South Africa | Post Program Reflection


This is so bittersweet in many ways. I was sad to leave, but I also missed In N Out and Trader Joe’s. Studying abroad in Cape Town, South Africa, for the past four and a half months was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. As I sit here, writing a reflection piece on my time abroad, I realize how grateful I truly am to have been able to study abroad in South Africa, and travel across the rest of Africa while doing it. It is at this time, that I want to say thank you to everyone. Thank you to my parents for making this possible, thank you to UCEAP for being a constant resource, thank you to IDACA for all the hard work you put into making studying abroad an enjoyable experience, thank you to UCT for accepting me as a student, thank you to everyone I met while in Africa, for you have truly changed me and my life for the better, and thank you Cape Town, South Africa, for being the gem that you are.

I had so many wonderful experiences in the past few months that I cannot narrow them down to just a few. However right now, I am thinking about going to the squash team’s formal, looking at the entire city from UCT’s campus, having an impromptu going away party at the Soweto Towers, high tea at the Victoria Falls Hotel, going skydiving, turning 21 in Namibia, going white water rafting, hanging out with my South African friends after class, participating in Food Jam’s Cooking Class with other UC students, exploring Table Mountain, meeting awesome people on airplanes, and watching the sunset from Signal Hill, a site that always took my breath away.

Studying at UCT and in S. Africa has been magnificent, to put it into one word. It was not without its challenges, however, such as the water restrictions, due to the drought, the fickle weather, and the different educational system, but eventually, I figured everything out. Cape Town is now out of the drought phase, I adjusted to school abroad, and the weather settled down a few months in. I now know a little Afrikaans, and through learning at UCT, a lot more about South African politics and history, and the economics and politics of Africa as a whole, which will certainly be important as globalization expands and Africa’s population continues to rise.

I made friends here who I consider to be such special people that I will stay in contact with as far into the future as I can see, South Africans, Americans, and other internationals alike. Closing the door to my house on Grotto Road for the final time brought a wave of emotions, but I am not too sad, because I know I will be back and Cape Town will be as good as ever when I return. So to you Africa, I bid you adieu, but just know, this is a not a goodbye, but a see you later, and I mean that, no matter how corny it may sound. Lastly, my piece of advice to anyone reading this is, if you are thinking about studying abroad, Cape Town or elsewhere, JUST DO IT. But seriously, Cape Town is an experience you don’t want to miss out on.

Love Always,

Kelli Hamilton

Kelli Hamilton studied abroad in Cape Town, South Africa in 2018:

South Africa | Post-Finals Trip to Rwanda and Uganda


Finals at UCLA are a big deal, as are finals everywhere, but nothing compares to the way finals occur at UCT. In my three courses at UCT, no final was worth less than 50 percent of my grade. For finals there, you are assigned a seat number. You put stickers on your test booklet and your name is sealed, so that there is no bias when your test is graded. Additionally, you have two hours to take your test and can not leave within the first hour or last twenty minutes of the exam. After the first test, I got used to the procedure, but it is still daunting to me that tests I took count for half of my grade. Here is to hoping they all went well!

After finals, I decided to treat myself. Knowing that my time in Africa was coming to an end, I figured I needed to cross off a few more things on my bucket list. I have always wanted to visit Rwanda because not too long ago, they experienced a horrific genocide, but today, it is one of the cleanest and friendliest countries in Africa, according to various reports. With this knowledge, I booked a flight to Kigali, Rwanda and stopped in Uganda and Kenya on my East African journey.

After three flights, I finally arrived. At night, the air was lukewarm and the city was vibrant. At the airport I saw an advertisement for GoKigali Tours and decided to make a reservation for the next day. In all honesty, I can say that was one of my top ten decisions during my time in Africa. Along with about 10 other people from across the world, I went to a milk bar (unique, I know), the top of Mount Kigali (even though it was raining, the cloudy view was amazing), coffee tasting, to the largest market in Kigali, the Genocide Memorial, and on a boat ride to a local town. To end the day on the perfect note, I went to a rooftop restaurant with some people I met on the tour and we tried various African teas that were all delicious. I rode home on a moto-taxi, the most popular mode of transport in Rwanda, and smiled as the night breeze hit my face, in the beautiful city of Kigali.

