Study Abroad Experience: South Africa

Study Abroad Experience: South Africa

Posted in Student Experiences, Student Life, Study Abroad, Travel on Oct 21, 2019 by

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Safiyyah spent her third year at university studying abroad at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. Whilst there she studied a general Social Sciences degree where she could take any subject that related to her home university degree of International Relations.

Where did you live during your year abroad?

In my first semester I lived in private student housing that was arranged on my behalf by the university with two other international students in the same cohort as me, from Germany. In my second semester I lived in housing that I’d organised by myself with someone from my home university and six other people – internationals and South Africans.

Was there any financial assistance available?

Since I was studying in the Southern hemisphere term times are switched so I started school in July instead of September. I was able to contact Student Finance and apply to receive my grant at different times. Despite this the student finance payments weren’t sent at suitable dates. I actually ended up sustaining my study abroad on my personal savings from working over the past years. If you were a recipient of student finance grants then you were able to get a refund on return flights to your home country, you had to cover the first £300 then they paid the rest.

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Did you take extra safety precautions in your host country?

Prior to arriving in South Africa, I read, and was told, many horror stories about living in Cape Town. My first night in Cape Town was spent at a hostel in Observatory, where a few guys restated that I take extra precautions – detailing what they refrain from doing and throwing suggestions my way, as a new traveller. My first day out in Cape Town was lovely, but in light of the previous nights’ conversation at my hostel, I spent it looking over my shoulder at every opportunity, reading everybody with scepticism, only permitting myself a 5 second window to take my camera out for photos. Flash forward just over 1 year later, and I ended my year abroad pretty much unscathed, and down a phone after it was mugged getting into an uber. With a high prevalence of gender-based violence against women, Cape Town can be dangerous. However, I treated my year abroad like I do any other countries that I visit – with extra vigilance and street smartness. For instance, walking alone at night. I walked around at night whilst in Cape Town a lot less than I would whilst in London/ my hometown in Greenwich – and the ability to do this with a slightly reduced fear of harm was a pleasure that I missed. Nevertheless – as the year went on, I became more comfortable during my day-to-day activities and became better at being able to navigate the city.

Did you experience any language barriers?

There are around 12 main languages spoken in South Africa, with English being one of these so language wasn’t too much of an issue, it actually became an opportunity to learn new slang and ways of communicating. I did have an incident in a public taxi once, where I went to shout the destination of my stop (‘Groote Schur Hospital’), and had trouble pronouncing it. Everyone in the taxi laughed at me and mimicked my terrible pronunciation. I was a bit humiliated and don’t think it warranted laughter, but it tried my best!

What do you wish you knew before you went?

If I could go back in time before I left I wish I had known the importance of budgeting. I don’t regret any of the experiences I paid for whilst in Cape Town, I spent a lot of money over the year, but I’m a little fuzzy on the specifics, I’m not sure what I spent it all on. So, not only would I make sure that If I went again, to keep a detailed budget; but to ensure that I’m making references back to GBP when possible, because it probably would have made me reflect on a few of my purchases and find a cheaper way to go about things.

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What was your best experience there?

Wow, there were so many. Too many to count. Living in Cape Town I was absolutely surrounded by an abundance of beautiful picturesque nature. So, whilst this may be cheating – my best experience was the times I spent within nature, both solo and when surrounded by loved ones. Be it, picnicing on top of a mountain during sunset with my friends, under the stars at a beach during a camping trip (or that time I went to a sunset silent disco at Camps Bay!) or sitting by a lake under the sun. Being able to look out of my house and see mountains, and easily access them day to day, is a privilege that I’m so grateful for.


Recent graduate Safiyyah is currently volunteering at RevolYOULution, a community based organisation providing a platform for young people to engage with their commmunity and in socio-political debates every week.