Becoming Me

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A quote from one of the hostels we stayed in on a trip we took during our semester break.

From the start, I promised myself I would do what I can to fully immerse myself in South African culture. My intention had led me to adopt many local ways. From the start I have noticed the unique style of UCT students and I have come to dress similarly. I find the style to be fairly relaxed with a little bit of edge and to me the unique flare of each person draws me closer. It’s not only an aesthetic characteristic; it’s a part of the whole expression it portrays. Many individuals here are extremely relaxed, down to earth, passionate yet humble and kind. Along with adopting some of these traits, I’ve made a slight effort to alter my style in order to express who I am becoming. For example, today I even wore an African style dress that had so many bright colors and interesting shapes on it. This was a loud piece but it still had a relaxed feel to it. On other days I may wear something more subdued and extremely casual and that is fine as well. Here in Cape Town, style is a big factor of expression and that’s one of the local things that I truly enjoy engaging with.

Although South Africa is so diverse, there is a particular localism that many consider to be unique to South Africa. A big part of it lies in the terms and language used by the younger generations. The common slang words are “lekker”(cool, good, awesome, etc…) “shame” “bruh” (which is their form of bro) “keen” and many more. Some of the slang words, for instance lekker and bruh, I rarely use unless I’m trying to make one of my South African friends’ laugh by embarrassing myself. On the other hand, I do enjoy using terms such as shame, keen and cheers. Shame is used when you want to say “that’s a shame” and keen is usually used to ask if someone wants to do something or to state that you would like to do something, “are you keen?” “I’d be keen to go to the movies later.” My favorite word to say is cheers though. Many South Africans would think I’m crazy for saying that but I adore saying cheers. It’s such a simple thing but it gives farewells and thank yous such a warm feeling. I especially love saying it with a South African accent, where the r is a bit softer than how Americans would say it, at times even barely recognizable. When I say cheers to someone and vice versa, it’s seems like such a friendly way to interact with strangers. This actually points to the way South Africans are, which is extremely friendly. It is easy here to spark up a conversation with a random stranger and to meet up with friends for lunch or even to be invited over to someone’s house for dinner. These local friendly customs are something I definitely want to keep engaging with when I return back to America. In a world filled with so much technology, ironically, we tend to become more disconnected. South Africa has taught me to become more connected and present with the people that I am meeting and interacting with.

I have also noticed that there is a difference in the way I speak and write now. Just the simple structure in sentences has changed. I include words like surely and certainly before statements although grammatically they don’t add or subtract anything to the meaning. So for example I might say, “That’s surely alright.” Although this may not sound like it’s a South African local thing, I have noticed many of my South African friends, classmates, and professors grammatically speaking this way. I enjoy the way it sounds so I have begun doing it too.

Other than just a shift in language, I have also accustomed myself to African time. I think I already began getting into that before leaving for South Africa. Being here though, has just allowed me to treat it as something that’s normal. Another aspect that is unique to South Africa is societal views and political discussions. A lot of topics that are brought up in conversation are based around politics and controversial issues, especially issues of racism and discrimination. The events that have unfolded here, even over this particular semester (the removal of Cecil Rhodes statue and Xenophobia) are so unique that they prompt discussions that are extremely passionate. Being right in the midst of such monumental moments has made me learn much more than I ever could from a book or the news. I have engaged in discussions with people from all backgrounds about their take on certain issues of racism, discrimination and social protests. This has allowed my mind to grow and my knowledge to expand. When I go back to Salve, I can see myself engaging more and more in theses controversial discussions now because I understand the significance from the local level after speaking with locals here.

All in all, I bet there are so many other local ways, beliefs, and customs that I have soaked up and inherited but I may not notice them at this point in time. That may change once I go back to America and everyone around me starts pointing out the differences in me. All that being said though, I would not change any of it for anything. It may seem like I am becoming more like a South African, but the truth is, I think I am just becoming me. I am finding my place here and this place is finding me. I love South Africa even more now that I am completely immersed. South Africa will always be a part of me now and I will always be a part of it. There is no changing it and I am certainly and surely okay with that! (:

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