Travelling to another country always has a sense of adventure and excitement associated with it: different cultures, new experiences and great stories to take home to friends and family. That was the mindset I had as I packed my bags, said farewell to family and set out for Stellenbosch with my mom.
During the first two weeks of welcoming, I was so busy with all the different activities that I didn’t have time to experience the thing that I think all international students have in common: homesickness.
As I waved goodbye to the car that took my mom to the airport away from Stellies, more precisely away from me, it hit me that I hadn’t just travelled to Stellenbosch. This wasn’t a holiday or a month long adventure. This was my new life, my new home and I knew nobody.
Breaking me from my train of thought, a girl in my residence greeted me and invited me to sit with her. She was my first friend and remains one of my closest friends. She introduced me to more people, who in turn introduced me to even more people or activities that led to new friendships. Pretty soon I had an awesome community of friends.
I owe so much to my Stellies community; no man is an island and without other people doing life with me in Stellies I would have struggled a lot more with homesickness.
Three months in I went home for recess and I was so excited to see everyone. I was surprised how much I had changed in this short period of time. But as an international student without any family here I had to learn to handle some things by myself and apparently as a result I had become more independent and confident. Nothing says ‘get out of your comfort zone’ like leaving your country.
Returning from June break in first year there was an air of uncertainty and worry as I had family members continuously calling and asking about the xenophobic attacks and if I was okay. My dad telling me if anyone asks to pretend to be South African. Hearing classmates who I had thought of as friends telling me how they think that all the stupid foreigners are the reason South Africa is not doing as well as it could. That maybe the Zimbabwean guy deserved to be burned.
Of course they didn’t know that I was one of those “stupid foreigners”. And during Fees Must Fall only your fellow international friends know that being in a strike and going to jail is bad, but ultimately being deported is worse. Or how some of us have never heard Afrikaans and don’t know how to ask everyone to speak in English.
Experiencing racism and generally racial tension was on another level from anything I had ever experienced in Namibia. Being told that if I study here I need to work here; because some people reason that the education a person receives can somehow belong to a country instead of an individual.
Culture shock. A term I had heard my dad say to me before I came here. A term I only understood once I got here. Yet despite the challenges and moments that I have wished I could teleport home, I honestly wouldn’t trade this whole experience for anything. Because for every sad, xenophobic moment there has been hundreds of moments when people appreciated my nationality and all that it entails.
For every racially awkward or awful moment, I have had millions of moments seeing and experiencing this lovely Rainbow Nation. So to the South African students it has been a pleasure sharing this beautiful, complicated space with you and I look forward to the last bit of my studies here.
Embrace the international students, it makes life interesting; we are a global community after all. To my fellow international students (I don’t know how Namibia is classified as ‘international’ instead of ‘SADC’): we have a chance to experience different cultures and create great stories to tell friends and family back home.
We are here to study, but this is such an amazing opportunity to grow so much. So find your community of friends, represent your countries well, study hard and enjoy.
Nwagboso is a Chemical Engineering student from Windhoek, Namibia.