Study Abroad in SA - CT or Durban?

Mar 1st, 2004, 09:32 AM
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Study Abroad in SA - CT or Durban?

Hello. I am an American university student who is planning to study aboard in South Africa next year. I am trying to decide between the University of Cape Town and The University of KwaZulu Natal - Durban.

Assuming both institutions to be equal, the main decision is whether to live for 4-5 months in Cape Town or Durban.

Durban is attractive because of its subtropical weather ( I go to school in snowy Rochester, NY) nightlife, and the fact that it is driving distance from PMB and Joburg. It also seems to have a sultry, exotic flair when compared to Cape Town.

Cape Town on the other hand is often presented as "the" place to go in South Africa, is beautiful, and is a larger city than Durban.

Because I'm only going to be in SA for a semester I am looking for a place that is fun but laid back, safe of course, and able to pack as much of the South African experience in what is surely to be too short a time.

So Cape Town or Durban? Comments?
anschloss is offline  
Mar 1st, 2004, 09:48 AM
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I think it depends on what time of the year you will be here. Capetown does not have the best weather during the US summer while Durban is very nice. I think Durban is a bit cheaper. But I would say that UCT has a better reputation academically and probably has a better night life. I would not go into Durban at night but I would go into Capetown. I live north of Durban in a nice beach town but I am old and find to do around here!
kimwhits is offline  
Mar 3rd, 2004, 12:08 AM
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I will fly my colours from the start ? I graduated from UND and have many, many very fond memories of my years there. To compare the two cities and campuses ...

Cape Town and the W Cape is a beautiful area, but IMHO Durban is much better ? especially from April to October in terms of weather, and you can actually swim in the surf without getting frostbite!

Durban was the last outpost of the British Empire and that influence is still very evident. Durban has a greater mix of cultures than Cape Town and is also considerably cheaper. There are many cultural and historical sites a day drive out from the city, and the game parks of Mpumalanga and Limpopo are much closer. Lesotho, Swaziland and Mozambique are also realistic options if you are based here.

The UND campus and gardens are very picturesque, and the view over the harbour can be quite distracting. Nothing against the UCT campus, it is very attractive, but I think Howard College is nicer. The general area that UND is situated in is simply stunning, in this I am including the entire Ridge, Berea, Glenwood and Musgrave. As a student you will find that most of your time will be in these areas and they are quite safe. UND has (or at least did 14 years ago) a high proportion of resident students so the on-campus social life was extensive. Not sure if or how much that may have changed since. Also ? you have the added fun of the inter-college sporting competitions between the Durban and Pietermaritzburg campuses (Carrots to the Farmers!).

In terms of academics, in fact there is little to choose between the two. It depends a lot on the field, while UCT may be better for medicine and related disciplines, UND has better humanities and engineering faculties.


PS. If you choose UND you have to climb the Memorial Tower Building on campus ? up on the ridge it is the highest point in the Durban metropole ? sneaking past security of course! And don?t forget the tollgate bridge on a Sunday evening, climbing up is no problem but coming back down can be challenging.
traci_local_in_sa is offline  
Mar 3rd, 2004, 05:42 AM
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Anschloss, I've wondered how to answer your question, because Cape Town and Durban both have points in their favour.

At the end of the day, I think Traci has made some valid observations. The factor that tips the balance in favour of Durban is its pleasant winter weather.

In summer Durban is hot and humid, whereas Cape Town's summer weather is much more pleasant. If the bulk of an academic term stretched over the summer, I'd vote in favour of Cape Town. But it doesn't.

I somewhat disagree with Traci's claim that Durban has more cultural variety than Cape Town does. Yes, Durban has Zulu, British, East Indian and other cultural influences. But then Cape Town has Afrikaans (with Dutch and French Huguenot roots), British, Malay, Xhosa and other cultural influences too.

As to sports, I suspect the universities in Cape Town and Stellenbosch have as lively a rivalry as the ones in Durban and Pietermaritzburg have.

If you're at all interested in mountain climbing, both cities have mountains in their hinterlands, and both universities have mountain climbing clubs, at least they used to in my day.

