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Guest Post: ‘This is Africa’

March 2, 2010

Some of you may know that my lovely little brother Tim is studying abroad right now in South Africa. He recently wrote an article for his college newspaper The Hilltop Monitor. It's an interesting article so I thought I'd share the love and post it here as well. (In order to understand the article's title you should know that the college, William Jewell, sits on a hill… hence the name of the newspaper.) 

"How are things on the on the Hill? Because things on the Mountain are Great."

DSCN0594 photo courtesy of Justin Beck

Tim Brooks, Justin Beck, Micah Holdaway and Brett Lewis; Jewell Students abroad in South Africa.

Tim Brooks

Guest Overseas



departing for South Africa,
amid the numerous meetings, brochures, information packets, etc., there was a common
theme repeated an untold number of times: beware of culture shock.

shock is an incredibly oversimplified explanation for how people commonly react
to new environments. First they love it. Then they hate it. And finally they
accept that it’s different; but that’s okay. Predictably, the stage to be concerned
about is the second one. According to the authoritative source on all things
important (Wikipedia), “After some time (usually weeks), differences between
the old and new culture become apparent and may create anxiety."

Micah, Brett and I were told that we might feel isolated, helpless, unhappy and/or
homesick. Here is the thing though: If you do not immediately notice the differences
– negative and positive – between the United
States and Africa, you
are very clearly not paying attention.

differences came at the four of us fast and furiously. Customs. Completely
optional in South Africa.
You want to declare items or have your bag checked. Feel free, there are people
to help you standing near the airport exit. But if you don’t want to go through
that tedious process, just walk on out. No one is going to stop you. Arrive 10
minutes after an important meeting was scheduled to start. That’s fine – you
are still 15 minutes early. Enjoy being racist. Perfectly fine – “colored"
is a politically correct term here.

            Although I
talk about these experiences in a lighthearted manner, eventually you are going
to discover something that ticks you off about Africa.
Whether it be the rolling blackouts, highly metered internet usage (less than
my cell phone in the U.S.), standing in line for four hours to sign-up for
classes or the entirely un-helpful and worthless people who occupy
administrative positions at the university, something is going to make you long
for the U.S.

    The sad
thing is that even in South
Africa, we have it great. The legacy of the
Apartheid is obvious in every facet of daily life. Forced partition of blacks
and whites has ended. De facto social and geographical partition exists today.
I’ve read in my classes that life has statistically improved for black South
Africans since democracy began in 1994. That is not readily apparent. My
professors are white; the people who ask me for money on the street are black.
The people in the neighborhoods in which we live are white; the people in the
townships we visit on field trips are black. South Africa has a long way to go.

    But despite
these annoyances and unfortunate societal structures, I think these are the
reasons that we came here: to experience something different from Western
society. Plus, I haven’t even mentioned the good parts. We’ve been hiking,
surfing, cliff jumping and bungee jumping. Justin Beck rode an ostrich and Micah
Holdaway adopted an African child (one of those two is a lie). We’ve blown off mandatory
IES meetings to teach some locals how to play (American) football and then totally
dominated them in (real) football. And we’ve done this all by using local
minibus taxis, while totally ignoring IES’s warnings that we might get mugged.

    To be totally
cliché, my experiences in South
Africa have been both expected and unexpected.
There are parts that are frustrating beyond all belief, but the total
experience has been amazing. What’s better than going to a nearby bar and joining
locals as they go crazy watching the African Cup of Nations soccer tournament. We’ve
learned to just relax and enjoy the experience as things ramp up for the World Cup.
After all, as the locals say, “TIA." This is Africa.

Tim Brooks is studying this semester at IES Cape Town in Cape Town, South Africa.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Barak Obama permalink
    March 2, 2010 10:40 am

    Tim Brooks represents the best of America. He’s my hero. And after you read this article, he’ll be your hero, too.

  2. Dad permalink
    March 2, 2010 11:05 pm

    I agree with Obama. Very bright and interesting young man!

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