Why You Should Travel (but not too much!) During Your Semester Abroad

Libby Cornelssen is a student at Tufts University and an ISA Featured blogger. Libby is currently studying abroad with ISA in Cape Town, South Africa.

Zambezi River, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, Cornelssen - 1
On one of our last nights, all of us did a beautiful sunset cruise on the Zambezi River, the river that divides Zambia and Zimbabwe.

One of the main reasons I chose to study abroad in Cape Town is that I wanted to study in a city where there was always something to do and people rarely left on the weekends. Having experienced a bit of Europe, I knew that traveling to different cities was so accessible and popular but was content with the idea of avoiding transit and plane tickets for a few months. For the first two months of my semester, I basically stayed in Cape Town more or less. For our semester break, I decided to travel to Zimbabwe with some friends. Now that I’ve been back in the Mother City for a little while, I have a whole new perspective on this city that I live in and the lessons I learned while traveling.

A Sense of “Home”

Airplane, Cape Town, South Africa, Cornelssen - 2
It was such a great feeling to land in Cape Town after a long day of travel.

We all know how great it feels when a new place – albeit college, a new town, or perhaps a new bedroom – starts to feel like home. This is especially true when you are living in a place that is 7,500 miles from where you were born and without your family or the friends you grew up with. It’s also difficult when you are living in a new culture unlike any culture you have ever experienced where you are constantly reminding yourself how to act and how to remain open-minded. For me, coming “home” to Cape Town after traveling for a week was an unexpectedly amazing feeling. As we landed at the airport, I looked out over the mountains and the ocean and felt truly happy as I realized how safe and familiar the city felt to me.

Putting Things in Perspective

Marketplace, Livingstone, Zambia, Cornelssen - 3
We went out to dinner over the border in Zambia one night and were amazed to see how different Zambia was from Zimbabwe and South Africa.

Although Cape Town is on a continent that is entirely unfamiliar to me, I’ve often felt as though it can easily feel like an American city because of its international feel. Traveling to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, a town with growing but minimal infrastructure, a remote, disconnected feel and… lots and lots of baboons… reminded me of the complexities that exist on the African continent.

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, Cornelssen - 4
I can’t express how many baboons there were roaming the roads in Victoria Falls.


Zambezi River, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, Cornelssen, 5
Nothing teaches you the value of teamwork like canoeing down the Zambezi river with your friends.

I felt like I had found some great friends on my program in the first few weeks of being in Cape Town. But planning, traveling, and experiencing a completely foreign place with new friends is an eye-opening experience. I grew closer with my friends than I had ever expected, and realized that we would always share the love we had for Cape Town and the memories we had already made there even after our semester abroad ended. From looking down at the roaring rapids of Victoria Falls to navigating the visa process in a strange airport, our friendships grew a lot during that week.


Victoria Falls National Park, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, Cornelssen - 6
We learned to laugh off the obstacles we faced during our trip and learned, quite literally, the meaning of “dancing in the rain” at Victoria Falls.

While I expected that the transition into my semester in Cape Town would be difficult and strange, the University of Cape Town and ISA made the process extremely seamless. It was easy to make friends, find classes and explore our new city. We had a lot of support and I didn’t feel as lonely as I expected I would. Venturing to a new country without the support of any particular program or travel agent was a whole new ballpark. It forced me to be independent and to learn to appreciate the little things when all of your plans were falling apart. When things in Zimbabwe were extremely expensive, we learned to budget ourselves by shopping at the local grocer and cooking at our hostel. Studying abroad is fun when things are easy but is an amazing growing experience when the going gets tough.

Taking Advantage of Your Time

Victoria Falls Helicopter Tours, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, Cornelssen, 7
While I would have loved relaxing in Cape Town for a week without classes, you can’t find this view anywhere else in the world.

Especially once you are adjusted in a new place, you forget how amazing of an opportunity it is to travel. So many people around the world are not afforded such a luxury and the fact that I can even be in South Africa, let alone for an entire semester of experiences is amazing. During my first few weeks, I was always filling up my days with new and exciting experiences. As time went on and Cape Town began to feel like home, I started to feel less motivated to get out there and see new things. While staying in Cape Town and getting rest or soaking up my time in the Mother City would have been amazing, I kind of had to force myself to wake up and realize how surreal it was to be living in this part of the world and how short this time in my life would be. When else would I be able to board a relatively short and cheap flight to Zimbabwe and see one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World? I need to constantly remind myself how rare a time in my life this is and keep chasing new and exciting places and experiences.

Want to know more about what keeps our students close to Cape Town? Check out “Cape Town:  My Top 10 Superlatives.”