I think I love Saturdays most of all. Saturdays are more my days than any other day.

I wake up almost as if on cue, every day at around 8 a.m., if not woken earlier by a my Miley Cyrus alarm clock song. I hate when I wake up at 8, knowing that I don’t have to wake up until 9:30 or even 8:30. It’s harder to fall back into a nice, deep sleep when you know you’re waking up in an hour more or less.

But on Saturdays, it doesn’t matter when I wake up first. Because I can close my eyes and go back to sleep for as long as I want. Saturdays mean my kitchen is a mess, my house is quiet, and my neighborhood is taking the day off.

On this Saturday, I woke up at ten thirty. I took my time eating my breakfast in my room. I pushed the curtains aside and let the bright morning light into my room. I opened the window and felt warm air outside. I did some reading for class in my bed, took some notes on various philosophers, and looked over the South African constitution.

Madison came over and we walked to the grocery store. I stocked up on gluten-free noodles and pancake mix, and she stocked up on those rare tortilla chips, which only one store that we know of has. I came home to warm up leftovers of rice and shrimp for lunch, and then I made some coffee.

My time in Africa is perfectly embodied by a leisurely pace. It’s like I casually stroll through life here at a speed dictated by no demands. I can walk as quickly or as slowly as I like, and most of the time, I walk the latter pace. I have nowhere to be, nothing to do. Time just isn’t of the essence. Days float by like bed sheets hanging on a clothesline. They blow in the wind, but they promise not to go anywhere, and they are certainly in no hurry to dry.

Every day is the same here. But that, and the fact that I can walk by at a pace slow enough to notice what I pass, allows me to learn of new things each day. It lets me become further established in my life here. It allows me to teeter on the edge of new and familiar.

Beyond the gates of my residence, my nerves are, for the most part, on edge. I worry that each man that passes me by is going to pull out a knife or a gun and put it to my head demanding that I give him everything I have. It seems almost comical that this is my fear: but it’s not a joke and that means it isn’t funny. I look around like a nervous dog as I walk down any sidewalk. If I hear steps behind me, my own quicken. I don’t look anyone in the eye, and I have learned not to say hello and smile kindly. I’ve learned to pretend like I know what I’m doing, to pretend like I have a purpose, to pretend like I’m not nice, to pretend like I don’t have a heart when they come begging.

Despite having to remain in this constant state of paranoia, though, I have never felt so at peace than in this place. Here, I know what it’s like to breathe. I know what it’s like to sit and have nothing to do but think, be still, write, or just listen to music. I go to bed early here because I want to and I can. Not because I need to. I don’t have American-Dream demands tugging at both my wrists. My shoulders feel less tense than they have in, seemingly, years. My time doesn’t need to be planned out and delivered in portions to demands I am obligated to fulfill.

And this, I have a feeling, is the way much of South Africa lives. I can infer this from the literal pace they walk at every day. We Americans have had a tough time walking behind a native; they walk like they have nowhere to be. And though we don’t either, we feel we should at least look like we have somewhere to be and things to do.

This leisurely way of life is nice, yes – it’s even rejuvenating. But it seems to come at a cost.


South Africa as a destination for study abroad is a destination only because there is a wealth of information to be learned by just living here. It requires that you have already an understanding of the global economy and a base understanding of developing nations.

South Africa is not a destination for study abroad because the education is top quality. It’s not.

Frequently, Matt, Madison and I find ourselves commenting on the lack of standards in a university that is supposed to be of high caliber. Our professors expect little of us. They tell us what to read and they tell us what we read when we get to class. Going to class may be “compulsory,” but it’s really not. You don’t need to go to class to learn here. The professors, save for a rare few, hardly add anything to the quality of education. There is a sad lack of dialogue between students and professor. Questions asked by students are basic, asking only for clarification. It seems that they are not encouraged to critically think on their own. Classes here revolve around a textbook.

Students here lack the basics – those basics that we, in America, learn even before high school. On one of the first sessions of one of my senior-level classes we had a lecturer come in and tell us how to write a paper. She told the class what an introduction and conclusion must contain, how to link paragraphs using transition sentences, and how to cite sources – things we learn no later than our freshman year of high school and hone throughout the rest of our educational career.

Madison had a professor address her students because in some papers turned into her students had cited themselves as a source. That same teacher complained out loud that the standards of the university had been lowered because half of the students in the humanities faculty failed.

The frequency of testing is much lower than I have experienced in classes at home. I have one class that has five-question tests every week over one chapter in the book. He is sure to tell us that these are difficult tests and that students need to study for them as they would any other test. But come the test, the questions ask nothing that involves thinking beyond what is plainly written in the text. If you read, you’ll do fine.

