Knowing what to expect when one goes to another country for the first time often varies. The most stereotypical expectation of an African country is rural huts and tribal lifestyles. This is not the case for many areas nowadays, particularly in South Africa. Before the class this semester I had a vague idea that it was more modernized than that, but absolutely no clue as to what extent.
Once we arrived and drove around in Johannesburg I realized that South Africa is almost as modernized as we are in the U.S. There are obviously differences such as Internet speeds, something that we learned the hard way when working on our blog posts so far. That’s one thing many of us take advantage of in the U.S. and don’t realize how good we have it.
There are a lot of advantages (along with disadvantages) to living in the U.S. Most of us don’t need to worry about not having food to eat each day or shoes to wear, not that there aren’t people who do. There are millions of South Africans who live in informal settlements, or shacks and have daily struggles to survive.
This morning we took a flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town. Driving to the hotel from the airport we drove past mile after mile of informal settlements. I was so shocked to see so many homes in such a devastating condition. I cannot believe that people actually live there, it seems so unsanitary and unsafe. I would assume conditions like this would not be tolerated in the U.S. I’m pretty sure DCF or other agencies would not allow children to be subjected to such poor conditions.
Seeing the shacks from a distance while driving by is one thing, but I anticipate a different perspective when we actually visit them in the coming few days while we begin our service projects. Although I know that it will be a shocking experience, I still feel that I will have a strong emotional experience. I look forward to it despite potential difficulties I may face.
There are not just stereotypical expectations of what South Africa is like but also the U.S. Throughout our travels so far we have gotten hints of what South Africans expect us to be like. The most insight we got was when we visited the University of Pretoria. While we were touring with some of the students there I was
surprised when one of them commented on how beautiful she thought our accents were. First of all I had never considered myself to have an accent, since I am so used to the way we sound it only seemed normal for me. In America sometimes we like to imitate others’ accents but have never heard of someone trying to imitate ours. I also thought her comment was funny because throughout the trip we had all been admiring the different accents of all the people here in South Africa compared to our “boring accents” in America.
Another student at the University of Pretoria had said he imagined all of us to be like Russell Brand and Katie Perry. I thought that was interesting because it just shows how much Hollywood plays a role in what the rest of the world thinks about Americans. Prior to that I did not realize that so much of our entertainment industry was so popular and well known worldwide. While driving I have seen posters advertising concerts of American artists and movies. A lot of the music that is played on the radios is also American. It really was surprising how much of our culture is shared throughout the world.