June 29, 2011
Studying abroad in South Africa is such a unique experience. On one hand, we are living in dorms, fed three meals a day, enjoying the social scene, shopping, and touring. On the other hand, however, we are exposed to such a different culture and quality of life.
We have been working with the people of Khayelitsha for three days now, and the opportunity to teach them is invaluable. While instructing the grown men and women on basic computer skills, we are able to talk, laugh, and learn about them and their background. Today, for instance, I taught a man how to create a resume. He was extremely intelligent and a very fast learner, and by the time we finished our session I knew all about his past, his favorite rugby teams, and what he wants to do with his life. He also taught me how to say “I love you” and “I’m hungry” in Xhosa!
Every day the eight of us from William & Mary leave the township excited about what our friends have learned and what we can teach them in the days to come. As we take the SHAWCO bus from the computer lab in Khayelitsha to the University of Cape Town, we see so many shacks, homeless people, and litter. I am quickly reminded of the difficult lives that all our new friends lead outside of our class. It is truly devastating, but we are doing what we can. Every little bit helps.
Aside from the SHAWCO service-learning segment of our program, we have also been attending daily lectures from our W&M professor and other guest lecturers. Topics range from capitalism to socialism to the development of the South African economy and they are all very interesting and relevant to our experience in the townships and the city of Cape Town. Having never taken a college-level economics course, I have been focusing and trying my best to understand all the material.
My favorite activity we have done in Cape Town so far was our hike up to Lion’s Head—a peak near Table Mountain. On Sunday morning, the eight of us packed into a taxi-van and took it to the base of Lion’s Head. It took about 1 ½ hours to get to the top, and the hike involved walking uphill, climbing ladders, traversing the side of a mountain, climbing rocks, using chains to pull ourselves up, and quite a few breaks to catch our breath. When we made it to the top, I felt so accomplished. The view was absolutely breathtaking, with a 360-degree view of Cape Town, including UCT, the World Cup stadium, Table Mountain, and the beautiful sun setting over the ocean.
Melanie Levine is a junior at the College of William & Mary double majoring in government and sociology. She studied economics and interned with a student-run non-profit organization in South Africa during the summer of 2011 as part of the W&M Cape Town summer program. Melanie is very active with the W&M International Relations Club, Alpha Phi Omega, Pi Beta Phi, and tour guiding for the Admissions Office. She is also leading a Branch-Out National Spring Break trip to Philadelphia during the Spring 2012 semester. Melanie plans to attend law school and work in the non-profit sector after her time at William & Mary. For more on Melanie’s trip to South Africa, visit Escape to the Cape.