There is a sense of apathy among students. This is revealed in the absolute silence that follows when a professor asks a question – even a question about the current affairs of these students’ own country. Students’ low standards for themselves are only reinforced by professors that don’t seem to care one way or the other. There is hardly any relationship between professor and student here. And it clearly hurts the education of the students.

The University of Pretoria is considered the top university in the nation. We are at the Harvard of South Africa. And yet we struggle to find the school challenging. The professors only direct our eyes at what we need to see, and other than that they are unnecessary. We teach ourselves everything. Going to class has become a waste of time – so I don’t go. I go to two of my four classes because attendance is taken. The content and lecturing of the other two are elementary.

We are not students of our professors, or of the institution itself. We are students of South Africa while we are here.

I try to refrain from being a “typical American” who thinks that everything should be done our way. I don’t believe everything should be done our way. But I do believe, and the other two Americans agree, that the American institution of education – and especially university-level schooling – is something worth praise. While the quality of education is not evenly dispersed among Americans, generally speaking it is high.

Our elementary schools and high schools may be at a lower level than other countries’, but we at least have top-quality universities to reinforce our lower-level education institutions. The university culture that has been created in America is one in which all parties involved are dedicated to high standards. There is an atmosphere of competition in American universities, something I don’t sense in our South African university.

I had a long discussion about this with two of my new Zambian friends who work at the car wash right beside my coffee shop down the road.

Immediately upon meeting them I felt they were different than other people. They were warm and congenial – asked me questions, remembered my name, stood around to talk to me for a long time. It wasn’t that they were “interested” in me; they’re grown men, one even introduced me to his wife. That one moved to South Africa eight years ago from Zambia; the other moved only three months ago.

Their English is clear and grammatical. They seem well-educated and have a firm understanding of the world. The one, whose name I have completely forgotten so we’ll call him John, has been all over the world. They are both fascinating to listen to; their perspectives on things in South Africa, as outsider insiders, add an interesting dimension.

They asked me what I thought of South Africa and how it compared to what I expected from it.

I hesitated in my answer.

What I had expected was something I thought would be more “African” – warm and inviting people. Other than that I had no expectations. And that one expectation I had, I told them, was greatly defeated. I have spoken with the other Americans, and we all agree that it has been a challenge to find our way into “society” – into our university’s society. People are rooted in their own niches, and they aren’t looking to invite anyone else into them.

The Zambians wholeheartedly agreed with me, saying for them, in their country, people are always looking to greet each other, to invite each other over for dinner, to talk and talk and talk. Coming here, they told me, took some adjustment – no one looks at anyone else, no one says hello, no one cares to care. We hang out with each other, they told me, because it’s hard to make friends with anyone else. And furthermore, they say, it’s impossible to trust anyone else.

To look across campus in the student center, where everyone lays in the grass and sits at picnic tables, is to see a racially and sexually segregated population. There are black, white and Indian, separated by race and ethnicity. And those groups are further separated into male and female, save for couples. The divided history that has bred them is revealed conspicuously in their present lives. Even in class, the international students have all noted the separation. I looked across my classroom one day and saw blacks on both sides and whites in the middle. The mingling of our races is minimal.

There is not one international student who has found a niche in the wider Pretoria society. We have befriended each other, and these, the people who are our neighbors, are the people we spend our time with. Beyond that, making friends is difficult. There isn’t an outreach to the international students – not a tangible and effective one. So we sit on the sidelines and watch the racial interplay – or lack thereof. And it’s fascinating.

But I can’t paint such a terrible picture of this nation. As John and I agreed, this place has so much potential. But a wheel can spin when it’s stuck in wet mud. Even if the engine on the vehicle is working, it won’t go anywhere. Foundational reparations need to be made – starting with the educational system.

John and Francis, the other Zambian, told me that only fifty percent of South African elementary students make it through school; only eighty percent through high school; and one percent through university-level education. Those statistics are probably rough, but I wouldn’t think reality to be far from them. There are always jobs in the paper, John said, asking for employees. But those jobs require high-education, which a vast majority of South Africans don’t have. Such a lack of education has, it cannot be doubted, contributed greatly to the critically high (documented) unemployment rate of 25 percent. And beyond that, such educational deficiencies have inevitably contributed (among various other historical and current international and domestic factors) to the fact that South Africa remains at a status of “developing nation.”

