Thursday, November 13, 2014

Come Back to Texas

Looking back on my time abroad is incredibly surreal. How can such a large chapter of my life be coming to a close already? Living in South Africa has provided me with some of the happiest days of my life. I never want to lose the joy I found in this country. I would need countless pages to write down everything I learned here (and I’m on the verge of tears just writing that), so I’m going to do my best to summarize my semester abroad and what this blog means to me.

As a Public Relations major, I originally started this blog as a means to build my portfolio. After speaking with one of my professors at UT Austin, I decided to apply the skills I learned from his class to build this site. I knew the general direction and tone I planned to use when writing this blog, but I didn’t create a strategic plan on how often to post. Instead, I wanted the posts to come more organically. Quite simply, when I felt like I had something of significance to share, I would share it.

With time, the posts became longer, quirkier, and more therapeutic. At this point, I can’t imagine coming to Cape Town and not blogging. It has really helped me reflect on my time here without the pressure to add something new everyday. Lately, I have been honored (and shocked) when friends living with me in Cape Town have commended my writing skills. To think that I am capturing their feelings in these posts, as well as my own, is something I never expected.

Though some thoughts I have kept as personal keepsakes, this blog is an accurate reflection of my time abroad. The serendipitous nature of South Africa isn’t something that can be contrived. Frankly, this country is pretty much as great as I portray it to be.

That being said, I have narrowed down my thoughts down to a few final words of wisdom.

A picture may be worth 1,000 words, but a memory is worth more.
Although I certainly don’t lack pictures representing my time abroad, there are times where I chose to forego photographic evidence. I’ve learned it’s fine to leave my phone at home and focus on living in the moment, instead.

Be adventurous, not naïve.
As the title of this blog implies, an element of adventure is inevitable during a semester abroad. However, I never forgot that I’m still in a foreign country with customs that are unfamiliar to me. I am independent, but not vulnerable.

How's this for adventure? Skydiving + hookin' em from 9,000 feet in the air = A dream come true! (Click photo to enlarge.)
Surround yourself with positive people.
Within a month of living in an apartment complex with other exchange students, I felt like I was trapped in an American bubble. Instead of becoming frustrated, I took my fate into my own hands. I decided it was up to me to find personalities I meshed with, and that it was fine to breakaway from the crowd. The instant I started living my life that way, my days and nights became extremely more fun and unforgettable.

Learn from your mistakes – even if it means making them a few times.
This statement can apply to a multitude of situations. I find it most applicable when thinking about relationships I've formed while abroad. I’m certainly still learning, but I am finally confident in my decisions and know that I have the ability to fix my missteps.

Since my past few days were spent skydiving, enjoying teatime, and wine tasting, I’m leaving this country with a bang. For every task I have been able to check off my to-do list, I have added new memories that will last a lifetime.

Cheers, one last time, from South Africa! (Click photo to enlarge.)

As if it wasn’t clear enough already, coming to Cape Town was the best decision I have ever made. I cannot wait to return here someday in the not too distant future. So with that, I sign off one final time from South Africa. I hope America (and TexMex) are ready for me... and all of my luggage! Thank you for reading about my African adventures.

Sincerely from South Africa,

Monday, November 3, 2014

Where The Wild Things Are

I’ve never thought of myself as a particularly adventurous person, but lately my perspective has changed. Although I do understand how riding an elephant, getting up close and personal with lions, and bungee jumping twice in the span of a few weeks isn’t the norm, I can’t imagine coming to South Africa and not doing all of those things. Even if some of my latest antics have been giving my mom and dad slight panic attacks, I have learned the importance of stepping outside of my comfort zone. My time here is too limited for me to live my life any other way.

Recently, a friend sent me this article that I found extremely compelling and incredibly relatable to my current state of mind. I found the most inspiring statement to be, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone,” and that is a motto I empathize with wholeheartedly. Originally after I read the article, I was going to write a blog post highlighting all of the reasons why studying abroad has ruined my life – i.e. I’ll never make friends like this again; I’ll never get to feed an elephant again; I’ll never get to be within mere feet of lions again; essentially, I’ll never get chances quite like this ever again.

