Why I Studied Abroad in South Africa

August 9, 2016

There’s a lot that goes into your decision of where to study abroad — academics, budget, travel, culture, language and so much more. ISEP Program Officer Lindsay tells us all about how South Africa was the right decision for her, and why it might be right for you too.

Making the decision to study abroad in Sub-Saharan Africa can be scary and challenging, but can also to lead amazing experiences. I often deal with hesitant students and parents who are simply afraid of the unknown. Those who have never traveled to South Africa have many varying perceptions of what South Africa may be like. I can tell you one thing: your ideas will definitely change once you go there! Mine sure did — here’s how.

1. The people are so welcoming

To be honest, I was afraid of what the people would be like before studying abroad in South Africa. I had studied the history of apartheid and thought that its legacy would linger in the relationships among the various ethnic groups. While race relations still aren’t perfect, the people of South Africa have made incredible progress since the end of apartheid in 1994. I was amazed at how diverse social circles were, and also by how welcoming local students were to outsiders, aka, me! I miss my South African friends all the time.

2. There are many opportunities to get involved in the local community and they will change your life

I had the opportunity to volunteer at a local tuberculosis hospital. This experience was so eye opening and career shaping. I always thought I wanted to work in the global health sector. The challenges I faced and my emotional attachment to the patients taught me that perhaps I wasn’t cut out for this field. It taught me the true value of volunteerism and made me appreciate, more than ever, the resources that are available in the United States. I also now have so much respect for anyone in the medical field. You can read more about my volunteer experience.


Photo by ISEP student Renee M. who studied abroad in South Africa


3. South Africa pulls you out of your comfort zone while still offering the comforts of home

I wanted to study abroad in an English-speaking, nontraditional study abroad destination. South Africa was the perfect place! The culture and the people challenged my comfort levels, but the country still had some comforts of home – American television shows, food that I recognized, a diverse population, warm weather, beaches (I’m from Florida) and more. While I experienced culture shock at the beginning, I was quickly able to adapt by finding the familiar when feeling overwhelmed. It was the perfect balance that I needed to succeed in both my studies and my social environment.

4. Studying abroad in South Africa is very affordable

I’ll never forget how panicked I would get when spending money in South Africa. I felt like I was swiping my bank card every chance I got, but my bank account seemed to last forever! At one point I thought my parents had to be sneaking me some cash, but that wasn’t the case. Things were just significantly cheaper there than in the U.S.  Also, the programs themselves tend to be much more affordable as well. Studying at University of Johannesburg on ISEP Direct will run you about $8,000 for the semester – making it one of ISEP’s most affordable programs!


johannesburg skyline
Johannesburg skyline - File photo


5. The weather is great year-round

The best time to plan your semester in South Africa is during the winter and spring in the U.S. — that means it’s summer in South Africa. I can’t imagine anything better than a full year of perfect summer weather! Plan it right, and you will leave before the rainy season and winter even begins. Even in the winter, lows in the colder parts of the country only reach the low to mid 50’s.

6. You can an entirely new perspective on your studies

I studied international development in the U.S. as well as African studies. The debates around whether or not international aid in Africa was beneficial to African nations always fascinated me. It was so interesting to get the perspective of intellectuals that came from actual developing nations. It was very informative and eye-opening, and definitely challenged what I was taught at American University.


South African Vineyard
South African vineyard - File photo


7. South Africa’s history is fascinating

South Africa has the most interesting history. From the dynamics between Dutch and English settlers in the late 1800’s to the Boer Wars and the more recent history of the fight against apartheid. I read a lot about the history of South Africa before going to better understand the culture. It made studying there even more fascinating!

8. The shopping, entertainment, dining and nightlife are fabulous

South Africa has some of the most incredible markets with traditional African art. The larger cities also have modern shopping malls with brands unique to South Africa. South Africa has some of the most amazing designers and artists. Amazing vineyards and (more recently) craft breweries are in abundance. One thing you can’t beat is the nightlife — there are so many dance clubs and music festivals, and you will never get bored!


Photo by ISEP student Renee M. who studied abroad in South Africa


9. Travel in South Africa

It goes without saying that Southern Africa is a playground for adventure tourists! Surfing, paragliding, sand boarding, cycling, you name it – there are so many amazing things to do and see in Southern Africa. Rent a car and take a road trip to Namibia or Botswana. Take a helicopter ride over Victoria Falls in Zambia. Hike Table Mountain. Southern Africa is an affordable and wonderful place to travel!

Think South Africa might be the place for you? Learn more about University of Johannesburg on the ISEP website.

Want to learn more about traveling in South Africa? Check out Lindsay’s list of top 10 attractions in South Africa.

This post was originally published on Lindsay’s blog.

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