Maybe my faith in education is too overplayed, but its effects can empirically prove lasting and beneficial results. There is, I think I will forever believe, nothing greater than education. It is the key to possibility. Its inexistence or deficiency is just a locked door, behind which opportunity stands waiting idly. This philosophy is what drives me to dedicate my life to being that teacher that delivers keys out to children who will inherit their towns, their cities, their states, their nations, their continents, their world.

Globalization proves to be a problem. It intertwines economy with all other facets of domestic life and culture. States can’t join the ranks of global trade without permitting domestic changes, dictated by the economic powers at be, to happen. If a state wants to become a major player globally, it has to start at a foundational, domestic level, in compliance with – inevitably – Western principles. Such principles can only be infused into a population through mandatory education.

It means the slow-paced life of African countries, namely those seeking a valid position in the global economy, can’t continue on that way. There must be a dedication to work; there must be a standard of efficiency and healthy competition among the population. Young students must be given opportunity and encouragement to be ambitious.

What drives young Americans is a capitalistic dream. And as much as I hate capitalism, its defeat is not going to come about through revolution. It will come about because of inevitability if it is to come about at all. For a healthy economy and thus a healthy citizen life, a nation like South Africa must adopt those traits that can make it viable. From the perspective of empiricism, those traits are clearly American traits.

I don’t think I know what I’m talking about anymore, so I’m going to stop.


We couldn’t go to Mamelodi last week because there was a huge strike. Teachers want an 8.5 percent raise, but the president promised them 6. They aren’t happy. So school was cancelled.


New Character Introduction:

There’s Chris from Kenya, who lives in House 12 in my neighborhood. He is a riot. He’s like a host straight out of an American TV show. Like Ryan Seacrest but better. He thinks I’m like this sweet, innocent little “minor” – the “beautiful girl from Oklahoma!” He talks so fast I often have to do a double take. He asks a million questions at a time, wanting to know all about me – how’s my mom, where is my dad from, do I like South Africa, I must miss my family back home, what does my boyfriend study, how did I get such a fit figure, how am I doing today, what do I eat, am I a vegetarian, what do I do for fun. He’s a graduate student. He thinks I’m just “so cute!” and such a “good little girl.” He tells me I’m the “hot American girl from Oklahoma” with such Hollywood animation I can’t do anything but laugh when he says it. Every time I see him he’s with another girl, but he has a girlfriend. She’s very pretty and calmly at ease. He introduced her as his princess and then said her name, but I couldn’t say it again much less write it out.

I like Christ from Kenya. I think he loves women, but in a respectful way, because I think he loves his woman a lot. He seems to find people fascinating and it makes him incredibly outgoing. He will stop me every time I see him and talk to me, about me, for as long as I’ll let him.

Twice I saw him today, and I stopped for a long time both times to chat with him and the girl he sat with on the bench. We all went to his house for some nasty flavored blueberry cheesecake ice cream. Another girl came over and we sat around talking about religion and other things. They asked me if I go to church, and I told them I didn’t. They asked me what I believe, and I was reluctant to expound. They promised they weren’t judging and that they were just curious. I told them I believe in God but that I’m not a Christian. I told them I’m on the search and that I’m not worried about finding truth. The girl that had sat on the bench with Chris outside said she was in a place of questioning her faith, even though (or maybe because) she had grown up in a family of pastors and Jesus-freaks. We shared a mutual fascination with one another because of our individual foreignness and circumstance.

There’s Shepherd from +27 Design Café – the place I frequent every single day. Shepherd works there and makes my coffee. For him, yes means no and no means yes. He oozes sarcasm.

Shepherd has a sideways, close-lipped smile. I can’t imagine him outside the trendy café in which he works every day. He fits it, look, attitude and all, to a T. He has a quiet voice, and he talks quickly with a heavy accent. But he is kindhearted and good-natured. He wears patterned shirts, slacks and a brimmed hat.

He can’t pronounce my name, so he conveniently calls me “B.”

I order four things at the café: a coffee with hot milk, a chai-tea latte, a cappuccino or a Turkish delight. When I order, he says “No,” but he makes it. And he serves whatever I order in a simple mug on an artistically simple plate, and he draws a perfect picture of a flower or a heart or a dog or a dragon in the foam. If I ask for white sugar, he brings me brown, because he says “it’s healthier.” I roll my eyes and take it and he laughs.

When I finish my drink, he looks in the mug to see if it’s gone, then takes it while asking “A nudda?” Always, I say no, no, I can’t! He smiles because he always knows what my answer will be.

Shepherd and I have become friends. We display our sarcastic muscles at each other, make jokes and pretend to be mad.

I’m sure there will be more to come.


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