The next morning, I headed off to Musanze, about two hours from Kigali. My host graciously upgraded me from a dorm room to a private suite for free! From there I went to the Twin Lakes, which are stunning. I took a boat ride across the lakes and went to a restaurant and played with some children. The next day I was set to hike Mount Bisoke, an area known for its gorillas. Unfortunately, about halfway into the hike I experienced altitude sickness and had to come back down. However, I was escorted all the way back down by two lovely park rangers and it made the experience worth it. I also saw an antelope! I will have to come back in the future and try again (or live vicariously through pictures).

The next day I headed to Gisenyi, where Lake Kivu, a famous Rwandan lake, is. This was to be the perfect ending to my Rwandan journey. Knowing it was the last leg of my trip, I decided to splurge and stay at a private resort near the lake for one night. LAKE KIVU IS STUNNING.

The people in Rwanda, are the nicest people I have ever met, and I am not exaggerating. Also, the country has an extensive amount of passion fruits, making it the ideal destination. The sites I saw literally took my breath away, from the lakes, to the volcanoes, to Mount Kigali. It has become my favorite country that I have visited in the world. Kenya and Uganda were also great, and I kissed a giraffe and touched elephants in the former, and went to the ‘Switzerland of Africa,’ while ziplining, seeing rhinos, and exploring local places with fellow travelers in the latter (shoutout to the crew – Frank & Marvin). I stayed with family friends in Uganda and my South African friend Leanne’s family in Kenya (both were amazing)! Also, I met up with a friend from NYC, who was studying abroad in Rwanda! East Africa is a special place, and everyone should come see it for themselves. (Who doesn’t want to ride motorcycles in various countries while backpacking?) Even

Kelli Hamilton studied abroad in Cape Town, South Africa in 2018:

South Africa | Expeditions to Johannesburg, Cederberg Mountains, Muizenberg Beach, and Noordhoek


As much fun as it is exploring other countries, South Africa is a beautiful country in its own right, and my housemates and I took the opportunity to explore it whenever possible. Perhaps my favorite expeditions were as follows: Johannesburg, Cederberg Mountains, Table Mountain, Muizenberg Beach, and Noordhoek (and of course, Signal Hill).

Since Johannesburg was where my love of Africa started, I knew I had to revisit it when I came back to South Africa. Luckily my housemates, Matthew and Ekshika, were also excited to go to Joburg, as the locals it. International Women’s Day, which took place August 9th, was a holiday, so we decided to use that weekend to go to Johannesburg. I experienced nostalgia being there and remembered why I loved it so much, for its vibe is not replicated anywhere else. Additionally, in the spirit of urban renewal, we stayed in an up and coming area, called Maboneng, which is being crafted into an arts district. While in Johannesburg, we went to the Soweto Towers. There, we met South Africans who invited us to join their goodbye party and served us endless meat and chakalaka (spicy South African vegetable mix that is delicious). Another cool thing we got to experience in Joburg, was being featured on a television show. We were eating breakfast at a cafe when we were approached by a film crew. I am hoping to see that footage on the internet soon so that I can finally tell my mom that I made it!

A few weeks after Johannesburg, we went to the Cederberg Mountains. We rented a car and drove about 4 hours to a cottage in the middle of nowhere. It was so cozy and beautiful. Having no wifi or electricity made the experience even more special than it was already set to be. We also watched the most beautiful sunset (I know I say everything is stunning and beautiful, but I am not exaggerating this time). That same day, we explored rock paintings (what my hand is touching in the first picture in the middle row) that were so unique. We also hiked and chilled in an outdoor hot tub. Furthermore, I saw more stars there than I have ever seen in my life and let the sound of geckos lull me to sleep (it was a little jolting to be honest lol). It was truly a cottage to remember.

Muizenberg Beach is known for surfing. Although I am from California, I have never been surfing. Genesis, a friend from NYC, and I, headed out there to go for a surf, but since she can’t swim, she decided against it and became my personal photographer instead. We had a blast, and I that learned surfing is really hard! The beach doesn’t have much of a shoreline, but the cotton candy and colorful houses along the water make up for it.

