Berkeley Study Abroad Fair - September 27 in the Pauley Ballroom

Alana Lopez-Koen

Alana Lopez-Koen

Major: Development Studies, Conservation and Resource Studies Minor

"My semester abroad changed me because I was able to see my academic learning coincided with real life experiences, which helped me develop a stronger passion for my field of study. The friends I met while abroad also changed me because they pushed me to do things out of my comfort zone, such as paragliding and cage diving with sharks, many of which have become some of my most cherished memories from South Africa."

 

 

What led you to study abroad? Why did you choose your country/program?

For as long as I can remember, studying abroad was always going to be a part of my college career. As a Development Studies Major with an area concentration in Africa, it seemed fitting for me to study abroad in a country where my academic learning could coincide with real life experiences. Moreover, I felt that living in Cape Town during the city’s worst drought in over a century would offer insight to my particular interest in the field of natural resource management. I also chose to study abroad in South Africa because UCT offered a wide range of classes, so I wouldn’t be limited on the types of classes I could take there. Finally, I liked that the program offered houses as one of the living arrangements because it was different than the type of housing I had in Berkeley.

What was the most interesting cultural experience you had abroad?

The most interesting cultural experience I had while abroad was visiting the township Nyanga each week. I participated in the SHAWCO Education program, which involves international and UCT students running an after school program for 1st through 3rd grade students living in townships. After visiting Nyanga, I was able to see the disparity that exists between parts of Cape Town as well as witness the continued consequences of apartheid. Working with young students also exposed me to the isiXhosa language because many of them were in the process of learning English.

What was the biggest challenge/concern of your study abroad experience? How did you respond?

During my time abroad, I found adjusting to the expectations and teaching styles of UCT professors my biggest challenge. For my Gender and Politics class, there was a strong emphasis on integrating your personal subjectivity and positionality into biweekly essays. Since many of the prompts pertained to the circumstances of black women living in Africa, I found it difficult at first to situate myself within these conversations. Throughout the course, however, I was taught to think and write utilizing different analytical frameworks that allowed me to draw connections between my interests, academic studies, and subjectivity to the themes being discussed in class. In overcoming this challenge, I learned that with guidance my style of thinking and writing can be flexible to meet set expectations, especially those put forth by my UCT professors.

Describe a typical day for you abroad.

On a typical day, I would wake up at 8:30, eat breakfast, then walk to the Jammie stop (the bus that takes you to campus) with my housemates. I would go to my morning classes and after head to the library to finish readings or honestly catch up on Netflix shows. Then, at 12:30, my housemates and I would meet up to buy lunch together and sit on the steps of Memorial Hall to eat and hang out. At 2 pm, I would attend my last class of the day then head back to the house on the Jammie. Before dinner, I would work on assignments I had or go to the store to buy groceries. Around 6 pm, my housemates and I would usually make our dinners then eat together, or if it was a special occasion we would go out to eat at a restaurant. On a typical night, we would hang out together after dinner or go our separate ways to do homework.

What coursework did you take while abroad? How did courses abroad compare with Berkeley classes?

While at UCT I was able to fulfill major requirements for my area concentration. I was enrolled in Gender and the Politics of Development, African Religious Traditions, and Subjects to Citizens? South Africa Since 1900. It was a unique experience having South African professors teach courses with African themes because they offered perspectives that were both personal and diverse. My courses abroad were comparable, if not slightly more challenging, than my classes at Berkeley. They were all very writing intensive, which was something I had to get used to in the beginning, especially in regards to time management.

What was the most memorable/meaningful aspect of your time abroad?

The most memorable aspect of my time abroad was going on a three-day safari in Kruger National Park over spring break. A group of seven of us flew to Johannesburg from Cape Town where we were picked up and taken to the national park. Within the first hour of our game drive we had already seen elephants, buffalo, giraffes, and black rhinos. On the second day, we saw hyenas, lions, a cheetah, and a leopard. Our tour guide was extremely knowledgeable and kept us entertained with his humor on the long drives. The safari was so memorable because it brought us closer together as a group and proved that we were capable of planning a successful trip on our own. Finally, being able to see such natural beauty and incredible animals up close really took my breath away and made me appreciate the trip as a once in a life time experience.

What impact did studying abroad have on you personally?

Studying abroad in South Africa not only left me with a deeper understanding of the cultural, political, economic, and historical development of the country, but also with lifelong friendships and memories. My semester abroad changed me because I was able to see my academic learning coincided with real life experiences, which helped me develop a stronger passion for my field of study. The friends I met while abroad also changed me because they pushed me to do things out of my comfort zone, such as paragliding and cage diving with sharks, many of which have become some of my most cherished memories from South Africa.

What would you recommend to students considering studying abroad, especially to your country or program?

After studying abroad in Cape Town, the #1 piece of advice that I would offer to prospective study abroad students is to take safety in the city seriously. Cell phone and credit card theft were the most common and often occurred when going out at nights to bars and clubs. Above all, be aware of your surroundings and watch out for each other!

If you have the opportunity to meet South Africans in your classes, do it! While it's easy to stick with other UCEAP or American students, classes can be one of the best ways to meet South African students. They can offer advice on classwork, places to visit, and local foods to try!

Studying abroad in Cape Town is a once in a lifetime opportunity, so why not make the most of it! Whether it be trying different types of foods or going on exciting excursions, Cape Town has so much offer to study abroad students. Lastly, food is cheap in Cape Town, so you can try a wide variety of local and exotic foods, even on a budget.