My name is Dharma Khalsa. I was born and raised in a small town called Española in New Mexico. My family converted to Sikhism, which is a religion that originated in India, so I went to school there for most of my teenage years. I am currently a senior at Mount Holyoke College majoring in History and Art.
I studied in South Africa because I needed a place that speaks English and I did not want to go to Europe. I am also a history major so the interesting history of the region drew me in. I had heard about Apartheid, Vasco de Gama, Mandela, the Dutch Colony, Afrikaans, etc., beforehand. Once I got there, my first impressions were of the diversity of the people, languages, and landscapes.
I had some culture shock because of the food, which was very different than I am used to eating so that took some adjustment. To combat culture shock I tried to make friends and immerse myself in everything around me. I lived in a flat with two other American roommates in a neighborhood with the other kids in my program. For me it was easy living in a different culture as I did most of my schooling in India. I am very used to being outside of my comfort zone. I did form some very close relationships with other American students, South Africans, and people from other African countries in the area. While there were no language barriers because most everyone speaks English, there were still some accent barriers that made it easy to spot me as an American.
My most memorable experience while studying abroad was surfing and the road trip I took during our final break with two of my friends. We drove and bussed all around South Africa and into Lesotho; this gave me a chance to see the country as a whole rather than just Cape Town. Butternut squash anything was my favorite thing to eat while there! The local music scene was really quite good. One of my friends was very into music and I would tag along with her to many concerts. I saw quite a few live bands and really enjoyed most of them. Some of my favorite places in Cape Town include Michaelis Art School, Kloof St., Stones, Observatory, Old Bisket Mill, Long St., Mercury, and others.
I grew a lot while abroad; I think that the biggest change was my ability to accept people for who they are rather than what the preconceptions I have of them may be. I miss the people, the beauty and the fact that there was always something going on in the city that I could participate in. However, I do not miss the lack of accessible Internet, my tiny room, and recharging the minutes on my cell phone. I would definitely advise students considering studying abroad to stay longer and make local friends in the first few weeks so that they can grow as much as possible. Also, I would encourage them not to be scared to have new experiences. Fortunately, I was able to travel around the country I was staying in, but now I would love to visit all the neighboring countries, i.e. Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana, Mozambique, Swaziland and return to Lesotho, which was the one other country I was able to see. Three words I would use to describe my experience are transformation, adventure, and discovery.