Lastly, Noordhoek Beach was a favorite spot of mine. Unbeknownst to me until a day before we got there, it has white sand and beautiful views. My friends Julia and Genesis went with me on a sunny Friday afternoon to ride horses on that very beach. We ended the day with a lovely view at Cape Point Vineyards that I reminisce about quite a bit.

In the quest to be global while in Africa, don’t forget to be a local explorer too, for the coolest places could be right under your nose!

Kelli Hamilton studied abroad in Cape Town, South Africa in 2018:

South Africa | 21st Birthday in Namibia


Turning 21 is special in many cultures, and South Africa is no different. My birthday is on September 23rd, and in South Africa, September 24th is a national holiday, as it is National Heritage Day. Since it is a holiday, that means there is no school. This year my birthday fell on a Sunday, Monday was a day of no classes, and my Friday class was set not to occur, so I decided to do what everyone does when they are about to turn 21; I went to Namibia.

Namibia was the one country I had to visit when studying abroad in South Africa because it always intrigued me. It is so large, yet largely isolated and empty. When my 21st came around, I knew where I had to go and what I had to do. After all, how many people celebrate their 21 birthdays in the desert that is Namibia? A few other people in the UC program had similar situations during my birthday weekend, so four of us headed to Walvis Bay, Namibia. Upon our arrival, we collected our rent a car, and within 20 minutes we were on our way.

After driving for about five hours, we reached our destination, which was a Desert Camp. We were quickly greeted by grunting antelopes. I knew this 21st would be one to remember. The next morning, we woke up early to watch the sunrise. I had never seen an entire sunrise before, and let me just say, it was one of the most beautiful things I have ever witnessed. I took the moment to reflect on my 20 years of life and what I hoped the new age of 21 would bring. Shortly after, we commenced our drive to ‘Big Daddy Dune’ and Deadvlei. When we first saw the dunes, we thought they were small so we decided to climb then. Little did we know they were never ending pits of sand. They were stunning though, so it was absolutely worth it. After taking a safari jeep out to Deadvlei, we saw the dead trees that look so picturesque in every photograph you see. Even though it was 90 degrees out, we stayed and basked in the life that we were living, before deciding we needed to be inside, in case a heat stroke struck us.

The next day was my day. I was finally 21! I rang in 21 in a tent (don’t worry it was still special), as it was being attacked by warthogs (I wish I was kidding). We decided to drive to Swakopmund, a 4 hour drive from where we were staying, but not without stopping at the Tropic of Capricorn on our way. We went ATV racing and sand boarding for my birthday in Swakopmund. The last time I had driven an ATV was in Johannesburg with my dad years ago, so everything was coming full circle. In the evening I got dinner by myself, reflecting again, and talked with friends and family members. To top of my birthday celebration, however, I did the coolest thing I think I have ever attempted. I WENT SKYDIVING. Getting to see Namibia and its’ incredibly unique landscape from the sky was wicked. Also, my guide somersaulted out of the airplane! You have not truly lived until a plane door opens when you are 10,000 feet in the sky and the only choice you have is to jump out of a plane. It was so amazing and words will not truly describe the experience I had. To make it even better, since the group I came with did not want to go skydiving, I went with a Danish woman and another American woman that I met at the hostel we were staying in. They were the sweetest people and after we went to dinner with a Spanish-German pilot and the guy in charge of the hostel. I had the best garlic steak and we all shared dessert. Subsequently, we played a game by the campfire until 2am.

Since Namibia was my special time, my crew went back to UCT, while I stayed an extra day. With that day, I kayaked with seals and dolphins in Walvis Bay. I met a lot of cool people and touched seals! Namibia was an experience to remember, as was my 21st, and I will always cherish it as a place of good vibes, friendly people, and once in a lifetime experiences.

Kelli Hamilton studied abroad in Cape Town, South Africa in 2018:

South Africa | Interning at TCS Health Clinic


A few weeks before heading to Cape Town, I learned about a health clinic being run in Cape Town at a location called The Carpenter’s Shop (TCS). A previous UCLA student had visited the shop a few times when he studied abroad in Cape Town, and was awarded a grant to set up a clinic that tested locals for STD/STIs in Cape Town, given the high rate of said diseases in the area. Knowing this, I decided to apply for an internship at TCS.

