Skip to main content Skip to secondary navigation

Piper Holland

Main content start

Piper Holland (she/her) - Stanford in Cape Town

Major: International Relations

Minor: Film and Media Studies

College year while abroad: Sophomore

About the photo: This photo was taken on the Bing Trip to a game reserve. This was our sunset safari where we got to watch a huge herd of elephants munching on the yummy flora. I captured so many amazing photographs of zebra,  giraffes, lions, rhinos, baby hippos, and cheetahs on this camera.  


Email Piper or Schedule an appointment 


Why did you choose to study in Cape Town?

When I was looking at the list of study-abroad locations Cape Town immediately stood out to me. South Africa is a vibrate young country with a fascinating and complex history that’s fairly difficult to travel to from the United States. With that in mind I knew that this could be one of the only opportunities for me to live in South Africa. Stanford in Cape Town organizes everything for you in a way that is nearly impossible to recreate individually. One example of this program’s uniqueness is the housing, Stanford Students live in an apartment building alongside local students. The opportunity to meet locals my age was an important factor for me in deciding where I wanted to go abroad. I was also excited by the organizational projects, as they aided in further engagement in the local community.

What were your expectations before you went and how did they change once you were in Cape Town?

My main expectations were that the classes were going to be engaging and different than those offered at Stanford and that I would have a lot to explore. I was happy to find that the classes were amazing, and I was able to immerse myself into the city far more than I ever expected. The energy and activity in Cape Town completely surpassed my expectations, I didn’t know how much fun it would be! There was a plethora of things to do: climbing, drumming classes, movies in the park, concerts, cafes, surfing, sound bath meditations (I highly recommend this), snorkeling, wine tasting, music festivals, paragliding and so much more. My Cape Town bucket list was endless!

What were some of the academic benefits from studying abroad in Cape Town?

The greatest strength of the Cape Town classes were the field trips. There were about 10 field trips over the 10 weeks, and I appreciated how much care was taken in creating a syllabus that used in-person visits to enhance the class topics. For example, in our Engaging Southern Cities class we discussed the current realities of affordable housing in Cape Town. The professor took the class to one of the housing projects and we got a tour and were able to talk with residents. I took that firsthand experience and used it as inspiration for my final research paper on Social Nonmovements. Other visits were to Robin Island, a small-scale farming project, the University of Cape Town, and a tour of District 6 from current homeowners. Many of these experiences very few South Africans can even get access to.

What did you learn about yourself while studying abroad?

I learned how much of an impact a place can have in such a short time. When I left Cape Town, I knew I wanted to go back. I really connected with transitional justice after taking a class on it and it has made me want to pursue a career that will allow me to return to Cape Town and do that sort of work. It made me interested in working for the foreign service and interacting with the country at the embassy level. After I got back, I fully committed to the international relations major because of how much I loved the classes and professors in Cape Town.

What was the most challenging experience you encountered while abroad and what did you learn from it?

The first week I struggled with figuring out how to balance safety with independence. I learned that I had to gain a deeper understanding of Cape Town before I could feel comfortable going places on my own. Over time I learned what places I could go on my own and feel safe and confident. I was able to create a balanced routine that felt very natural. I learned the importance of giving yourself time to adjust to a new place and that easing into a routine can really help.

What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make?

The biggest adjustment was living and learning in a place without a life worth of context and historical understanding. It was the first time I had studied outside of the US and taking classes about South Africa while not being from there required a lot of listening and learning from the people we were meeting and their experiences. Going to museums, reading memoirs, and just asking questions was a great way to engage with the place and its history.

What was your favorite part of everyday life?

Almost every day after classes we would take time to explore a new part of Cape Town. My favorite activity was hiking to the top of Lion’s Head and getting 360 views of the city from Table Mountain. We would also go thrifting in Observatory, a neighborhood a 5-minute walk from the center where we took classes. We would end most days on the roof of our student residence eating dinner and watching the sunset behind Table Mountain. It was a magical time for both Stanford and Cape Town students to hang out in the shared space every day.

What was the most memorable experience you had while in Cape Town?

I have so many amazing memories from Cape Town but the most memorable experience for sure was getting my lunch stolen by baboons. I went hiking through a gorge and saw a cute family of baboons. We were unsure if we should forge ahead into danger or turn back. We decided to pause to eat lunch and try to wait them out. However, we learned very quickly that we had underestimated the primates when they jumped out of a bush and grabbed our lunch bag. We dropped our bags and ran away allowing the alpha male to eat all of our lunch unzipping every pocket in my backpack looking for more food (they even tried to eat my sunscreen). We eventually walked out (minus two backpacks and our lunch) to the main gate and got help from the rangers to retrieve our bags. We learned to NEVER underestimate baboons. No Stanford students were harmed (physically, emotionally it was pretty tough to admit we got mugged by a monkey), and it quickly became a funny story.

What 5 words would you use to describe the experience?

Spontaneous, Vibrant, Fun, Nature, Lifelong friends.

What was your favorite food?

The restaurant scene in Cape Town is colorful, loud, and fun, there is so much appreciation and thought put into the preparation of food and the way it is enjoyed. I had Ethiopian food for the first time at Addis in Cape. Addis was always packed with large groups of people and was a really fun experience. The food was amazing and now I look for Ethiopian food everywhere I go.

What was the most valuable item you took on the program?

My camera was the best item I brought with me. I participated in an organizational project with the Black Filmmakers Film Festival so having my camera with me became a useful tool to document their monthly screening. I also brought it on all our BOSP excursions like when we went to Simons Town and saw the African penguins. I also got incredible photos during the Bing Trip to Pilanesberg on safari, including pictures of a 2-week-old baby elephant, a pride of lions hunting Zebras, and two brother cheetahs. I’m so grateful to have that much documentation of my travels and to be able to share the photos with everyone on the trip.

What was your favorite music/band you discovered in Cape Town?

Cape Town has a flourishing music culture. My favorite genre I discovered was Afro beats. One artist that was super popular there was Zakes Bantwini. I heard his song Osama probably every day and now every time I hear the song it makes me think of Cape Town. I also listened to a lot of Rema, Buna Boy, Wizkid, and Omah Lay. There were so many concerts to go to and dozens of music festivals of all types of music.