Wednesday, January 26, 2011


It's been two whole months now since I came home from South Africa, and looking back it's amazing how much I feel like my time there has affected me, my education, and my plans for the future. I'm still working on the formal analysis of my research, but however that turns out I think what made this Field Study worth the money, time and challenges was the incredible experiences and people I was able to find there. The most amazing thing about South Africa, which I know I've mentioned over and over again, was the people. Not just my host family and close friends, but the strangers who talked to me on the street or in the mall, the amazing people I was able to interview, all the talkative/confused/flirtatious/helpful taxi drivers, and of course the wonderful people of the East London 3rd Ward, where I attended church every week. These people taught me so much; welcomed me into their country, their homes and their lives; and never ceased to amaze me with their strength, knowledge and friendliness. If you want to get some idea of the kinds of people I met and what made them so amazing, these are the posts to read:
The great thing about all these interactions with people (besides the opportunity I had to become part of a new, South African family) is how much it helped me understand the culture of South Africa, and how I could be a part of it. In the prep course for this Field Study I was told that South Africa was a dangerous place not just because of its crime rates, but because of how familiar it feels. Students tend to feel comfortable there, much more at home than in other countries like Ghana or India, and then get themselves into trouble when they forget to be cautious and overlook subtle but deep-rooted cultural differences. This is something that, initially, I struggled with. On the surface East London seemed just like an American city - people dressed the same, most spoke the same language (at least to me), they generally acted the same, and they talked about the same things. I felt comfortable almost all the time, but then occasionally my ease and comfort would be shattered when I suddenly realized that the situation I thought I was in was not at all the reality. This led to some awkward and confused moments where I doubted my ability to get by in this country. Thankfully, though I didn't notice it as it was happening, as time went by I began to understand and, more importantly, accept the things that were different. They weren't things I had to write down and memorize - in fact, I don't know if I could have written them down - rather, my cultural understanding came gradually and naturally, from my constant interactions with the people of South Africa. And this understanding is something that will stick with me far beyond my next exams.

No comments:

Post a Comment