Luckily enough, I got the internship, along with three other UC students. Within a few weeks of arriving in Cape Town, we met the head of TCS, Ian. We were given a 12 week plan with different goals each week, ranging from literature research on STDs to conducting a health clinic in the last week. Since this was also Ian’s first time doing this program, we were all in the same boat and often collaborated on our assignments. We went to TCS once a week and met on Fridays near our residence to discuss our findings.

At TCS, they provide a range of services to homeless people. They house multiple residents of the city of Cape Town, provide people with access to showers, toilets, and sinks, and serve them food at different points during the week. Some Swedish girls also handed out porridge to the homeless population during the week and that fostered a sense of camaraderie amongst us internationals, which was nice. Our clinic, however, was different to the aforementioned projects. Starting in September, we went to TCS and started surveying the homeless population, inquiring about their sexual health and determining who needed testing. After doing this for a month, we compiled the results and handed out appointment cards to those we felt needed further testing and possible treatment.

As with any new project, there are ups and downs. We handed out about 13 appointment cards, and only seven people showed up. Out of those seven, only four actually went for testing. We are currently still waiting for the results. Although our turnout was lower than expected, I still think the clinic was a success. As our time in Cape Town came to an end, we gave TCS and Ian feedback and they plan on continuing the project in the future, with adjustments made here and there. In a country with an extremely high HIV rate, initiatives like this could be what save many people from premature illnesses and death, and it is because of this, that I look at the project with hope. Furthermore, getting to speak with locals at TCS and collaborate with other UC students on this new and ambitious clinic, was an immersive experience that taught me a lot about Capetonians and myself, and I am all the more grateful for it.

Kelli Hamilton studied abroad in Cape Town, South Africa in 2018:

South Africa | Adjusting to Cape Town


Living abroad is an experience that is comparable to an adrenaline rush. Surrounded by new experiences, people, and landscapes, it is a unique and fascinating experience. However, one must acknowledge that no two locations are the same and adjusting to life in a new place can be a challenging, yet informative, experience. Nothing is more true in regards to adjusting to my new life in Cape Town, South Africa.

I would not say I experienced culture shock in Cape Town. The reason for this is because it is quite Western. From the cars, to the architecture, malls, and restaurants, it has a very American or European feel. Furthermore, English is the predominant language in the country and Cape Town is known for its’ beaches, which is something California, specifically, is renowned for too. However, this may be may the similarities end.

One stark difference between America and South Africa is the high threat of crime. Everywhere in Cape Town you see electrical fences and barbed wire, as well as bars on windows. South Africa has a high crime rate, mostly consisting of robberies. Upon arrival, safety at all times is stressed, from keeping your phone in discrete locations to never walking alone at night. I personally never felt unsafe, but being aware is always a must (As It should be everywhere in the world). On the brightside, urban renewal is happening across the country in an effort to clean up cities and make them safer!

When living in Cape Town, the local lingo becomes a part of your vocabulary too. Words such as ‘braai,’ ‘just now,’ ‘now now,’ and ‘lekker,’ appear in people’s vocabulary quite often. Braais are essentially American barbeques and they happen A lot. So before coming to one, make sure to bring your own meat, because I made that mistake once and then was taught how to ‘braai’ properly by South Africans. You must also have fire starter if you host a braai, another mistake I made, but I am all the better for learning from it (lol). Lekker means a good or fun time, so it is quite common to hear that too. Furthermore, time in South Africa is different. Between just now and now now, one means immediately and the other means in the near future, the distinction of which I have not yet figured out to be completely honest.

Overall, living in South Africa Was a blast, but it Was not without its challenges and difficulties. Nonetheless, IDACA, the group in South Africa which the UC’s work with, provided an excellent support network, including young and older South Africans. I want to take this time to extend a special shoutout to Shannon and Isabella, our South African IDACA coordinators, who were nothing short of an absolute treat to be around! Local Capetonians were also quite welcoming and more than happy to help us out. Knowing what to expect when you arrive is important, but it is also essential to know that nothing ever is exactly the way you think it will be, making the experience all the more interesting and exciting.