But, as I was starting to compile that list, I realized I had missed the point of the article completely. Sure, studying abroad has given me a multitude of opportunities that I never thought were possible, but that doesn’t mean the adventure ends here. Instead, if when I go home in a couple of weeks, I will think of all of the lessons I have learned in Africa and continue to satisfy my craving for adventure.

So, what has been fulfilling my wildest dreams lately? Things such as…

Feeding an ostrich. That being said, I didn’t know side effects from performing this act include pinching pain, ticklishness, and the always-attractive gnarly double chin angles. Fun fact: an ostrich’s brain weighs 30 grams, whereas each eye ball weighs 60 grams, i.e. they are not the most intelligent birds.
Meeting my new ostrich friend proved to be a bit uncomfortable! (Click photo to enlarge.)

Hugging an elephant. As giant as they may be, elephants are some of the sweetest creatures I’ve come into contact with and it was such a treat to be able to interact with them. They really are just friendly giants!
Now I know that elephant hugs tickle and these guys are as food motivated as my dog! (Click photos to enlarge.)

Embodying my inner-mermaid. The scenery along the Eastern Cape is so picturesque that it led to a mildly embarrassing photo-shoot inspired by The Little Mermaid.
Does this make me a mermaid yet? (Click photo to enlarge.)

Bungee jumping… again. If everyone jumped off a bridge, would you? I decided to answer that question with an enthusiastic, “Yes!” by jumping off of the highest commercial bungee bridge in the world. Luckily I’m still here to tell about it even after a 6 second free-fall down 709 feet. Update: severe back pain will occur as a result.
Before and After pictures from my bungee jump... luckily I was still smiling! (Click photo to enlarge.)

Watch my bungee video, if you dare. Warning: extreme whiplash involved at the 0:33 mark.

Walking with lions. Yes, you read that right. I got the chance to walk with a lion and a lioness. I was in awe of them the entire time and only slightly terrified for my life.
 Just "lion" around in the middle of Africa! (Click photos to enlarge.)
I still have some last minute excursions on the horizon during my last couple of weeks in South Africa. Let’s just say that I’m bound to experience at least one more adrenaline rush before it’s time for me to skydive fly home to Texas. Sorry in advance, Mom and Dad!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Monkeying Around

My worst fear is coming true: I can count on one hand how many more weeks I have left in Cape Town before my return to the U.S. That being said, I am making a conscious effort to take advantage of every opportunity that is presented to me between now and then (unless, of course, it’s the chance to go white water rafting again, in which case I say, “No thanks!”).

Just yesterday I was thinking about how astonishing it is that a place that was once so foreign to me began to feel like home so quickly. I’m not quite ready to reflect on everything studying abroad has taught me because that list will be endless. That’s for another blog post entirely and I know it will get the waterworks going, which is never a cute look. For now, I want to share a few things that have been making me happy lately, all of which truly encompass the beauty that is South Africa.

Recently, I took an adventure to Monkey Town (yes, that’s the real name of an actual place) to visit a wildlife center for monkeys and apes. The median age of people on the tour was about 8.5 years old, but that didn’t stop my friends and me from being in awe of the animals. We even opted to do a “monkey encounter,” which entailed stepping into a cage with a few of the monkeys. The man in charge gave us lettuce and bananas to feed the monkeys, but they really only wanted the jellybeans he fed them, further proving humans and monkeys aren’t so different after all.
 I met a South African boy to take home! He's just a bit hairier than I expected... (Click photo to enlarge.)

Lately, some of my most cherished moments in South Africa have occurred when I’m not doing the “touristy” things. For instance, I had a lovely Rosh Hashanah potluck dinner with a handful of other study abroad students, which I know made all of our Jewish mothers very proud. The night was filled with lots of laughs, raisin challah, and apples and honey. All of these things made me realize that I had made a home in Cape Town and I wasn’t missing out by not being with my family for the holiday.

Even something like the sun setting at dusk doesn’t get old. The beauty of this city never ceases to amaze me.

