There are days when I never want to leave South Africa.
It occurs to me each time I stare wistfully out the car window at passing scenery that my time in this city is limited. In just a few short months my life in Cape Town will slowly slip away into the blurry folds of my memory, along with my new favorite South African snacks that are not made available in the United States. Some of the lingo I’ve picked up in the last few weeks I plan to carry over as a memory, understood only by those who have lived in Cape Town. With each passing day, my fear of never making it home transitions into one of going home too soon. To put it in the most cliche of ways, I’ve fallen madly in love with the city of Cape Town.
That’s why I think it’s funny that my biggest fear of studying abroad was homesickness. Five months always sounded like far too long for me to be away from home. Now that those months are proceeding, I have reconsidered what I perceived would be one of my “greatest challenges” living in another country. If my jests about “never coming home” are not indication enough, my greatest preoccupation is not being nostalgic about my life in the USA but rather, knowing that in 85 days I will be required to leave my new home behind.
I realized about two weeks ago that there is a clear difference between places you can call home and places you have merely visited. I think if I lived situated behind a camera with only my Facebook and Instagram in mind as I skirt through my experiences, I would leave South Africa with a very narrow view of my life here. My understanding of Cape Town would be limited to a selfishly outward expression of tourism. Despite how impressive it may be, my experience is not defined by the check boxes I’ve ticked or the legion of pictures of zebras, giraffes, and Table Mountain I’ve taken. Instead it is defined by the countless wonderful people I have met, many of which I am confident to call my friends.
Although photographs of me petting a cheetah and bungee jumping will remind me of small snippets of sheer joy, it is the nights that can’t be photographed and other moments where I cautiously carry only my “burner” phone that will stick with me for the rest of my life. I strongly believe that these moments are the most memorable because they are bookended by laughter rather than tapping thumbs.
Being without a smart phone for the greater part of my life here (due to fears of petty theft) has required me to learn how to accept the present moment into my heart more unconditionally. I have no excuse to be antisocial when I go out anymore. If I did, I wouldn’t have met the people I never want to forget after the passing of the semester. If I hadn’t met them, I still don’t think I would be able to call Cape Town my home.
What I’ve come to understand is that feeling at home is really just a sense of belonging. It’s this awareness of how groups of people fit together and where you can find a space for yourself. It’s knowing that there are people looking out for you, even in the smallest of ways. Experiencing life with people who have chosen to keep me in their company has built the foundations for connections I will keep forever. I’m never going to be truly disconnected from this place even after I land 7,793 miles away from here come November.
For my family at home, when I say “I never want to leave Cape Town” or “I’m moving to South Africa,” it isn’t to offend the people I share a life with back in the States. I miss all of you in different ways and wish I could show you the exquisiteness of Cape Town in person. It’s really to express how greatly I’ve been affected by this beautiful city and the people who call this place their home.
To the people who have so willingly ushered me into their lives, thank you for the warmest of welcomes. It wouldn’t be half the experience without you.
You can see more pictures of my adventures by following me on Instagram: @shawna_117