September 9, 2016

A New Community Thousands of Miles Away from Home

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Three weeks ago; I emerged, wrinkled and exhausted, in South Africa, three continents and one whole year older than I was 28 hours prior in Cincinnati. As long as my journey felt, it resembles now just a blink of an eye in relative comparison to my first few weeks here in the “Mother City.”

In just the first seven days, I learned three programming languages, mocked up eight websites, and wrote the code for my own personal blog. I ate the best gluten free pizza in the world (three times), hiked two mountains, and rode a Ferris wheel over the Cape Town waterfront. I paid 40 cents for a four mile Uber ride, attended a traditional “braai” cookout, and took a chartered yacht ride with thirty classmates and thirty minutes advanced notice. I took selfies with a pack of zebras on a sunset game drive, spent the night watching the stars float above our bonfire on the savannah, and was chased (in a safari vehicle) by a female lion as the sun rose the following morning.

In the next fourteen days, I learned two more programming languages (‘learn’ perhaps too generous a term for my current aptitude at Angular) and created a website that can pull the most relevant NYT articles instantly based on a given search input. I spent an afternoon combing the beach, where my friends and I joined a troupe of costumed dancers as they quite patiently taught us a traditional dance to live drumbeat, and ended the day watching the sunset on the ocean with a table of twenty friends and at least eight dinner sized plates of nachos.

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Conquering Lion's Head! 

I’ve spent a couple days now in the stunning wine region, visited one of the townships with family friends, and attended a night market at the seaside with live music. I took a trip along the Spice Route, tried some local ‘biltong’, and won a basket of hot chocolate making supplies from a local coffee shop.

Our typical routine consists of a late breakfast and a short walk to our beautiful classroom space to start the day. The commute features a stunning view of Table Mountain sweeping up above the bright cityscape, and once inside, our building itself offers similarly grand, sweeping views of the harbor and peaks behind. Colorful barges carrying massive containers dock just outside our wall of windows, and the open-aired study space lets the breeze drift through the warehouse. By the time I arrive to study, the café outside our classroom bustles with energy, and the shops below teem with peddlers and purchasers of jewelry, patterned dresses, and even high-end, hand-made eating utensils.

My class hails from all around the world: Montreal to Mumbai, each student brings a different background but carries a similar ambition and earnest desire for perfection in their work, unlike anything I’ve ever encountered in the classroom. As we complete our assignments during our lunch break or after class, we have tremendous fun figuring out how to tackle huge, complex problems as individuals all part of the same team. I find myself challenged constantly to pursue excellence in my code and to have perseverance when I can’t figure something out. Most nights over the past three weeks, I worked at the tables in the lobby of the hostel so late with my 17 other Web Dev classmates that I’ve watched all the other classes leave for the evening and only looked up from my code long enough to watch them return in the early hours.

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Cheese! All smiles with a safari-selfie.

What’s truly incredible about our group is the sense of community that we’ve built in such a short time. Thousands of miles from home, we have come to rely on each other in moments of frustration—pouring over a friend’s code to find that one missing bracket that has cost them hours of time---moments of exhaustion-- stopping to share a sip of water on the way up a seemingly endless mountain in the peak heat of the day—and in moments of anxiety—such as my friends leaving school early to buy me a new phone case when I was still concerned about making the trip.

We split ubers to school when we’re running behind, we escort each other to the doctor when we’re sick, and we bake cookies for dessert when studying gets too long in the tooth. We have each other’s backs with blankets in safaris, during late night heart to hearts, and with gelato runs at all hours of the day. It’s nice to be able to say that after 21 days, I’ve already found a family here in Africa. Cheers (a phrase I'm starting to adopt) to the next five weeks!

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