Sarah Griffin (she/her) - Stanford in Cape Town
Major: International Relations
College year while abroad: Junior
About the photo: This was taken along the Chapmans Peak drive on the way to Hout Bay in Cape Town. It was part of a day trip where we explored some of Cape Town's most famous landmarks, including the Cape of Good Hope, Boulders Beach, and Simons Town. As you can see, Cape Town has some of the most incredible natural beauty you'll ever experience!
Questions and Answers with Sarah
Why did you choose to study abroad in Cape Town?
My interest areas in International Relations are in social and economic development, so a lot of my coursework deals with the Global South and issues of poverty, inequality, and human rights violations. However, this education always comes from a very Western perspective. I wanted to take courses that deal with these themes from the perspective of a country like South Africa, which has dealt with how to transition following a period of massive human rights violations and where many people are passionately and creatively working towards a more equal future.
What were your expectations before you went and how did those change once you arrived in Cape Town?
I tried to go into Cape Town without too many preconceived ideas of what I would experience. Still, my expectations were far exceeded -- all of the program staff were incredibly kind and helpful, classes were interesting and challenged my world view every single day, and there are SO many different things to do in Cape Town that it's impossible to be bored.
What were some of the academic benefits from studying abroad in Cape Town?
All of our classes were incredibly relevant to our life in South Africa. They intersected with each other and with our lives outside of school in fascinating and sometimes surprising ways -- I brought knowledge I learned from our Contemporary Issues in South Africa class to a class on the Archaeology of the First Peoples of the Western Cape, and the things we learned about also enriched conversations I had with local students about their personal experiences in Cape Town. You won't get the knowledge you get from studying in Cape Town by just visiting as a tourist, and you won't be able to get it from a classroom at Stanford either. It is a truly unique experience.
What did you learn about yourself while you were studying abroad?
I learned how much I value having a community of people to rely on. The connections I made with my cohort, the program staff, and local students are some of the most valuable parts of my experience in Cape Town, and I would not have enjoyed it nearly as much without them!
What was the most challenging experience you encountered while you were abroad and what did you learn from it?
My biggest challenge was having my phone pick-pocketed while I was out alone! It was a really scary experience, being alone in a place and unsure how to get back home. I relied on my phone for everything in Cape Town, since our main method of transportation was Uber. But I learned that I can navigate even extremely challenging situations in an unfamiliar place, and that Capetonians are incredibly kind, helpful people. The people who worked in the store where I lost my phone were so helpful and sympathetic and helped me get a ride home, and the program staff went above and beyond in making sure I was able to get a replacement.
What was your favorite part of your everyday life in Cape Town?
I loved exploring different cafes and restaurants after class. It was a great way to see different neighborhoods and try different foods, while also getting classwork done. When we weren't studying and trying different cafes, I loved going on hikes, visiting beaches, and soaking in all of the natural beauty Cape Town has to offer.
What was the most memorable experience you had while you were in Cape Town?
We took a trip to a remote nature preserve for our archaeology class, where we stayed in cabins and spent time in nature, hiking to various sites with ancient rock paintings. We got to try authentic, homestyle South African cooking for the first time, and since we were off the grid, we spent lots of time talking and bonding with the program staff and other students. At night, we sat around a camp fire and star-gazed, and I saw some of the brightest night skies I've ever seen.
What was your favorite food you had in Cape Town?
I loved Cape Malay food, a cuisine I had never tried before! Cape Town is so diverse and has so many different kinds of cuisine to try, you can never get bored of the food.
What was the most valuable item you took with you on the program?
A portable charger! I took it everywhere with me, and it was really nice not to have to worry about my phone or portable wifi router (provided by the program) dying while I was out and about.
What was your favorite music/band that you discovered in Cape Town?
We got to go to a music festival organized by students at local universities, and we got to hear performances by some pretty popular South African artists. It was such a fun night!