Jessica Norton - Teaching English & Other Subjects in South Africa
When I first arrived in Cape Town, I must admit the weather could have been better! I was picked up from the airport and traveled to my host family with a Dutch girl called Valerie, who would end up being my roommate for the month. We got to the house and spent the afternoon huddled in blankets trying to keep warm and using the time to get to know each other.
The following day we were taken on our induction in the center of Cape Town and the weather definitely picked up then! I remember walking out of the house that morning to a wonderful sun rise and mountains on the horizon; that was the moment I really felt like I had arrived in a completely different country.
My host family couldn’t have been more welcoming; I got a huge hug from my host mum, Lecia, and was then shown around the house to my room, introduced to the other volunteers and offered a cup of tea whilst discussing what we could and couldn’t do around the area we were staying in. We had the first of many amazing meals cooked by Lecia that evening, accompanied by some family banter which truly made me feel at home!
My Teaching Placement
Although many volunteers chose to teach English in schools abroad, I was a university music student when I went to Cape Town and therefore wanted to include my musical knowledge in my project. There was little academic music at Hyde Park; however there were many small choirs and a school band which I got involved with. I also arranged I Won’t Give Up by Jason Mraz to teach to the main school choir, which began as a challenge for them as they hadn’t sung anything that complex before.
By the end of my time there, we performed the song with an audience of Projects Abroad staff and other volunteers who worked at the school. It was the most amazing experience and so many of the kids came up to me after to say how much they enjoyed it. I’ve been told recently by the music teacher that they still sing my arrangement in rehearsals so I feel as though part of me is still there. There were definitely some tough days on my project - taking a class of 35 with Valerie for a day was certainly not easy, but it was those times I found out what I could do. We ended up rising to the challenge and making it through the day, much to our surprise 35 kids can easily overrule two assistant teachers.
One of my favorite days on the project (bar the choir performance) was traveling into the center of Cape Town with the school band to perform at a celebration for the opening of the Olympics. We left the school at 5am and didn’t perform until about 10, but I saw so many fantastic performances from other schools, many of which were different forms dancing.
After a couple of days I realized I had to throw myself into the project and make it known to the teacher how much I wanted to be involved and from then on I took rehearsals alone, gave private piano lessons, and at one point I was even given an Afrikaans class to teach (that was a little more tricky; I had to be quite creative with my communication skills)! I thoroughly miss the kids from Hyde Park and enjoyed my placement there more than I can say.
Staying with a host family in South Africa
What can I say about my host family? Lecia is a wonderful cook and truly caring, my host dad Lesley is hilarious and shares my love of sarcasm and my little host sister Chelsey could always make me laugh, whether it was at her or with her I’m not so sure!
And of course I can’t forget my fellow volunteers who stayed with the same family. Our dinners were full of arguments about who got the last of the food, discussions about our day, jokes at the expense of others (usually in terms of nationality) and a lot of laughing. One of the most memorable evenings was when Lesley cooked a South African fish called Snoek on the braai, while the other volunteers and I were outside all back-seat cooking while Brandy (the dog) was getting in everyone’s way. It was the first time eating Snoek for most of us and it was amazing! So much so that when we found out there was more left we took our plates outside and piled on seconds, which started fights over the best bits!
Apart from the amazing food, my host parents were fantastic to have around if I had any questions, or just wanted to chat. I loved coming home after my placement and sharing my exciting experiences with Lecia, and trying to learn some Afrikaans and Xhosa from Lesley (although it transpired that Lesley didn’t know much Xhosa so I gave him a translation book as a leaving present).
Traveling around South Africa
Myself and three other volunteers (Jan, Valerie and Brian) went exploring around Cape Town every weekend and after school.
My most amazing weekend was when we walked up Table Mountain. It took us about two and a half hours and most of the way up we were dying of exhaustion, but once we were up there we forgot about it; the weather couldn’t have been better and the view was exceptional. We saw the whole way across Cape Town with the sun beating down on us, so of course we spent about half an hour taking photos. Instead of just walking down we decided to be more adventurous, so we abseiled down the top section! I will never forget that day; amazing people, fantastic view and probably something I will never experience again.
Jan and I also went on a township tour, which was amazing to witness. We drove through the town which had little electricity or running water and many houses made out of metal strips. However we attended a church service and it was wonderful how everyone in the town forms a true community, mostly joining together in song. I chose South Africa as a destination in part due to my love of African music and to hear it in context was fantastic.
Of course not all the traveling went smoothly; we went on the peninsula tour when it rained constantly and the wind would literally try to blow you off your feet. Still it was great to see a lot of Cape Town in just one day and if nothing else we got some pretty hilarious photos!
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