In the Fall of 2014, I decided to expand my academic career at Chapman University and spend a semester studying in Cape Town, South Africa at the University of Cape Town (UCT). My stint abroad proved to be largely rewarding and beneficial. Here’s why.
1. A new kind of educational experience.
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My host university, affectionately known as UCT, offered me a vastly different educational experience and environment than my home university, Chapman University. Going abroad allowed me to experience both sides of a college education: attending a small, private college and attending a large, public university. Everything at UCT is done on a larger scale. It is home to a student population of about 26,000 students, while Chapman’s total student population amounts to about 7,000 students altogether. With that, my classes were considerably larger and it wouldn’t be unusual to see a lecture hall full of 300 students on any given day. Compare this to Chapman’s average class size, which peaks at about 30 students. UCT’s main campus alone is separated into three major divisions – Upper, Middle, and Lower Campus – and stretches along the slopes of Devil’s Peak, a margin of the famed Table Mountain. While Chapman’s campus is certainly sufficient enough for its students and faculty and boasts well-kept grounds, it simply does not compare to the considerable size of UCT’s campus. While each institution was vastly different and offered its own set of pros and cons, they were both useful in expanding my college experience.
2. Natural wonders.
It is no secret that Cape Town boasts some of the most superb natural beauty in the world. Table Mountain is the centerpiece of the city and undoubtedly its most famous natural landmark. The city is also home to the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, wine country, a diverse range of vegetation and wildlife, and a number of pristine beaches situated on both the Indian and Atlantic Oceans. There is also no shortage of adventure in this beautiful place. Skydiving, bungee jumping, shark cage diving, paragliding, hiking, water rafting, sand boarding, four-wheeling, and game viewing are just a few options to choose from. Travel a mere two hours outside of the city and you’ll be able to go on a once-in-a-lifetime game drive to search for South Africa’s most famous predators including rhinos, elephants, lions, buffalo, and leopards. It’s safe to say that South Africa is a great place for all adventure-lovers and thrill-seekers.
3. Living ”off the grid.”
Upon arriving in Cape Town, it quickly became apparent that it would not be easy for me to stay connected to and enveloped in my life back home through the various social media, email, and message accounts that I maintain. The WiFi in South Africa tended to be slow and unreliable, which may sound terrible, but this ended up working to my benefit. With less technological distraction, I had more free time to explore Cape Town and all that it had to offer. I was also able to form closer relationships and deeper connections with my fellow study abroad students as well as the local students and people.
4. Expand your social, cultural, and historical horizons.
It is no secret that South Africa has a dark past. Plagued with decades of turmoil fueled by racial discrimination and with the fall of the Apartheid regime happening a mere 20 years ago, Cape Town and the South African country as a whole are still actively learning and making progress by tackling the ongoing social issues that resulted from the era. These issues include racial tensions, poverty, spatial segregation, HIV/AIDS, education, wealth inequality, crime, government corruption, and poor living conditions just to name a few. The opportunity to come face-to-face with some of Apartheid’s survivors, to observe these issues personally, and to even help combat them through volunteer organizations provided with me with unparalleled experiences and firsthand knowledge that I would have otherwise never had. I can honestly say that I am thankful for all that I saw, including both the good and the bad, for those experiences only enriched my time abroad.
On the other hand, appropriately known as “the Rainbow Nation,” South Africa prides itself on its complex community that encompasses 11 official languages and a diverse mix of citizens. While the country’s population can be statistically separated into four main racial groups, what statistics do not convey is the variety that exists within each, including a range of African ethnic groups as well as European descendants. Each of these groups holds their own beliefs, cultures, traditions, and values that make them all both unique and extraordinary.
5. Venture out.
With the understanding of the reality that I might not be able to return to this unique part of the world for a very long time, if ever, I made the decision to travel around Southern Africa. This trip was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so I made the most out of it. During my five-month stay in Cape Town, I explored other parts of South Africa and visited four other nations, including Mozambique, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, and Zambia. Whether it was the food, the people, the natural environment, or the culture, each destination offered something distinctly different than the rest.
6. Make yourself more employable.
The potential to gain international experience is an invaluable benefit of studying abroad and it can make you more employable in today’s global workforce. While this benefit is not exclusive to Cape Town in particular, it is important to mention because a study abroad experience in any location can strengthen the key skills that are highly valued by employers, such as confidence, problem-solving and decision-making skills, adaptability, and tolerance for others. In addition to gaining experiential knowledge of a foreign nation and culture, you’ll be able to make your international educational experience a selling point to your potential future employers.
For more information on study abroad programs, please contact the Center for Global Education at