I spoke with Lauren Schiffer, a junior majoring in public health, who studied abroad in South Africa. She attends The University of Cape Town, a renowned university located in Cape Town through a Tulane-sponsored exchange program.
Q: What drew you to Cape Town?
I was initially drawn to Cape Town because it was so different than anywhere I have ever been and completely out of my comfort zone. I was definitely hesitant at first to “miss out” on the typical Europe abroad experience that involves meeting up with friends in other countries and constant traveling. However, I personally wanted to feel settled in one place and really get to know and love the city I was living in, which ended up being the best choice for me. I was also drawn to the endless adventurous activities that Cape Town offers; the natural landscape is unparalleled. I love that Cape Town is a modern city, with all the perks of city life, while simultaneously satisfying my love for beautiful natural scenery. I could never get tired of seeing the ocean and mountains at every glance.
Q: What are your classes like compared to classes at Tulane?
The University of Cape Town is a much larger school than Tulane, which took some getting used to. The class sizes are much larger than most Tulane classes, especially the modest medium size of the Public Health classes I am used to. There are both lectures and tutorials, but lectures are usually posted online and attendance is not recorded. However, tutorial attendance is mandatory and the sizes are much smaller, so they allow more individualized attention on class material and assignments. The course work was not too difficult, but it was many more writing assignments than I am used to. The classes I took were very interesting though; I learned a lot about the subjects as well as the way they fit into the historical and political context of the country. Although I may have expected to do a little less work abroad, I am fortunate to have gained a lot of perspective from across the globe on topics applicable to the society we live in as well.
Q: What’s a typical day like?
A typical “school day” (Monday- Wednesday) started by possibly going to a lecture or two, depending on my mood (sorry mom). Alternatively, I would opt for a more appealing setting to do some school work over a cappuccino at one of my many favorite cafes. I went to yoga almost every day because my friends and I found a yoga studio that we absolutely fell in love with, which was an important contributor to my physical and mental well-being throughout the semester (this could be compromised for many people while abroad). Later in the day, we would do a chill activity like order Uber eats food to the beach and watch the sunset, or bike ride on the promenade. Weekends were filled with a variety of adventurous activities; some of the most memorable from the semester were shark cage diving, sand boarding, hiking (especially memorable when hungover after a fun Thursday night), wine tasting at stunning wine farms, and beach horseback riding… just to name a few.
Q: What is your favorite thing to do in the city?
Once almost every weekend we would go to one of the many markets in the city, which had delicious food and tons of vendors with local made items. Each market had its own individual atmosphere, which made each one a new experience. One of the day markets overlooked the beach and another night one was a lively drinks and live music vibe. The variety of food options was great for all of my friends, since deciding on one restaurant for all of us was a tough task. There were always a ton of local vendors selling things like clothes, jewelry and art, which made it a great place to get meaningful gifts for myself and others.
Q: Where did you travel? Is it easy to get around?
I did an incredible spring break trip to Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe. We camped in the desert and saw lots of animals; it was AMAZING. Spring break was one of the best experiences of my life and a highlight of abroad. We also did a road trip down the coast called the Garden Route. We rented a car and stopped in a few coastal beach towns down the route. Definitely rent a car and do the Garden Route yourself, because the unanticipated bumps in the road (literally and figuratively) make for the best memories. As for getting around in Cape Town, Uber is the best way, as it is both safe and convenient.
Q: What advice do you have for someone studying abroad with friends?
I went abroad with two friends, but we decided on our own that we wanted to go to Cape Town. Having a friend across the world with me allowed me to adjust much faster to the new environment. However, I know that if I went alone I would have been able to meet great friends too. If you are with friends, abroad is the chance to establish a truly special bond. You spend so much time together, so understand that you will be seeing all sides of your friends, the good and the bad. You will also be doing things completely out of your comfort zone together. Staying optimistic and empathetic as you go through these insane experiences with your friends will allow you to create a relationship that is more like family than friends. If you do go with friends though, don’t get trapped in that comfortable bubble; use your time abroad to meet new people as well. It is possible and worthwhile to maintain your relationships with your friends, while also meeting new ones. The great thing about Cape Town is that it is self selective, so it is likely that you are surrounded by people with similar interests to you and want the same kind of abroad experience. It’s not many people’s first choice to study in Africa, so you do get a really special group of people.
Q: What is something someone considering studying in Cape Town should know?
Choosing to study in Cape Town was the best choice I’ve ever made and that is not an exaggeration. I even extended my trip because I didn’t want to leave, and I would have done another semester there if I could’ve. If you haven’t gathered already from my answers, Cape Town is the coolest city. It is both naturally beautiful and so much fun. The locals are really nice and are actually keen to make friends with the abroad students. If you do go, my final advice would be to really observe the social setting. Do not just enjoy all the luxuries of the city, without being aware of the deeply rooted racial tensions that exist. Observe, make connections, and have meaningful conversations, because you will grow immensely as a human being by doing so.
Cover Photo: Rachel Wine