The prettiest cotton candy clouds! (Click photo to enlarge.)

Two weeks ago I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to travel to Johannesburg. While I was there, I visited the Apartheid Museum and Nelson Mandela’s home, among other notable historical sites. During my stay in Johannesburg, I found a sticker featuring my favorite quote (which I am guilty of including on every college essay application). I am a true believer in this sentiment and think it perfectly captures the wisdom of Mandela. It was such a special surprise to find this in Joburg, and I think about it often.

"Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." - Nelson Mandela
(Click photo to enlarge.)

When the site seeing was complete, I had the great fortune of meeting a few extended family members who live in Johannesburg. Even though we had never met before, they truly made me feel like a part of their family with a warm welcome into their home. I am so grateful to have finally gotten the chance to get to know them. Though our visit was short, we made plans for a return trip at some point in the not too distant future.

A wonderful evening spent with wonderful people, The Waner Family. (Click photo to enlarge.)

I continued my escapades last weekend at a local music festival called Rocking the Daisies. Since I’d never been to a festival before I didn’t quite know what to expect, but I should’ve known Cape Town wouldn’t disappoint. The weekend was spent camping on a wine estate, listening to South African and international artists, and exploring the festival grounds with friends. Although the heat made me feel like I was in Texas again and I now have some sick Chaco tan lines on my feet, it was one of the best weekends I’ve spent in Cape Town and I will always remember it fondly.

I coordinated my outfit with the music festival... Rockin' a daisy skirt at Rocking the Daisies! (Click photo to enlarge.)

I’m sure the next few weeks are going to be a blur as I attempt to check the final few things off of my to-do (and to-see and to-eat) list. Now, please excuse me as I go off to continue my African adventures!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Happy Camper

If someone had told me a few months ago that I’d go on a camping trip to Botswana and Zimbabwe, I would have laughed in their face. My only prior experience camping was during elementary school when I went to a Girl Scout retreat for a few days. But, study abroad is all about adventure and getting out of my comfort zone, so I bought a sleeping bag, a flashlight, and bug spray to prepare myself for life in the African bush.

My journey began in the middle of the night with a red-eye flight from Cape Town to Johannesburg. From Joburg, my friends and I boarded a bus that would guide us through Botswana and Zimbabwe. After many hours of driving, we finally arrived at our first campsite. Surprise! They had Wi-Fi. So, after a quick text to my mom to let her know I had safely arrived in Botswana, I started my 10 days of living off the grid without disruptions from the outside world.

Our first major stop was in a remote area of Botswana called the Okavango Delta. Before boarding a mokoro (a mix between a canoe and a paddle board) to get to the Delta, we were greeted with the tremendous gift of seeing a herd of elephants, including a baby! It was so unexpected and special to see the animals up close and personal.

Once we were settled in at the campsite, we were offered an opportunity to learn how to steer the mokoro ourselves. I hesitated because, although I love water activities, I am not the most coordinated person and I feared that I would fall in the Delta. I decided I should take my chances and attempt to learn this new skill. Guess what?

I fell in the Delta.

 From top left going clockwise: 1. Elephant selfie! 2. Home Sweet Home 3. A pic after my quick dip in the Delta 4. A Baobab tree (Click photo to enlarge.)

I had successfully rowed out from shore and was in the middle of the Delta with my guide, Stuart (affectionately known as Delta Stu). He was attempting to show me how to turn the mokoro as we were both on the same side of the canoe. Before we knew it, the mokoro began to wobble and as my luck would have it, I tumbled into the water and poor Delta Stu fell in with me.

Of course I was extremely apologetic and embarrassed. Instead of sailing back to shore, he suggested we should wade through the water and go dry off. Luckily, it was a sunny day and he was very sympathetic about my clumsiness. The rest of our day at the Delta included a campfire and bush walks, in which we saw zebras and hippos. Soon thereafter it was time to leave the Delta and continue on our tour across the country.

From top left going clockwise: 1. The Delta at sunset 2. One of many zebras that live in the Delta 3. A hungry, hungry hippo 4. Baby elephant! (Click photo to enlarge.)

