So What is South Africa Like?

At this point in time, I’ve been in South Africa for officially 3 months. That’s a pretty long time, and I’ve got to say that I’ve had some pretty unique and exciting experiences here so far. So far I’ve gotten to feed a giraffe, hug an elephant, play with lion cubs, and pet a cheetah. Pretty cool, huh? How many people can say that they’ve gotten to do that? I’ve taken multiple safaris and I’ve seen four of the Big Five. I’ve bungee jumped off the highest bridge in the world, I’ve skydived out of a plane, and I’ve done enough hikes up Table Mountain to last a lifetime. Have I mentioned the beautiful and numerous beaches that I’ve gone to up and down the coastline? This country is absolutely breathtaking and the beauty of it has not been lost on me even after 3 months. I still drive around sometimes and think, “Wow, I get to live in this country for half a year. How lucky am I?”

Now that we’ve discussed my exciting adventures here, let’s get onto the lifestyle differences. So what are some differences between South Africa and America?

  1. The homeless population here is a lot bigger and the beggars are a lot more persistent. If you are not firm with them and say no, they will actually follow you for a short distance.
  2. South Africans walk soooo slow. It takes some time to get used to this, but every so often my American speedwalking mentality comes out.
  3. Everyone and everything here is always late. Professors are late, trains are late, you name it. It’s called “African Time.” Imagine getting used to this when you come from a country where everyone is always 10 minutes early.
  4. Vegetarianism is not a huge thing here. There’s a braai, which is like a BBQ, almost every week and boy do South Africans love their meat. They’ll grill lamb, steak, porkchops, and pretty much anything else that they can get their hands on. Hot dogs and burgers are a no-go here.
  5. It might just be that I’m used to shopping at places like Walmart or Target, but the stores here are all separated. If you need groceries, you go to the local Pick’n Pay. If you need contact solution or medications, you go to the local Clicks Pharmacy. If you need a small screwdriver, there’s a hardware store down the street. All-in-one stores are pretty rare here.
  6. Lastly, people here are not shy about staring. You can walk down the street and if you catch their interest, they will literally stop in their tracks and stare you down until you’re out of sight. Consequently enough, this can be uncomfortable, especially if you’re someone like me who looks very different from everyone else.

Well, that’s all I have to say about South Africa for now.

Sala kakuhle! (Stay Well!)

Sally Tran



Jamaica, Uncategorized

Jamaican Me Crazy, Oakley Whalen, Winter Break 2017

IMG_1401Even after I had arrived in Jamaica, it still felt completely and utterly surreal. I had never been to another country so studying abroad in Jamaica was a whole new ball park for me. I had no idea what to expect! When we first arrived I was stunned by the beauty of it all. I kept having to pinch myself. I knew instantly that I was going to love it.

On our first full day of the trip we went to the University of the West Indies Mona campus that was in Jamaica. We learned about the history of the beautiful campus and saw the training field that Jamaica’s own Usain Bolt trains on! The most interesting part of UWI for me, was learning about student life compared to student life here at U of I. At UWI they were similar to us in the fact that they also have a lot of different clubs and extra curricular activities to take part in.One thing that did differ between UWI and U of I is that UWI does not have sorority and fraternities like we do here, instead they stay in residence halls and become loyal to their halls. Each hall has colors and competes in sports just like our greek life here does. It was so intriguing to learn all about it.

Another cultural thing that I found astounding, is that in Jamaica, since a large fraction of people do not attend college, people’s “alma mater’s” are their high schools, not where they attend college. This is very different from American culture, because I personally feel that people have more pride for their college than for their high school. I was excited, nervous, and eager to learn about all Jamaica had to offer.


La Vida Española – Granada Spring 2017 pt 2

As I approach the halfway point to my semester abroad I thought it would be fitting to write about the different places I have traveled to so far.  Being in Europe definitely has its benefits with having very easy access to a lot of different destinations.  In the past two months I have traveled to ten different cities in six different countries.

The first month I stayed in Spain got to explore Granada, Madrid and Ibiza!  I am so in love with my host city of Granada.  It is not as well known or as big of a city as Barcelona or Madrid but it has a lot of character being in southern Spain.  I was pleasantly surprised about the large Mediterranean influence in this part of Spain.  To be honest I never considered Spain a Mediterranean country until now having actually experienced the lifestyle.  I love the food, the people, and the culture.  Needless to say that traveling up to Madrid for a weekend was a very different experience.  I was interesting to see how similar it was to big cities in the United States.  The Americanization in Spain was also evident as you could walk down the main streets and see companies like Burger King, the Apple Store, and others.  I think a lot of big cities in Europe are similar with the current situation of globalization.  I had a completely different experience in Ibiza, where our AirBnB was in more of a residential area and the trip had more of an island and vacation feel.  With a much more relaxed and calm atmosphere it was a great weekend away in the first few weeks where we were able to cook our own food and watch movies in English.  Its the little things that you don’t realize that you will miss when you study abroad.  I’ve quickly learned that it is important to take time for yourself every now and then so you don’t become too overwhelmed with the new environment you’re living in.  This can also help with the homesickness.

After a month in Spain I felt it was due time to start seeing the rest of Europe.   My first real trip was one that I had been planning for a while to France for a friend on my program’s birthday.  We went to Bordeaux first to visit La Cité du Vin, which is an interactive museum dedicated solely to wine.  For the other half of the weekend we went to Paris which was amazing.  I was surprised at how much I enjoyed France because before coming to Europe I didn’t have a great desire to travel to France, I think mostly because I don’t understand the language.  But I had a great experience and it was definitely one of my favorite trips.

The next weekend I traveled to Rome, Italy which was also amazing.  Getting to see such iconic landmarks like the colosseum and going to the Vatican was unreal.  Also the food in Italy was unbelievable.  I learned that I actually like mushrooms while in Rome from trying my friend’s dinner.  I think that is one of the best parts of traveling is getting to try new things and discovering new parts of yourself.

The next week was our first course break so I traveled to the United Kingdom and Ireland.  The first stop was Manchester, England.  My younger brother is a very big soccer fan and watching soccer is something that my family always does together, so getting to tour the Manchester United stadium was a very cool experience for me.  The next stop was Edinburgh, Scotland which was probably my favorite from this trip.  I have to say that I was not expecting much from Scotland and that it definitely surprised me how much fun we had there.  There were lots of sights to see, but my favorite was climbing Arthur’s Seat which is a large hill on the outskirts of the city that gives you an amazing view of the city.  The last stop on the trip was Dublin, Ireland which was a lot of fun.  My favorite part of going to Ireland was taking a bus tour out to the Cliffs of Moher which were absolutely breathtaking.  That was definitely another moment where I realized how lucky I was to have this opportunity to travel around Europe.

As much as I have loved traveling these past few months I am glad to be able to stay in Granada this weekend to really enjoy time in my host city.  I think that sometimes, especially in Europe, students can get too caught up in wanting to travel everywhere and don’t really spend a lot of time experiencing all that their host city has to offer.  This being my first time in Europe I understand wanting to travel a lot, and I have certainly done my fair share of traveling these past two months, but it is important to find a good balance with this.

Overall, I am so grateful for this opportunity to get to see the world through studying abroad and I would highly recommend it to anyone considering it at UIUC.

Kelsey Wahlgren