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  • Nkwanui Wilson Hollyfield, Open Dreams Scholar

My 18-Year-Old Birthday Gift


Turning eighteen is very significant to people of different cultures and in different ways. To some, it means escaping the claws of fierce parental control, to others, it translates into independence and responsibility and to quite a number of people, it just means growing a beard. For me, turning eighteen coincided with the award of a full scholarship to study at the prestigious University of Cape Town - UCT in South Africa. I still wonder what the message behind that pleasant coincidence is.

By the 28th of February 2019, everything was set and I was bound for the Cape! However, leaving home did not occur without the usual feelings of anxiety, sadness and doubt but underneath these lied a complex hybrid of excitement and anticipation - an eagerness for the exotic and the unknown, which made my experience even more intriguing. By 12 am on that same day (February 28th), I was already hugging my relatives goodbye and letting my emotions flow unapologetically in tears and promises. It was a deeply emotional moment and as funny as it may seem, I had it all nicely planned out two days before that I was going to cry only for five minutes, but really; I have never been a clock watcher. Then time lagged and lingered and lapsed and soon, I could see Table Mountain in all its splendor. Its heights spoke volumes of history and I instantly got swayed. It was a new journey and it could not begin any better!

The drive from the airport to the campus was definitely long but I was too busy thinking about how lucky I was to realize. It was Autumn and the cool breeze refined my thoughts as I savoured every sight of what had come to be my new home. Everything was so different, so new, so lovely but the best was yet to come…UCT! Upon arrival at the university, I was instantly captured by its aura of antiquity. The 18-Century-Style buildings embellished with lush vines, green and gold from the season of Autumn, Jameson’s Memorial hall pitched at the foot of Devil’s Peak mountain and glowing in the beauty of those intriguing heights and the general air of positivity and ambition about the campus. Everything seemed so beautiful and honestly, I was well too occupied to miss home. It was absolutely clear from then that UCT deserved its title as one of the most beautiful Universities in the world. Later, I came to realize that its beauty was not only physical but equally social.

Ever wondered why South Africa is called “The Rainbow Nation”? Well so did I but it soon became clear after I realized how powerful nationality and race were as identity markers. I knew before coming that UCT was racially diverse, but I only realized the extent to which I had underestimated that diversity when I ran into an exchange student from Tonga. I had initially assumed that Tonga was a geographical area in South Africa but when he spoke about not being used to winter and South African climate, I instantly froze upon the realization that he was referring to a country in Oceania (The Pacific). Greetings and familiarization never went without the “Where are you from?” question, it was ingrained in the fabric of social life - an inevitable consequence of globalization.

Now those dining sessions …. I will not be exaggerating if I said that I spent more time observing and listening than eating. During these times, Zimbabweans will speak about the Shona and Ndebele people, Namibians will talk about how different the weather was, Nigerians will brag about how innovative they are, French people will be bugged repeatedly to say phrases in French and talk about Paris (you won’t mind knowing that some of them had never been to Paris) and South African Xhosa people will rant and laugh in that rather interesting language where a click of the tongue is supposed to be a consonant (I don’t know if it is me or there are truly specific ways to laugh in the different indigenous South African languages...lol). The camaraderie was contagious and sometimes, I will laugh without having any idea of what the fun was all about.

The Autumn chill, a new environment and the dinning hall buzzing with different accents of the English language refined by foreign affectations – My first impression was epic and I cannot think of a better birthday gift than the opportunity to study at UCT.

Ps: Even if you really don’t care about academia and a world class education, please just apply for a MasterCard scholarship at the University of Cape Town for the sake of Tourism! (lol).


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