The next stop was Chobe National Park where my friends and I went on our first game drive. It was an incredible experience in which we saw exotic African birds, giraffes, elephants, hippos, and warthogs (AKA Pumba from The Lion King). We concluded our outing with a river cruise down the Chobe River, where we viewed more animals and watched the sunset. (Rest assured that I didn’t fall in the water this time.)

From far left going clockwise: 1. Posing with a giraffe in Chobe 2. Close up of my new giraffe friend! 3. A lilac breasted roller - one of the most gorgeous birds I've ever seen! (Click photo to enlarge.)

Next, we left Botswana en route to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. One of the seven natural wonder of the world, Vic Falls is a magnificently huge waterfall that is breathtaking to view. I was especially looking forward to our time in Vic Falls since it included the #1 thing I had been wanting to do since I knew I was going to Africa: bungee jump.

I altered my plan a bit and decided to expand my adrenaline rush by signing up to zip line, bungee jump, and go on a bridge swing. The swing is similar to a bungee, but it is right side up instead of upside down. After I successfully zip lined, I went to go get harnessed for the bungee. Even though I was over 300 feet in the air, I wasn’t scared at all.

That is, until I jumped.

Brace yourself for the video of my bungee jump!

Three seconds of free fall doesn’t sound like much, but when someone yells “5, 4, 3, 2, 1… BUNGEE,” time seems to freeze. The instant I jumped I thought to myself, “What have I just done?!” Yet, there was no turning back at that point so I tried my hardest to enjoy the fall over Vic Falls. Once the initial jump was over I thought I would feel better, but that wasn’t the case. All of the blood started rushing to my head and I was worried that everyone had forgotten about me! Obviously that was not the case and a man was repelling down to come rescue retrieve me.

I barely had any time to bask in the adrenaline rush of it all because I ran directly back up the bridge to get strapped in the harness for the bridge swing. This excursion also included a free fall, so I began to get a bit nervous. Overall, the experience was much more enjoyable since I could actually take in the gorgeous view without balancing on my head.

Even though it was incredibly scary, I don't regret it at all and I’m even planning to bungee jump again in South Africa before I leave with a free fall that is twice as long. Let’s hope I survive that one, too!

 From far left going clockwise: 1. Basking in the sunshine and mist at Vic Falls 2. Getting suited up as I eagerly awaited my bungee jump 3. My attempt at a panorama shot of Vic Falls (Click photo to enlarge.)

As if bungee jumping wasn’t enough of an adrenaline rush, the next day I went white water rafting down the Zambezi River. Ironically enough, my guide for this excursion was also named Stuart! After many mouthfuls of water, losing a contact, and falling into the river three times, I can honestly say that was the most frightening thing I have ever done. The river takes pity on no one and constantly caused people to be flipped out of their rafts. We went through 19 rapids, ranging from Classes 1 through 5. (Class 7 is the most extreme.)

No matter how skilled of a swimmer you are, the instant your raft capsizes the current sucks you up and your heart begins to race.  The scariest moment was on Rapid #7, in which every single person in my raft flipped out. I tried to see under water, but my vision was cloudy and my helmet began to slip down and cover my eyes. I then got stuck under a raft, where I was able to come up for air for a split second. Then, someone attempted to flip that raft right side up and I became trapped again. Thankfully, I ended up next to a friend who was on my raft and she showed me a rope I could grab on to. A few seconds later, another raft pulled us out of the water, much to my lungs’ satisfaction. I was still terrified and the friend who showed me the rope later told me she could see the pure fear in my eyes. Yet, that wasn’t even the halfway point, so we continued down the river and into the heart of the rapids. After a few hours of rafting, we finally stepped foot on land. My legs felt like Jell-O at this point and I could feel all of the water from the Zambezi sloshing around my stomach. Although I am glad I got to experience the waves of the river, I can confidently say I do not plan to white water raft again in the near future.

