When I first discovered that I would be going on an exchange to the United States, the first reactions of my friends were to joke about getting shot whilst at school.
America has the unique position of having an influence so pervasive throughout the world that many people form rather strong opinions about it without having ever been there. As a result, I was initially ambivalent about my trip, having been exposed to the worst of American stereotypes throughout my life.
I had also, in fact, never been to the United States, a place which in my mind could be no further than my Indian-South African heritage; however, there is a strange allure that many across the world feel towards the country – awkwardly juxtaposed with their dislike – that, ultimately, it is a land of opportunity and freedom. After all, emigrating to America is a dream for many middle- to upper-class members in South Africa; a place with quality education, functional public services, and a life free from (relative) corruption and crime.
So, given these two conflicting perceptions in my head, when I landed at Logan International I had absolutely no idea what to expect. And there were definitely a few culture shocks that I did experience on arrival.
Even though I am from South Africa, nothing comes close to the diversity in culture and people in America. Another was the sheer friendliness of American people – people here are very much more outgoing than in South Africa, and this made such a strange and unfamiliar environment quite welcoming. The New England autumn is absolutely spectacular and unlike anything that I have ever seen before. The natural beauty in Boston is something I think many take for granted. Even though I have been placed in Mr. Duarte’s fantastic photography course, I don’t think any exposure I take will do justice to it!
One thing that I really found quite surprising was the number of homeless people. I had this perception of America (despite its flaws) being a largely wealthy first-world country, and to see people braving the Boston cold was quite shocking. Furthermore, Boston is an incredibly exciting place to live, with so much to see and do nearly every weekend. One of my favorite things to do is to take a train to a random stop and get off to explore the area – Cambridge, so far, being one of the places that I have enjoyed the most.
So what about school? There are several immense differences between Belmont Hill and Bishops (the school in Cape Town that I attend), despite also being an all-boys elite private school.
More saliently is the intense focus on academics. Although Bishops is known for its rigor, the atmosphere is nowhere near Belmont Hill academically. The exceptional quality of teaching, the pace at which work is covered, the far superior curriculum, and fantastic facilities all contribute to this, and there are several sub-factors that I simply won’t be able to cover in this article. I can, however, confidently say that Belmont Hill is leagues ahead of any South African school academically. Some of the most enjoyable aspects, in my opinion, include the sheer variety of interesting and engaging courses, the attitude of students towards academics and culture, and the fact that nearly all Belmont Hill students are astoundingly intelligent. The pedagogy is more geared towards stretching the students and making them think and be curious (through extensive reading and the Harkness method), whereas, in South Africa, the emphasis is much more focused on what is on the limited curriculum and how much you can memorize and regurgitate.
To conclude, I am having the time of my life at Belmont Hill and on my exchange here in Boston. It’s a fantastic experience and virtually every aspect of it is absolutely brilliant. Given the choice, I would instantly move here without a second thought. It’s been a thoroughly amazing few weeks that I’ve had here and I genuinely hope to come back someday. I am truly grateful for this life-changing opportunity that I have been given, and I hope to make the most out of it whilst I’m here.