A Washingtonian in South Africa: Observed Cultural Differences

It has been about a month since I started my internship with SASC. Within the last 30 days I have noticed various cultural differences and challenges with rewards and surprises along the way.

Aspects of life in South Africa revolve around racial issues that exist due to apartheid. Although apartheid ended in the 1990’s, political unrest is common. I have noticed some petty racism, but not at the level that tabloids depict them to be. Although that doesn’t mean the level of racism portrayed in the media does not take place.

One of the major surprises that I am experiencing while out here is the gap in socioeconomic status in Hermanus; A common intern house-hold topic. There is the upper-class, which seems to be a very well off older crowd or the lower-class that may reside in townships. From what I have observed there is very few middle-class individuals.

I can only compare my experiences and perceptions to that of Washington state, where I originate. Back home there is a plethora of individuals in each class, with plenty of roaming in between. The opportunity of those residing in Hermanus to travel between socioeconomic classes does not nearly match that of Washington. Talking with locals and the staff at SASC, it seems that it is difficult for people of color to obtain jobs and afford proper housing. The ideology that skin color can depict how you are able to live your life is not a new concept to me but is one that I’ve never seen with my own eyes.

An example of what a township looks like

Due to South Africa’s history and the prominent political unrest, I have also observed a fear of those that live in townships, even among South Africans that grew up in Hermanus. Locals have described that townships are to be avoided as best as possible during the day and to be avoided at all costs at night. I could compare this to being fearful of certain neighborhoods in Tacoma or Seattle, WA, but the fear is a step further in Hermanus. The attitudes I have observed while out here are much different than that of home, but that is to be expected with a violent history.

I am hoping that in the following month I will gain a better understanding of South Africa’s social dynamics through a township tour. These tours are led by individuals that live in the townships. Providing people with ample opportunity to get to know the locals, their ideals, and differing perspectives.

These are a few examples of the most prominent cultural differences that I have noticed in my short time here at Hermanus. I look forward to facing new cultural challenges in my remaining time here.

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Nomi Samuel

A Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences student at Oregon State University that landed an internship with the South Africa Shark Conservancy!

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