Kelli Hamilton studied abroad in Cape Town, South Africa in 2018:

South Africa | Spring Break in Lesotho, Botswana and Zimbabwe


Since the seasons in Cape Town are the opposite of those in America, it was winter for most of my time in South Africa. Therefore, our week off of school was called spring break or as the locals say, “short vac.” For our short vacation, my housemates and I decided to travel around southern Africa. My housemate, Matthew, lived in Africa for a number of years and said he had always wanted to go to Lesotho. Thanks to him I now know how to pronounce the country too. It is Leh-sue-to. On September 7th, me, and my housemates, Ekshika and Matthew, began our amazing spring break trip.

A common thing in Lesotho are blankets, which often have cultural and personal significance. Additionally, horseback is the main mode of transport and the country is filled with scenes that take your breath away (video on the left). We hiked for 3 hours to Maletsunyane Falls, which was huge and beautiful. We had a local 12 year old boy lead us there!! The next day we rode horses through the mountains and Ekshika bought a blanket of her own! WE ALSO GOT TO PLAY IN THE SNOW FOR MANY HOURS ON SATURDAY, WHICH WAS SO COOL (no pun intended). On Monday, we started our drive back to Bloemfontein and met up with some friends from UCT which was extra special. I could hardly wait for the rest of the trip!

The last two days of our trip were the perfect ending to such a great vacation. On Friday we went to high tea at the oldest hotel in Zimbabwe, the Victoria Falls Hotel. The Hotel is beautiful and offers a nice view of the bridge near the falls. The best part of the day was the high tea, however. We were able to get iced tea due to the 100-degree weather and we had pastries and finger sandwiches. We also took the time to have a little photoshoot because, how could we not in such a beautiful establishment? On Saturday, we went white water rafting on the Zambezi River, the 4th longest in Africa. It was my first time rafting, and it was tiring, but great. Our raft of seven capsized once and it was scary, but we got back on after rearranging ourselves. It was an amazing experience that culminated in a 30-minute hike to grab some lunch with our fellow rafters. On the way back, we got a flat tire, but a bus quickly rescued us. Sunday morning marked the end of our vacation, and we flew back to Cape Town with the lovely Kenya Airways. I think I can sum up my experience in four words: BEST SPRING BREAK EVER.

Kelli Hamilton studied abroad in Cape Town, South Africa in 2018:

South Africa | Why South Africa?


Back in 2013, my dad told me he was going to South Africa and invited me to come along. I grew up in Los Angeles, California, rarely learning or venturing outside of North America. I knew virtually nothing about Africa, and from what I had heard in the news and various media sources, I was a bit uneasy about it. However, I am adventurous spirit, and so I decided to head to Johannesburg, South Africa, with my dad, at the tender age of 16. What I didn’t know at the time of my arrival, was that it would be my favorite trip I have ever taken, up until recently (because another African country has replaced it of course).

The reasons I loved South Africa when I was here in 2013 were numerous. For starters, I was able to see Soweto, which is a township with a vibrant culture and it is also home to Mandela House. Additionally, I went ATV racing in the mountains and saw zebras, visited Sun City, which is an action-packed getaway spot, and saw Sandton, Johannesburg, which is the richest square mile in all of Africa. What I loved most about South Africa, however, was the people. Everyone was so nice, friendly, and willing to lend a helping hand. South Africa had captured my heart and I knew I had to return.

In college, the opportunity to revisit South Africa emerged. While UCLA does not have a program that allows you to study in Johannesburg, they have a partnership with the University of Cape Town in Cape Town, South Africa. In contrast to my knowledge of Africa in 2013, by 2017 I had learned a lot about Africa, specifically South Africa, and its success, struggles, failures, and beauty. I have always wanted to learn more about South Africa and its rich, yet complex history, which includes Apartheid, Nelson Mandela, and Trevor Noah.

I had read and heard that Cape Town was stunning and that it had a modern wonder of nature in Table Mountain, so I needed little convincing that this was the right decision for me. Additionally, since my last year of university was approaching, I knew I had to strike while the iron was hot. About a year ago, I applied to study abroad in Cape Town, and was accepted into the program. My South African journey awaited and I couldn’t wait to settle into my new life abroad.

