Halo! My name is Kelli Hamilton and I am a senior at UCLA. This past fall semester, I studied abroad in Cape Town, South Africa, at the University of Cape Town. I am writing and publishing this blog with the hopes that whoever reads this will find some useful information about Cape Town, South Africa, and Africa as a whole, and maybe even choose to study there because of it. Or maybe you are just interested in how the last 16 weeks of my life went, and that is cool too. I have tried my best to condense the amazing, challenging, and unique experiences that I had in Africa into 10 blog posts, to the best of my ability. You are now cordially invited to virtually experience the whirlwind that I did in Cape Town through this blog. Enjoy!
The day had finally come. I was off to South Africa. After arriving late to the airport due to the daunting Los Angeles traffic, I was in line at Qatar Airways waiting to receive a ticket, an hour before take-off. When I finally reached the counter, my bag was also overweight. To my surprise, however, the plane had been delayed so I simply paid an overweight baggage fee and was on my way. Once I got my ticket, I said goodbye to my mom and went through security. I flew Qatar Airways because it was a reasonably priced airline that had great reviews and because I was going to be granted the opportunity to stop in Doha, Qatar, for nine hours. After a 16 hour flight, I was in Doha. After I snapped out of the daze that the stunning Doha Airport put me in, I headed to the Transit Accommodation Desk. Qatar Airways has a deal that if you have a layover that is longer than eight hours, they will put you in a hotel room, free of charge. The hotel room was lovely and featured two showers. I decided to explore the country with the free time I had so I headed to Souq Waqif, a popular square in Qatar. It was 100 degrees Fahrenheit outside, but the architecture was what took my breath away. After a few hours, I headed back to the airport to board a plane to my final destination of Cape Town, South Africa.
After another 11 hour flight, I had finally reached Cape Town, a city I had been dreaming about studying in for over a year. The immigration line was short and I got in early, so there was not a long wait. I joked with the immigration officer that he needed to endorse my visa and passport correctly so he didn’t have to see me again and I was off to my home in the Southern Suburbs, where I was to reside for the next four months. (Ironically my passport was stamped incorrectly as it stated I arrived in June and not July). I was the first one to arrive at the house, so I got to choose my room, and of course, I chose the master bedroom with a fireplace in it. The house was so cute, clean, and homey. I was ecstatic! I met my three other housemates, a girl from UCSB, a guy from Boston College, and another guy from UC Davis. I knew it was going to be a great few months in Cape Town.
That same evening we decided to take a tour of our university before sunset. The University of Cape Town, a ten minute walk from our house, was STUNNING. We got to see the sunset over table mountain, which is conveniently right behind the school. In the background, Capetonians played rugby. I could hardly contain my excitement for orientation the following day. Orientations are usually painted as rather bland, so I did not expect all the great things that occurred during orientation at the University of Cape Town. The student leaders performed dances, but the highlight of the orientation was the drumming lesson! We had local South Africans play drums for us and then they distributed drums for every single student to play along. It was the best orientation I have ever attended. The following days we enrolled in classes, and in contrast to UCLA, everything had to be done in person. This was a welcome change to me since I feel more human contact is needed in today’s society. The process of getting pre-approved for courses was a bit challenging, and something everyone should look into during study abroad, but ultimately everything worked out. I was ready to immerse myself in Cape Town academic and cultural life, and I knew this was just the beginning of my wonderful South African journey.
Feeling Like Dora (The Explorer)
Before school started, I had about a week to explore Cape Town, and I did just that. The first day of exploring, my housemates and I ended up at Camps Bay next to Clifton Beach. We went with the intention of surfing, but Cape Town winter weather got the best of us and told us to just stay on the sand.
We climbed some rocks and took in the fresh air and beautiful water. After a while we headed to Camps Bay. Lucky for us, we came at the perfect time to watch the sunset. Table Mountain was so stunning and close that it looked fake. The mountain exuded a reddish-brown hue against a slightly purple backdrop. The sun setting on the water was spectacular. It was everything I had hoped for and more.
The following day, the IDACA program, which included about 26 students from different University of California campuses and Boston College, hosted a hiking day up Lion’s Head, a popular spot for locals and tourists alike. It took us about two hours to reach the top, but the views were more than worth it. We were able to see the entire city, especially where the water hits the land, and it was a sight to see. That day we also watched the sunset at Signal Hill which was a jaw dropping event.
In our action-packed week, we also managed to see penguins. Yes, I too, did not know that there were such a thing as African penguins, but I was pleasantly surprised. My housemates and I were able to interact closely with penguins and chase them around the beach at Boulders Beach. We even got to swim with a few of them. If you make your way to Boulders Beach one day, be advised that they do bite and if they position their necks a certain way it is best to stay out of their line of vision.
The last stop of our busy week was Cape Point. The IDACA program went on a bus with about 100 other international students. We drove from UCT, through a township, and ended at Cape Point. In the township, we saw a talent show and had a delicious lunch, which was an awesome treat. After that we headed to Cape Point, which was marvelous. The sun was shining and the sand was cool (temperature wise), not to mention the water was a beautiful aquamarine-turquoise mix. We got to see baboons in person too! I did not know that they screamed so loudly (lol). We also visited Bo-Kaap, and saw an array of colorful houses. Overall my week of exploration was one for the books, and I could hardly contain my excitement about getting to see more of Cape Town.