My time in South Africa is unfortunately coming to an end. There is so much that I have learned and I will carry these memories with me for the rest of my life. Studying abroad has been by far the best experience I could have imagined, but there are five things that I wish I knew before I started this process last year.
1. Go wherever you can go! I am, of course, biased because I have fallen in love with South Africa, but when you are choosing a place to go think of what you want out of your experience. My family was apprehensive with me living in Africa for five months and I almost let that change my mind. I would have ended up in Europe which is not where I imagined studying abroad. Research and look into the places less traveled–I promise you will not be disappointed.
2. Meet new people. I have met a ton of amazing people from all over the world and have made awesome friendships, but do not limit yourself. When everyone arrives in a new place, people are naturally open and it is fairly easy to find friends, but don’t stop there. We naturally find a group and then stick with them, but if you constantly put yourself out there you will make friends that you might have never met. I have a core group of friends who I adore, but not until recently did I realize that I stopped putting myself out there. Once I started doing that again, I realized how much I was missing out on!
3. Go with the flow! I am a planner, I have everything written down and like to have every moment of the day scheduled. In the beginning of my trip, I planned every activity of every day and our trips for the most part went smoothly but they did not leave any room for unpredictability. Now I still think you should pre-book your accommodations to ensure you aren’t stuck, but as I got more comfortable with the country, I stopped planning as much. This was really hard for me to do, but not being on a strict schedule was nice, we had more leeway with time and probably did things that we normally wouldn’t have had the opportunity too. Now I am still not the person that just gets in the car and drives until I feel like it because realistically some activates require a booking. Asking locals is still the best way to find out what to do and where to eat.
4. Down time is needed. When you only have a short amount of time in a place you want to use every waking second doing or seeing something, but you also need down time. Going to a different city every weekend is not possible, logistically it just doesn’t work and then you would never get to experience your home city. Yes, taking weekend trips are great and you should try to get to many places, but don’t feel like you are wasting your time if you have a relaxed weekend at home. Some of the best memories I have are from hanging around my accommodation with friends, not necessarily doing anything, but always having a good time.
5. Remember, it’s called STUDY abroad. I know it is cliche, but you are here to study and earn credits that will help you finish your degree. Whenever I talked to my parents they would ask me about school and I would brush it off because so many other things were going on, but the studying part is really important. You came here to study, you meet native students and learn what it is like to attend university in a new place. It might not sound like the most fun or interesting thing but it is, and it is something that you will look back on and appreciate.
Taylor Farro is the Spring 2016 CEA MOJO in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. She is currently a junior at Stockton University in New Jersey.