So, at the end of the day, I would say the weather during the bulk of the academic year tips the balance slightly in favour of Durban. But if you do choose to study in Durban, do yourself a favour and see the Garden Route and Cape Town either before or after your studies. Cape Town is a place that is not to be missed, IMO.
Judy_in_Calgary is offline  
Mar 3rd, 2004, 11:21 AM
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Hi. Thanks for your responses. To clarify, I am planning to study in SA for our Second Semester, which is SA's first semester. This is roughly from late January-early February to May-June.
I know that here it takes quite a while to warmup in the Spring/Summer so I would rather go when it is already warm and have it cool down a bit rather than go when it is cool and wait for the temperature to start rising. Of course, it could be the opposite in the southern hemisphere -I dont know.

Right now I am leaning towards Durban. However, one thing I would like to ask is about safety and city life in the two areas. From other posts it appears as if Cape Town stays safe and bustling after the sun goes down while in Durban people flee to the suburbs after work and the city center becomes a no-go area.

Also - and this might just illustrate my general ignorance of the topic - are both cities relatively equal in the number of English speakers? Or should I say, do non-native English speakers have similar attitudes towards Americans?

Thanks for the info.
anschloss is offline  
Mar 3rd, 2004, 01:44 PM
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Anschloss, here is a website that shows Durban's temperature and humidity by month:

Here's one that shows a graph of Cape Town's temperature and rainfall by month:

Temperature is expressed in Celsius and rainfall in millimetres, which will be a bit of a pain in the neck for you. So, here's a website for converting back and forth between metric and imperial measurements:

>>>>>>I would rather go when it is already warm and have it cool down a bit rather than go when it is cool and wait for the temperature to start rising. Of course, it could be the opposite in the southern hemisphere -I dont know.<<<<<<

In my experience, the southern and northern hemispheres tend to behave similarly in that regard.

I don't have recent experience of downtown Durban and Cape Town, so I'll leave it to others to answer your questions about the safety of those areas.
Judy_in_Calgary is offline  
Mar 3rd, 2004, 01:50 PM
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>>>>>>are both cities relatively equal in the number of English speakers? Or should I say, do non-native English speakers have similar attitudes towards Americans?<<<<<<

In my experience, this is a non-issue throughout Southern Africa. Yes, the minute you open your mouth, your accent will identify you as an American. If you're light skinned, you -- along with white South Africans -- will be part of a visible minority. If you're dark skinned, you'll have a greater ability to melt into the crowd, but of course will reveal that you're not a local as soon as you say anything.

That said, Americans in Southern Africa are foreigners in much the same way that Germans, Australians, Brazilians, and Italians are foreigners. I don't think there is much of the extra sensitivity about Americans that one might encounter in, say, some Middle Eastern countries where the U.S.A.'s declaration of war against Iraq and its support of Israel have created concerns.

If this is the first time you, as a resident of the first world, will be visiting a country that has third world elements, then I would advise you to behave with some humility and try to avoid an air of arrogance and superiority. I would say this to any first world resident who was visiting a third world country, and not just an American.

One of the classic stories that illustrates the attitude of entitlement that people from rich countries sometimes have is one I read on Rick Steves' "Ugly American" website. (That website also has anecdotes about ugly behaviour on the part of Canadians, Australians, Germans, and people of various other nationalities.)

This episode didn't even take place in a third world country. It took place in Italy! An American couple reportedly were angry and rude when they missed their chance to climb off their train at their intended destination, Florence. When they complained to the conductor, he showed them that their tickets read "Firenze," and they had recently stopped at a station prominently signed "Firenze." Apparently they were absolutely irate that the Italian railway system had the temerity to mark its tickets and sign posts "Firenze" when, according to this couple, everything should have said, "Florence."

Well, that's one of the more extreme examples I can quote, but that's the sort of behaviour one needs to avoid if one wants to win friends and influence people.

Anschloss, I would welcome an e-mail from you so that I could wax on without boring everyone else.
Judy_in_Calgary is offline  
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