Miraculously, we all survived white water rafting! (Click photo to enlarge. Photo Credit to videographer Simon Watson)

After a truly exhausting final day in Vic Falls, we boarded the bus again and continued travelling throughout Zimbabwe until we crossed the border back into South Africa. During those 10 days, time seemed to move slowly as we enjoyed each other’s company and the simple joys of camping. Yet, in retrospect, time flew by and I can’t believe I finally had the chance to encounter the animals, as well as bungee jump. It was an extraordinary trip and this post only begins to capture everything I experienced while I travelled throughout those countries.

Four loads of laundry later and a few good nights sleep in a bed (a luxury I now sincerely appreciate), I’m back in Cape Town working on the “study” portion of study abroad. Needless to say, I am truly one happy camper.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014


Exhilarating, phenomenal, and surreal – these are the words I would use to describe my past few days in Cape Town. Recently, someone asked me to choose the best thing I’ve done abroad thus far. To be honest, I didn’t have an answer. While Cape Town has definitely been treating me well, I couldn’t pinpoint one moment and confidently say, “blank changed my life!”

That is, I didn’t have an answer until Friday when I went paragliding off of Lion’s Head.

You may recall Lion’s Head is one of the nearby mountains in Cape Town I recently hiked. You may also recall I told myself I’d never hike it again. Well, this all changed a few days ago when I found out that in order to paraglide off of Lion’s Head, I had to hike up Lion’s Head. In retrospect, this seems obvious, but that never clicked in my head before I signed up.

My mom often tells me not much has changed since I was two; if I am hungry and tired, I’m not the most pleasant person to be around. On this morning I was operating on a few hours of sleep and only a banana in my stomach, so I certainly wasn’t stoked to set out on an unexpected early morning hike. But, after much debate, I agreed to bite the bullet and complete what I had set out to do.

So, after another hike up Lion’s Head, I finally made it to the take off point and was ready to go. I put on my helmet, got the parachute attached to my harness, and literally jumped off the cliff. Luckily I was all strapped in, so instead of plummeting to my downfall, I was instantly lifted into the air and got a bird’s eye view of Cape Town. The scenery was breathtaking and it was incredible to see the city from that perspective.

This is Africa! (Click photo to enlarge.)
Little did I know, the best part was yet to come. While in the air, the pilot I was tandem to told me it was “rollercoaster time.” Granted, I didn’t know what that meant, but I didn’t have many options at that point. Lo and behold, the following few minutes would be the most fun I’ve had in Cape Town up until this point.

What a way to start the day! (Click photo to enlarge.)
I can’t quite describe the feeling, so I’ve included a clip to help explain what it was like to be in the air. Fair warning: you’re about to get a good laugh at my expense. Let me also preface this video by saying I was hysterically laughing the entire time. I have a theory that too many endorphins were released in my brain at this moment, leading to the maniacal reaction. That being said, this made me realize that all of my hard work was worth it.

This will be my last blog post for the next couple of weeks, as I will soon be departing for a 10-day camping trip in Botswana and Zimbabwe. While I’m there, I will be going on game drives, white water rafting, and will finally get to do the thing I have most wanted to do in Africa: bungee jump off of Victoria Falls! I’m sure I’ll have many stories to tell and pictures to share upon my return and I can’t wait to experience the other activities southern Africa has to offer. Farewell for now!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Lion Queen

After another whirlwind weekend, I’m convinced I’m living in a winter wonderland. It’s such a treat to be a tourist in my own city and explore places I’ve never been before. The past few days were full of adventure and trying new things, both of which I’ve learned are essential when studying abroad.

On Friday I embodied my inner aristocrat and attended High Tea at the Mount Nelson Hotel. To summarize teatime in one word, I would say it was idyllic. I ate delicious finger foods, scrumptious sweets, and drank traditional British tea. As if that wasn’t enough, the scenery was stunning. Much to my surprise and extreme satisfaction, the hotel is painted an adorable light pink. Even with a leisurely stay, I never wanted to leave! Below are pictures to do the setting more justice than my words ever could.
The Mount Nelson Hotel in all of its glory! (Click photo to enlarge.)
Believe it or not, these are only some of the treats the hotel had to offer! (Click photos to enlarge.)

