Admittedly, Cape Town wasn’t my first choice for a study abroad program. But the opportunity presented itself for me to do something where the path was not laid out for me, and I said “yes” because that is why I came to Stern. I spent the next three months weeding through logistics, performing class schedule gymnastics, bugging the administration, and reminding myself that nothing worth having isn’t worth fighting for. By September, I was on the plane to Cape Town with my extremely supportive family to attend The University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business (UCT GSB). By November, my heart was in Cape Town.
After living in New York for over 5 years, I’ve become accustomed to not talking to unfamiliar faces when unnecessary. This is probably one of the reasons I found the Cape Town culture to be so incredibly friendly. It’s a city where when you meet someone and you exchange information, the person will follow up to schedule a time for that coffee. However, one of my most notable experiences with how friendly and generous the culture is, was an interaction with the Co-President of UCT GSB, Minaz Munshi, and our professor, Phumlani Nkontwana. During one of our breaks from class, I was chatting with Minaz about my interest in getting plugged into the tech start-up ecosystem in Cape Town and attending events in the city. As she was mentioning upcoming events and conferences, Professor Phumlani was walking by and joined our conversation. He immediately started running through resources for us to research and even offered to help us find sponsorship to attend key events like the Africa Tech Summit. The engagement of the community of UCT GSB and beyond was a pleasant reminder of the best parts of human nature.
There is nothing that beats a Cape Town sunset (I can’t speak about the sunrise because I was never up that early). One of my favorite parts of the city is its natural beauty and everyone’s appreciation of it. Once my classes ended, I had the privilege to wake up, do a bit of work, and then text a friend to go on a sunset hike of Signal Hill or Lion’s Head. I probably hiked about twice a week. When I told my dad this, he was shocked…anyone that knows me would be shocked. I was not the person you called on a Saturday morning to go hiking. I was the person you called on a Saturday to go to the mall. But if there is one thing living in South Africa has given me, it’s seeing the world from a different perspective. There, I saw how over-consumption and climate change threatens people’s quality of life daily. Though I knew this to be true prior to living in Cape Town, there’s a stark difference between living in New York City and buying Shein clothing and living in an emerging economy where Shein clothing is washing up on the beach.
A Travel Tip
I’m grateful for the opportunity to study abroad in Cape Town and I’m proud of myself for committing to learning more about business in Africa – one of the things I was keen to learn during my MBA program. I’m writing this piece just 3 weeks after coming back to the US, so I’m still digesting the experience. I know I’ll reread this and regret the things I didn’t get to say. But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a few things about being a dark-skin Black woman in South Africa. Similar to how I feel living in the US, there were times in Cape Town when I was the token Black person in a space and I was extremely aware of that fact, despite the South African population being overwhelmingly Black and Coloured. It’s only been about 30 years since Apartheid and its effects can still be felt. I would encourage those thinking about traveling to South Africa to take the time to visit amazing exhibits like the Apartheid Museum, book a tour of Soweto, and reflect on what you see around you.
Completing my study abroad in Cape Town is one of my biggest accomplishments since being at Stern because I had to create my own path to complete what I wrote about in my admission essay: to learn about the business landscape in Africa. As a result, I climbed a mountain, made friends who are just waking up when my day ends, and updated my Amapiano playlist!