Kelli Hamilton studied abroad in Cape Town, South Africa, in fall 2018:

South Africa | UCLA vs UCT


I knew the University of Cape Town was a great school before I got to South Africa, but little did I know it was the best university on the entire continent. UCT’s campus is also stunning, as it is right in front of Table Mountain. The differences between classes at UCLA and UCT are plentiful, as are the similarities. Nonetheless, both experiences have been fun, wherein I feel as if though I have been academically challenged in both places.

In terms of similarities, UCT and UCLA both have a plethora of social clubs. I joined the squash team since I play squash at UCLA, and that was cool since I got to play with and against South African squash players. I went to UCT’s squash formal with an American and S. African too. Additionally, I decided to leave my comfort zone and join the canoe team, and it has one of my best decisions in CPT.

Another cool aspect about UCT is that similarly to UCLA, the campus and its students are socially aware and very active concerning social issues, such as mental health awareness and LGBQT issues.

If you are also worried about not having Janss steps to congregate on when you study abroad (if you decide to head to Cape Town), they also have their own version of it called the Jammie Steps, which I must say, gives UCLA’s steps a run for their money.

The biggest difference between UCLA and UCT, however, are the grading scales. At UCLA an A+ is a 97-100, an A is a 93-96, and A- is a 90 to 92 and so on and so forth. At UCT, I received a 75 on an assignment. I was disappointed and went to talk to the professor, until I learned that UCT had a totally different grading scale. First pass, or an A, is anything from 75 to 100, 70-74 is the second pass first division, or an A-, and 67-69 is second class second division, or B+, and the grades descend from there.

The class size difference at UCLA and UCT is also noticeable. The average class size for the courses that I was enrolled in at UCT was around 60 to 70 students. At UCLA, they have ranged from 75 to 300 students. Another difference is how much each assignment is worth (percentage wise). At UCLA, final exams usually range from 25 to 40 percent, but in contrast, at UCT, all of my final exams were fifty percent of the grade.

UCT may be different than UCLA in some regards, but it still felt like a home away from home, and it was an interesting and informative academic and social experience.

Kelli Hamilton studied abroad in Cape Town, South Africa, in fall 2018:

South Africa | Camps Bay, Lion Head and Penguins


Before school started, I had about a week to explore Cape Town, and I did just that. The first day of exploring, my housemates and I ended up at Camps Bay next to Clifton Beach. We went with the intention of surfing, but Cape Town winter weather got the best of us and told us to just stay on the sand.

We climbed some rocks and took in the fresh air and beautiful water. After a while we headed to Camps Bay. Lucky for us, we came at the perfect time to watch the sunset. Table Mountain was so stunning and close that it looked fake. The mountain exuded a reddish-brown hue against a slightly purple backdrop. The sun setting on the water was spectacular. It was everything I had hoped for and more.

The following day, the IDACA program, which included about 26 students from different University of California campuses and Boston College, hosted a hiking day up Lion’s Head, a popular spot for locals and tourists alike. It took us about two hours to reach the top, but the views were more than worth it. We were able to see the entire city, especially where the water hits the land, and it was a sight to see. That day we also watched the sunset at Signal Hill which was a jaw dropping event.

In our action-packed week, we also managed to see penguins. Yes, I too, did not know that there were such a thing as African penguins, but I was pleasantly surprised. My housemates and I were able to interact closely with penguins and chase them around the beach at Boulders Beach. We even got to swim with a few of them. If you make your way to Boulders Beach one day, be advised that they do bite and if they position their necks a certain way it is best to stay out of their line of vision.

The last stop of our busy week was Cape Point. The IDACA program went on a bus with about 100 other international students. We drove from UCT, through a township, and ended at Cape Point. In the township, we saw a talent show and had a delicious lunch, which was an awesome treat. After that we headed to Cape Point, which was marvelous. The sun was shining and the sand was cool (temperature wise), not to mention the water was a beautiful aquamarine-turquoise mix. We got to see baboons in person too! I did not know that they screamed so loudly (lol). We also visited Bo-Kaap, and saw an array of colorful houses. Overall my week of exploration was one for the books, and I could hardly contain my excitement about getting to see more of Cape Town.

Kelli Hamilton studied abroad in Cape Town, South Africa, in fall 2018: