All Finished

Well, the semester is completed. The last exam was written last week. My marine ecosystems course ended with a lengthy and in-depth examination that taxed not only the writing hand but the lessons of the semester. Unfortunately, we had to write the exam in the Sports Centre on campus. This means we were somewhat outdoors (there is a roof and some walls, but it is exposed to airflow from the outside) and had to sit in the same room as other course examinations, one of which had numerous typos that needed to be announced to correct (and thus was quite distracting). Still, when all is said and done, all is done.
We've been watching you study. We want to go see something interesting. Let's Go!

The house on Grotto Road is emptying out. All of the Princeton students (Prianka, Alicia, and Paarth) have departed. It just leaves us UC students (Mandolyn, Saachi, Joe, and me) for the coming week. We are all, in addition to taking care of final business, trying to make the most of the remaining time here. Some are making up for their dedication to their studies and are trying to do a bunch of the things they did not take the time for earlier in the semester.

A portion of the Grotto Road crew: Me, Mandolyn, Alicia, Prianka, and Paarth. Kathleen, Saachi, and Joe were not present.

The household with Monica and Dumisani (Matthew) who help out with the household maintenance
I have been spending time with some of the friends I have made here. My departure in a tiny bit over a week is evoking a mixture of feelings. I am excited to see Fred, my family, my animals, and my friends back in the States. I am looking forward to summer (winter continues to set in here, and I miss feeling my toes) and going to bed without a hoodie and beanie. I anticipate my next year at UCI and the research position I must secure there. At the same time, I am going to miss my life here in South Africa. I have grown quite fond of this country, and Cape Town in particular. I have made some excellent friends here, and for the first time in my life, I have a group of friends my own age. I am curious to know if the sense of belonging I experience here (something I have never really felt in my life) is the result of personal growth or this geographic location. Time will tell.

I have been back to the Watershed (a giant local artist craft market on the waterfront) and the Two Oceans aquariu. I have gone on a couple walks in Kirstenbosch Gardens.

I got to go on a last couple of Friday night nature walks. Sally, a graduate student at UCT with whom I was in contact before coming, had invited me along on a weekly nature walk above Kirstenbosch Gardens, which quickly became one of the most anticipated and savored events of my weekly routine here. When the weather was warmer (and the sun up later), the walk would conclude with a picnic in the gardens. Now that a portion of the hike is in the dark, we usually head to Dennis and Gigi's house for "Sop'n'dop" (Afrikaans for Soup and Drinks). Everyone brings food to share, and there is an assortment of hot soups on, in addition to excellent company among local birding enthusiasts, botanists, zoologists, a geologist, and assorted other people interested in the local nature. The warmth with which I was received by this group has been truly gratifying.

Nic, Susan, Linda, Sally, Marc, Regina (I believe, had not met her previously), and Dennis. Notable in absence are Gigi, Florian, and Ragna.
View of the city lights, photographed poorly, from the heights of the nature walk.
Sally also has taken me along on a couple of bird ringing outings. As a avian scientist and an advocate of citizen science movements, Sally regularly goes with her nets, catches birds, and measures, rings, and catalogs them. Through this, there is a vast collection of data on bird populations throughout South Africa, their growth, movement, and responses to human development. Usually, I accompanied her  on these outings when she would host a primary school group who was there to observe and "help." I would man the nets, gently untangling the birds caught, placing them in a fabric bag and taking them over the Sally and Robynne (another citizen scientist and bird enthusiast) to measure and ring. It was usually cold and wet, and this last time I ended up covered in bird poop. It always made for interesting outings, afforded the chance to spend time with Sally (and when he was in town, Florian), gave me some awesome opportunities to participate with this sort of science, and exposed me to locations and activities in Cape Town that I am willing to bet other exchange students did not experience.

Sally explains the ringing process to the raptly attentive students

Robynne shows how to check the moult status of a bird

And then I am passing time with some of the other amazing friends I have made here, for whom it would take too much time and space to describe the provenance of our friendships. I had gotten to pass time with Wendy, Michael, Ben, LeeAnn, Gus, Ferline, Johan, Ncedisa, Philipa, Lenore, and many others. Yikes, I almost sound social. At the same time, my Saturday night was spent working on a giant jigsaw puzzle with Ferline. So, I am hardly being the wild and crazy man about town.

Actually, between the birds and the jigsaw puzzle, I sound like I am trying to recreate On Golden Pond. "The loons, Norman, the loons!"

And on to the loons.
Or how about urban zebra as seen from the freeway to the CBD. Yep, zebra alongside a freeway in the city.
Ben and LeeAnn have conceived an outing for this Monday that will be a combination of going away (good-riddance) party and birthday celebration. Ben was one of the first friends I made on the UCT campus, and I have been very grateful for his friendship as he helped me navigate the early lonely days at the beginning of the semester. I guess they are taking me across the valley to a hike in Jonkershoek and lunch in Stellenbosch. At first the details were kept hidden from me, though the event was not supposed to be a surprise, which led me to some entertaining conjectures about the irrelevance of my attendance at my own function. I am really looking forward to this outing with my friends, who I will be sad to say "tot siens" to.

I will post some other things about some of the other outings to the Heart of Cape Town Museum, actual day-time visits to the Kirstenbosch botanical gardens, and whatnot.



Consolidation: (noun) solidification, strengthening, combination or union of multiple entities, an undefined stretch of time following the semester at UCT where lectures end but final exams are still anywhere from 5-20 days away.

The end of the semester is here. Last week Tuesday, the lectures for semester one of 2015 ended at the University of Cape Town. However, the semester is not over. While I am accustomed to a ten-week quarter at UCI followed immediately on the eleventh week with a sprint of finals, that is not how it is done here. Rather, there is consolidation. And then final exams.

Of course, people do a terribly poor job of describing many of the hoops through which one jumps here. I hope I can pass along some of what I have learned.

Consolidation is a period where instructors (lecturers, course conveners, professors, what-have-you) consolidate your course grades so far and determine if you have DP'd.

This is neither the attempt at viral advertising Dr. Pepper made a few years back nor the much more adult concept that it was mistaken for. It is entertaining for some of us when professors and students start talking about their hope for DP before the end of the semester.

This city is full of entendre'd places named after unfortunately named figures of the past. See the Bolus family
Rather, DP stands for "duly performed." Each course syllabus has, in addition to the outline of the class and the grading breakdown, the requirements to DP the class. For example, my archaeology course required completion of 85% of practicals (including the final field trip practical) and the research paper. If a student fails to meet the DP requirements (receives "DPR"), they are not allowed to write the final exam.

So, consolidation is partially a time for grading catch-up by professors and issuing of DP.

It is also a couple weeks during which we are allegedly studying for final exams. I know of loads of students (in fact, many of the Americans) who have run off on quick trips to the Cederberg or Namibia or whatnot. It has been an interesting exercise putting in time to sufficiently study for my exams while at the same time not burning myself out and finding my brain shut-down.

I am actually two exams down, with one left to go.

Some tips:
  • Keep track of where the location of the exam is. There is an online reference. Do a google search for UCT exam timetables (the site URL is weird). You then accept their terms and conditions and enter your student ID, and the site brings up your exam schedule with locations. The exams do not seem to ever be held in the same classroom where the course was conducted. With loadshedding, that venue may change further.
  • Bring layers and possibly even a blanket. The rooms are quite cold. The Sports Centre, where my next exam will be written, is open to the elements. There is a roof, but the wind cuts right through the open sides.
  • Turn off your cell phone and leave it in your bag. They are very serious about that here.
  • Apparently, it is incredibly bad form to write an exam in pencil. Make sure you have functioning pens. I realize this may not be a big deal for some, but I do pretty much everything in pencil.


Teach Out

Twice a week, during this semester, I have joined some other students to go out to the townships and tutor disadvantaged high school students. This has all be part of a student organization called TeachOut.

TeachOut is a project under a larger umbrella organization called Ubunye that promotes social development. TeachOut operates under this umbrella along with Inkanyezi (a mentorship program) and Thetani Debating League (formerly the Township Debating League or TDL).

There is another student organization at UCT called Shawco, where student volunteers from the university work with young people in disadvantaged conditions. A couple of my housemates and friends work with Shawco. That organization appears to be more well-represented in the materials for students coming to study at UCT for a semester. I knew about it before I got here, but I only learned about Ubunye and its parts during the IAPO student orientation back in early February.

Ubunye is a much smaller organization, funded almost exclusively from student fund-raising activities. Part of what drew me to it was the fact that they work with high school students (Shawco generally focusses on younger primary school learners). As someone who is not always particularly fond of children, I find interacting with teenagers to be easier and more meaningful. I also liked the underdog, grassroots feel of Ubunye and its projects.

Twice a week, I have jumped into a van with other volunteers from UCT and trucked off to the townships.

On Mondays I work with high school students in Gugulethu. It was a bit daunting at the beginning of the semester as I walked into a classroom to work with 25 students, using a scratched up chalk-board to try and work through algebra problems. Over the course of the semester, most of the boys have apparently come up with something better to do on a Monday afternoon, so for the last few weeks, I have mostly worked with a small group of dedicated girls. I love that these young women are subverting stereotype and rocking the higher math!

Please forgive the Humanitarians of Tinder style photographs. TeachOut was holding a selfie contest among the tutors to help with recruiting (having us post selfies to facebook with a blurb about why we do it). Ever willing to participate...

On Tuesdays, I am the token Maths tutor (it is plural here for some reason) in a group of English tutors that go to a yabonga in Mfuleni. Yabongas are community centres developed to support members of the community living with HIV. The setting is much more informal, and I work with students from multiple high schools in the area, all of whom have been touched by HIV in some way (whether infected themselves or have family members who are). In general, at Mfuleni, I work with somwhere between 2 and 8 students, varying dependent on who comes to the centre that day and who feels more like doing English than Maths.

My boys at Yabonga Mfuleni

They take themselves so seriously...

...but got them to crack up when I joked about their police photos.

Some good camp among the kids.

And yes, they love my play-dough hair

Some sessions are hard to get going when there is a soccer ball around.

I will miss working with these kids. Even the administratively difficult days of miscommunications between schools, TeachOut, and us volunteers proved to be some of the most interesting and rewarding times spent in this country. It has opened my eyes to another side of South Africa and enriched my experience as a tourist, as a student, and as a person.

I encourage anyone, as I was encouraged, coming to South Africa to spend some time volunteering with an organization like TeachOut and Ubunye and expand the breadth of their experience here.