cape Town. After about 30 minutes the minibus came to a stop and all of the passengers got off. I would later realize that we were just switching minibuses, however, I had no idea what was going on and strayed into the nearby surroundings. As I began to walk a voice rang in the back of my head, the voice of Mr. Leonid Jackson, the director of International Affairs at the University of Western Cape, whom I had the pleasure of meeting before I flew over. A few kind words of advice he had told me came to mind, “Don’t get lost in the ghetto.” I was not in the most savory of environments. Needless to say, I left fairly quickly, and made my way back to the safety of University housing, my pride of being independent and able to fend for myself slightly wounded, but mostly feeling pretty good. The next day I was able to get in touch with a friend living in Cape Town and she took me to the mall where I bought converters and started learning how things worked in and around Cape Town.
I learned a little something about patience during my time in South Africa. In the first few weeks of classes there was a group project in my Information Systems class. Our group met weekly, on Tuesdays, in order to discuss our topic and break down the work assignment. People were very often late to these meetings, including the group leader. When we were asked to reflect on our group project at the end of the quarter, my classmate, Abonga, had this to say (copied straight from his reflection report):
“F. The time management approach did not work well because there is a thing that is called African time and that has affected our mentality. When you finally start to slow down you start enjoying so many more things.”
African time is a real thing, but it’s not a bad mentality. In this instance it affected our work timeframes, but it has so many other effects that are quite positive. Americans and Europeans and some cultures in Asia are so strict and work-oriented that we forget to enjoy the little things and we also strain our health. When working in the hot African desert, you have to take your time while doing things or you will succumb to heat exhaustion through overexertion. If you walk too fast in flip-flops or sandals, you will get rocks in them. If you just slow down you can begin to enjoy so many things: the sun shining down on you, the bustling wind at the top of a mountain, or the sound of the ocean at the seaside. Patience helps you through the struggle of the day and it can help you get the most out of everything you do.
Professionalism is very important when going anywhere new. Always remember, if you travel abroad in the future, you are an ambassador for your country/organization/self. And make sure to respect and take in all of the new cultures you experience. You might find that you like them quite a lot. Most important though, is to have fun and better yourself from the time you have. I have many more stories to tell and if you’re considering studying abroad in South Africa in the future, I hope you will read them. For now, thanks for reading!