Laura Walters
Dec 11, 2015 · 7 min read

As a transfer student, I have closely experienced college in two different settings. Junior college is very different from a university in many ways. For one, students range from high school-ers trying to get college credits, to retired seniors who just want to learn something new, to everyone in between. At a university, everyone is more or less in their 20s.

That said, there are also many similarities: classes are taught the same ways, teachers have office hours, and students have and complain about homework.

I toured several colleges before graduating high school trying to find the perfect fit. According to my twelfth grade calculus teacher, the most important piece to find the perfect fit is a cool sweatshirt.

Photo Credit: Pinterest

Honestly, he said, you don’t want to end up at a school where the mascot is a banana slug. I mean, that just doesn’t look good on a sweatshirt.

Note that he was a UC Davis alumni and used every opportunity to promote his alma mater to his students.

After deciding to postpone my university decision by going to a junior college for two years, I continued touring. I have now toured so many colleges that I have lost count. After a while, they all started to sound the same, especially those in the UC system. As such, what I used as my deciding factor for choosing a college was the campus itself — I couldn’t go somewhere ugly — and the vibe of people on campus.

And, of course, one whose logo I would be proud to boast on my sweatshirt for years to come.

The only ones that stood out were the only ones where I applied, because they were the only ones I remembered distinctly come application time. I cannot remember anything about my tour of UC Santa Barbara, or Cal Poly Pomona, or San Diego State, but I remember everything about my tour at UC Davis, from the umbrellas they provided in case it started raining, to the walk through the arboretum, right down to my tour guide’s name. The main reason I chose UC Davis is because the tour made me feel at home. I could picture myself here.

Plus we have a pretty cool mascot. What is a gaucho anyway?

Yet I never toured the University of Cape Town. I never filled out an application or waited anxiously for my acceptance letter. I never researched the school, its location, or anything about it, even after signing up to study abroad in South Africa. Frankly, before this trip, I did not even know this school existed.

And, just as shockingly, I did not even know its mascot is the tiger until I just Googled it a few minutes ago.

Cape Town, South Africa is, quite literally, about as far away from Davis, California as you can get. Yet the University of Cape Town and the University of California, Davis are surprisingly similar.

And, after three short weeks studying at this university during my time on the South Africa — From City to Safari program this past summer, UCT felt as much like home as UC Davis has after an entire year here.

Photo courtesy of

Except it was much, much prettier (no offense Davis).

UCT sits in the shadow of Table Mountain in the bustling city of Cape Town. The campus is divided into three parts: lower, middle, and upper campus. These names are not random; the campus, quite literally, goes up. It was a workout to get from lower campus to upper campus. But the hike was well worth it.

Upper campus. Photo courtesy of Sophie Lai
View of Cape Town from upper campus. Photo courtesy of Sophie Lai

The University of Cape Town is the oldest university in South Africa. It was founded in 1829 as the South African College for boys, according to the school’s website.

When miles of underground gold were discovered in the north in the 1880s, UCT began to expand. Increased funding and a demand for mining skills helped boost the school from a high school for boys to a full-fledged university, complete with new science laboratories and mineralogy and geology departments to meet the demand for skilled workers for the mining industry.

During this time, Professor Paul Daniel Hahn allowed four women to join his chemistry class. The exceptional work of these women convinced the college to permanently open its doors to students of both genders.

By 1928, the university moved many of its facilities to its current, beautiful location on the slopes of Devil’s Peak — land bequeathed by Cecil Rhodes for a national university.

The University also admitted a small group of black students in the 1920s. Their numbers remained relatively low until the 1980s. By 2004, about half of the population of UCT was black.

Statistics photo courtesy of UCT

As such, UCT expanded from a small high school for boys to one of the most diverse universities in South Africa today.

Yet how these students live is surprisingly similar to living in Davis.

Except, once again, prettier.

As a transfer student, I had never experienced life in the dorms. I never had to eat at the dining commons, I have never shared a room, and the idea of communal floor bathrooms always disgusted me.

The first and only dorm in which I have stayed is now at Graça Machel Hall at the University of Cape Town.

I am a-okay being able to say that.

UCT has statues… Photo courtesy of Sophie Lai

Even without having experienced dorm life, I could tell these rooms were above average as far as dorm quality goes. For one, we each had our own room. And each room had its own sink. The rooms themselves were large and spacious, with tall cabinets and lots of shelf space. At first the tile and the whiteness made the rooms seem cold and uninviting. In fact, at first we all wished we had shared rooms to make them more friendly. Yet, after three weeks of settling in, every room reflected the person temporarily living inside of it.

…just like how UCD has statues! Photo courtesy

The dining hall was pretty typical compared to dining halls here. You went in, handed the workers your stamp card, they checked you off for that meal, and then you proceeded to the line where you would pick your meal out of the two or three offered courses. You loaded up your tray and then sat at a table with friends, much like how it works at UC Davis dining halls. Food was consistently good. Nothing five star, but everything tasty and filling. We definitely did not go hungry while living in the dorms.

Plus, whenever we were starting to feel homesick, the dining halls would conveniently serve something homey, like hamburgers or macaroni and cheese.

Four days a week, the thirteen of us — sleepy and sloshing with our stomachs full of breakfast — hiked up to middle campus to have class.

On our hike up to middle campus. Photo courtesy of Sophie Lai

This was a beautiful — though sweat-inducing — change from the very flat, very bike-able UC Davis campus. I did not see a single biker at UCT during our stay there. Between all the stairs and intense elevation changes, I cannot say that I am surprised.

Though we were taking a class at the University of Cape Town and were temporarily enrolled as UCT students, Eric Schroeder, a UC Davis professor, taught us. As such, classes were not all that different from classes here at UCD. There were, however, only 13 of us, which was a nice change from taking classes in huge lecture halls.

Overall, the experience at the school itself was like any other college experience, minus, perhaps, the wild parties and drinking games (we may have been in college abroad, but we had far too much going on to have time for beer pong).

I — and most of my study abroad group — even got a UCT sweatshirt to go with my UCD one back home.

It was the best purchase I made in South Africa partly because I underestimated how cold it would be in June, and partly because of all the fun times I had while wearing it. I’m wearing that jacket in the majority of my photos from my trip.

I wear it here and it blends into the sea of college sweatshirts.


Study Abroad: Our Stories

A university writing experiment at UC Davis: A collection of study abroad student stories, feature articles, and interviews written by the next generation of thought-leaders and storytellers. Email to contribute (open to all). Details:

Laura Walters

Written by

Study Abroad: Our Stories

A university writing experiment at UC Davis: A collection of study abroad student stories, feature articles, and interviews written by the next generation of thought-leaders and storytellers. Email to contribute (open to all). Details:

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