My misconception of SA laid to rest: Listening has taught me more than textbooks could

The group of student from the University of Wisconsin visiting Kirstenbosch Gardens. Picture: Supplied

The group of student from the University of Wisconsin visiting Kirstenbosch Gardens. Picture: Supplied

Published Jun 8, 2024


By Alexis Smith

How far will you need to walk to get water? Do people ride giraffes? Will you have any access to the internet?

These are just a few of the many nonsensical questions I was asked by my college peers in the US when I first told them I was going to study in Cape Town.

While those are extreme examples, the media often presents such a simplified view of things that many people lack the nuanced education needed to understand the world. I could have read one hundred textbooks and not have learned a fraction of what I have learned from actually being here and talking to the people of Cape Town.

The beauty of the landscape is obvious to anyone. But the stories you hear and the interactions you have cannot be replicated. Hearing about everyday life from students, teachers, workers, and everyday conversations has taught me more about the country in a couple of weeks than I could get in a lifetime of readings.

In particular, we visited with a curator of the Slave Lodge Museum who talked specifically about our focus on the study of media and communication. She fought for 30 years to change the narrative of the exhibit, and she achieved this not by changing the story, but the way the story was told.

This shows us that the way that we use language shapes our reality. My experiences learning about the culture and history of South Africa was further enhanced by an open-ended discussion with Lionel Davis. He made me FEEL how the positive attitudes and rich experiences of the people make South Africa a unique and fantastic place both to visit and to live.

The depictions of the past and of the present depend on who writes them and the story of South Africa is untold or misrepresented in many parts of the world.

My peers and I have been blessed and fortunate to be here to learn through experience.

It is now our turn and responsibility to educate those around us of what we have learned about the South African society, culture, and history to continue to correct any misleading narratives surrounding this beautiful country.

Weekend Argus