What an amazing first three days in Cape Town! We have been in constant activity since our arrival Thursday so I am eager to update you on our adventures.
Our coursework thus far has consisted mainly of leadership topics and the roles of various leaders throughout South African history. We have been fortunate enough to have Stuart Hendry, a University of Cape Town professor and a prominent figure within SASDI (Southern Africa Sustainable Development Initiative), lead our lectures. I have enjoyed getting to know Stuart. His story is inspiring and the work he has done improving the lives of his fellow South Africans is nothing short of remarkable. Stuart has also made an effort to get to know us outside of the classroom as he has traveled with us on several of our trips so far. With a brilliant mind, contagious jovial nature, and a genuine passion for his work and students, Stuart has been a highlight of the trip and a big influence on myself.
Table Mountain, the historic backdrop of Cape Town, was the site of two of our first South African adventures. On Friday afternoon, we took a cable car to the top of the mountain and were greeted by breathtaking views of Cape Town, the Atlantic Ocean, and other mountains and towns far, far in the distance. While Friday was awesome, the real fulfilling Table Mountain experience occurred today. The adventurous members of our PC group jumped at the chance to take on the challenge of hiking to the top of the 3,558-foot mountain. The hike itself was challenging, and I’m sure to be sore for a few days, but the sense of accomplishment as we finally reached the top was unparalleled. Traversing one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World on a perfect, 75 degree “winter” day will surely be one of my fondest memories of the trip.
In addition to hiking Table Mountain, my favorite part of the trip so far was hanging out with our peers from the University of Cape Town’s graduate entrepreneurship program. There is simply no substitution for human interaction and collaboration. After listening to several groups of these students present their products and business plans (which were outstanding) our PC group and 15-20 UCT students went to their favorite bar for drinks and dinner. I sat with three UCT students and thoroughly enjoyed the 2-3 hours we were able to spend together. A great deal of this time was helping one another with the ins-and-outs of our different cultures. Becki (whose African name I was completely unable to pronounce) knows 11 languages and dialects and grew up in a local township. He, like most people I have encountered, was very up to date on U.S. pop culture, including knowing the Miami Heat, LeBron James, the Los Angeles Lakers, and Kobe Bryant as well as most popular American rappers and music artists.
The funniest aspect of my time with these students was sharing each of our expectations prior to meeting one another. I love hearing their stereotypes and assumptions about Americans, which, to their own admission, are largely derived from the media, the Internet, and television. Predictably, “all Americans eat fast food.” They were shocked to learn my mom was an excellent cook. “Jersey Shore” was another response I got when I inquired about their knowledge of America. Another girl said she expected us to be “very serious, no fun, and dressed in suits like Men in Black movies.”
The same girl, Asindiswe Mtshengu, then unknowingly provided me with the takeaway from the trip so far. “Well,” I said, “I guess I’m not really what you were expecting then.” “No,” she replied and noted her relief. “You guys are so much fun. You guys are just people.”
Separated by thousands and thousands of miles, over 30 hours of travel time, vastly different backgrounds and lifestyles, two students have discovered that they have more in common than what today’s world would ever want them to believe. Multiple students remarked that their views on the United States and Americans were “completely changed” after meeting us.
South Africa has surprised me, too. It has been a refreshing reminder that, in the end, we are all “just people.”