Arrived in Cape Town!

11 Feb

Greetings! Thanks for your patience as I am getting this next post to you a bit later than I wanted. On Monday evening, South African time, I arrived in Cape Town. All of my flights (four of them spanning the length of about 27 hours) went very well and were all on time. I met some wonderfully friendly and helpful people on the planes.  One of these angels was a woman named Arifa who was on my flight to Johannesburg. She now lives in Washington D.C. as a nurse but was flying home to Durban to spend a month with her family. When I told her I was on my way to Cape Town, she told me I must meet up with her family that lives there. After minutes of meeting me, she had volunteered her unknowing kin to escort around a newly transplanted American. This had me very touched, and resonated with all that I’ve heard about South Africans. The people are warm, welcoming, and very friendly. And this held true when I finally landed in Cape Town. I was greeted  by my host Rotary District’s Inbound Scholarship Coordinator, Helene Visser, and my host counselor, Bev McDavid. Their bright smiles and warm hugs left me feeling that everything was going to be alright. It was nearly 10 pm by the time I arrived, so Bev took me directly to her home in a suburb of Cape Town called Pinelands. Luckily for me, Bev runs a cute Bed & Breakfast out of her home, so I am living in absolute comfort while I’m here! Her two charming dogs, Holly and Daisy, especially make it feel like home for me! I will be staying with Bev and the dogs until I secure my own flat somewhere closer to the University. But for now, I’m incredibly grateful for the hospitality my host mom has shown me. Since arriving, Bev has been my own personal tour guide, driver, housing consultant, cook, and friend. Having her in my life has been a huge blessing.

First thing Tuesday morning, I had to attend Day 2 (I missed Day 1 for travel) of an orientation session for the Environmental and Geographical Sciences Department. Bev drove me to the college and dropped me off for my first day. Since I arrived at dark the previous evening, I was not able to see the city, including the mountains and the oceans, apart from the lights. On the way to The University of Cape Town campus, I caught a glimpse of Devil’s Peak for the first time. I audibly gasped, causing Bev to lay on the breaks, nearly stopping us in the middle of the road. When she inquired into what in the world was the matter, I said the only the I could, “There’s a mountain!” My surprise at seeing that looming piece of rock must have seemed a bit silly, but even after having been here for a few days with full knowledge of the presence of those mountains, I continue to stop and find myself staring up. It’s a sight that’s hard to get used to.  Cape Town and the surrounding area is absolutely breathtaking. I will post pictures when I blog about my field trip into the mountains. At the orientation, I was able to finally meet my fellow Masters students as well as the Department’s Honours students and faculty. In South Africa, the Honours program is designed for students who have completed their undergraduate work and want to delve deeper into coursework; it’s structured very similar to a Masters program but does not culminate in a dissertation. Plus, since the undergraduate degree is only 3 years, an Honours degree kind of functions as a 4th or senior year in American education terms. It has been such a delight getting to know this fine group of scholars and instructors. UCT is one of the most diverse college campuses on the planet, and at every interaction, I find myself engaging with a totally new culture. There has been so much learning, and I have yet to even step into a classroom! Registering for classes, however, was anything but a delight. Everything, I mean everything, is done on paper during the Registration period. And UCT happens to be snuggled up right alongside that base of those mountains I have been having a love affair with. If you can imagine it, the buildings on campus are oriented in a “stadium seating”. You have three campuses, all separated by altitude. The highest campus, or “Upper Campus”, where the EGS department is located has levels of academic buildings. There is one row of buildings hugging the mountain, and then above that about 2-3 flights of steps is another level, and after that another and so on.  But after many hours in lines queuing, acquiring countless signatures, walking up and down that stunning yet steep mountain, I finally am registered. For my first semester, I will be taking a Geography course called “Urban Food Security” and my first Sociology course ever, titled “Tradition, Environment and Nature”. During the Spring semester (remember we’re in the Southern Hemisphere), I will be taking two Geography courses, “Capital, Politics, and Nature” and one that has yet to be named but deals with sustainability models for cities all over the world. I have also been invited to informally take part in a course led by an instructor in the Geography Department who studied at the University of Minnesota (a classmate of my Gustavus advisor’s). Our classes begin on Monday.

Although the academic year hasn’t officially gotten underway, my Masters class didn’t let that stop us from going on an overnight camping trip up into the mountains last Thursday. I must reserve that for a separate post, however. Just so many pictures! I was such a blast, and we began to scratch the surface  on the serious ecological, socio-economical, and development issues that this city faces.

Today, I attended a pool party luncheon at a Rotarian’s home in Newlands (just south of UCT). It was planned to get all of the Rotary Ambassadorial Scholars along with their host counselors to meet. This year, there are 11 scholars, all attending UCT and all from the United States. It’s not often the Rotary clubs in the Cape Town area get exclusively American students. Still, our group represents a diverse assortment of study interests as well as a nice sampling of the States. We have a photographer/videographer from Seattle, a woman studying conflict resolution from Illinois, and a gender studies scholar from Massachusetts. All, I must say, are extremely nice, intelligent and passionate.  The Rotarians in attendance were so friendly and warm, inviting all of us to come and visit their clubs and to stay in their homes. They have made an incredible investment and taken a great chance with us; it’s an extreme honor to have people so generous have so much faith in you and your ideas to make the world a bit better only after just seconds of talking with you. I can’t wait to get to know all of the scholars and Rotarians better!

It’s the moments when I’m on campus breaking a sweat and busting my calves on those steps when I see the mountain, and I am stopped dead in my tracks. There is a similar sense of awe when I look around me and see the people I am meeting here. This is surely going to be a great year.

Thanks again for your patience. It’s been an extremely busy week, and I promise to be a more faithful blogger after things have slowed down.

Many blessings,

ang

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The Inaugural Post

31 Jan

Welcome to the Journeylogue, a blog dedicated to recording my experiences, observations, deep life musings, and adventures from a year living in Cape Town, South Africa! This travel is made possible thanks to a generous Ambassadorial Scholarship granted to me from the Rotary Foundation and Rotary District #5580. While in Cape Town, I will be hosted by the Pinelands Rotary Club and will attend the University of Cape Town to pursue a Masters in Environmental and Geographical Sciences. My trip officially gets underway February 5th when I depart from Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport to my start a new journey in “The Mother City”.

I am extremely grateful for this opportunity to serve as an ambassador of goodwill to Rotary Districts and Clubs around the world. The Ambassadorial Scholarship is a peerless award that allows students interested in cultivating peace and understanding around the world to not only pursue their academic interests but as well as immerse themselves in a totally new culture. If you’re interested in learning more about the Ambassadorial Scholarship, please visit Rotary.org or feel free to contact me via the information provided from this blog.