The fun continued on Saturday with my first visit to Camps Bay, a nearby beach. The sun was shining for most of the afternoon and luckily the water was just warm enough so that my friends and I could jump in the Atlantic Ocean. I can’t wait to return to the beach when it warms up a bit more!
This view really never gets old! (Click photo to enlarge.)
Sunday was a day I will never forget. After a lot of convincing and motivation from friends, I hiked Lion’s Head to see the sunset and the full moon rise. I’m not much of a hiker (i.e., not at all), but it was a rewarding experience. I can’t say I’m rushing to hike again, yet I’ll always cherish the moment of making it to the top and gazing out to appreciate the wondrous view.
 The view from the top of Lion's Head was sort of worth all of my hard work!

Hook 'Em from over 2,000 feet up in the air!
The full moon and city lights were phenomenal!

This coming weekend is also sure to be an eventful one. I am doing a homestay in the rural town of Grabow, the largest fruit exporter in South Africa. I’m eager to meet my host family, learn about their customs, and drink some of the famous Elgin Valley apple juice, Appletiser!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Lessons Learned

People always say time flies when you’re having fun and now I know this is true across the globe. The irony I’ve learned from studying abroad is this: for the first time in my life, I finally feel like something besides a student; for the first time in my life, I finally feel like there is something I’m doing greater in life that is complemented, not dominated, by my education.

As an extremely studious (and, frankly, anxious) person, this is a new phenomenon to me. It’s refreshing, for instance, to go to Boulders Beach with friends on a random Sunday afternoon to visit the hundreds of African penguins that live there. Even if I’m not going on an excursion, something as simple as sitting on my apartment’s balcony with a gorgeous view in the 70 degree “winter” weather is something I never take the time to do at home.

It was such a treat visiting all of the little penguins at Boulders Beach! (Click photo to enlarge.)

I’m making a conscious effort to live in the present because, judging by the fact that somehow it’s almost August, I’ll be making my way back to Texas before I know it. In the mean time, I’m learning more things everyday. Here are the top 10 things I’ve learned from being in Cape Town thus far:

10. South Africa seems to have an affinity for KFC. I would have never guessed that Kentucky Fried Chicken of all restaurants would be an intercontinental chain, but lo and behold it’s true. There are KFCs everywhere – downtown, at mall food courts, even in the suburbs.  At least this keeps my hopes up that Qdoba will come to Cape Town before I leave!

9. Ketchup is called tomato sauce and instead of office hours, UCT has tutorials called “tuts.” Cultural differences like these never fail to amuse me!

8. It’s average for a native South African to speak 6-7 languages. This really trumps my bilingual abilities of English and American Sign Language.

7. I can actually survive with only 5 gigs of Internet per month, which is another refreshing aspect about living here. My life doesn’t revolve around social media and I am actually becoming friends with people in real life before we connect on Facebook.

6. UCT recycles and supports the green initiative on campus.

5. Even with an environmentally friendly campus, UCT is definitely not smoke free.

4. Self-service checkouts at supermarkets haven’t made it to this part of the world yet. Normally I wouldn’t consider this a significant cultural difference except for the fact that I spent a whole lecture in my Information Systems class learning about the “kiosks overseas that allow you to never have to speak to another person in the grocery store!”

3. South Africa is truly the Rainbow Nation. Though it got this nickname from the number of diverse cultures and people that inhabit the country, I also found this to be true in the literal sense. (See below.)

Even on rainy days, Cape Town is still beautiful! (Click photo to enlarge.)

2. Walking to campus is not for the faint of heart. I leave 30 minutes before class to complete the 20-minute hike to Upper Campus (literally, a hike) and reward myself with a 5-minute water break. Even with this precision, I still manage to make it to class looking less than stellar. But hey, at least I’m on time and will soon have calves of steel.

1. People don’t have to ask me if I’m American because apparently they can tell from my “sports clothes and bright shoes.” This was a lovely greeting from the first guy I ever talked to on campus.

This weekend I’ll be exploring Stellenbosch and spending as much time as I can basking in this beautiful weather. Happy August from my time zone to yours!