Exchange Gives P-Week Students an Insider’s View of South Africa


Latin students visiting an animal sanctuary in South Africa.

A 22-hour journey to Johannesburg, South Africa marked the furthest distance traveled for any of Latin’s exchange programs offered since the COVID-19 pandemic.

The group of 14 Latin students and two teachers began their trip during Project Week, and after spending a few days exploring Johannesburg, they flew to Cape Town, where they were immersed into the daily lives of their host students.

Junior Elsie Cohen, a student on the project, said, “Staying with hosts made the experience drastically different than an ordinary P-Week. We got to experience life as a local, doing the regular day-to-day activities with our hosts, as opposed to only doing tourist-y things and not getting to immerse ourselves in their lives. I loved my hosts, and I think that everyone else did too—the pairings were made very well.”

The prospect of traveling so far from home can be anxiety provoking on its own, but even more so when staying as a guest in a stranger’s house for one week.

Sophomore Malia Chen, another student on the exchange, said, “I love my host family. They were so welcoming, and I got along really well with my exchange partner, Skye. They were really eager to show me everything they loved about Cape Town. I got to create a lot of new experiences and overall felt very comfortable throughout the trip thanks to my host family’s hospitality.”

Students visited Cedar House, the partner school, and were able to see how high school looks in the opposite hemisphere.

“The students called their teachers by their first name,” Malia said. “It was really hard for me to get used to this. The campus is also pretty much all outdoors except for the classrooms, because there is really nice weather there pretty much year round. Their school didn’t have a generator, so whenever there would be load-shedding [scheduled power outages] throughout the school day, classes would just be canceled. It’s kind of like more frequent snow days for them.”

While there were stark differences between Latin and Cedar House, like routine power outages, there were some parallels between the two private schools, including their size and curriculum.

Freshman Vivian Lee-Yee said, “Each town has its own deep and rich history that I don’t think you could learn without going there for yourself. When I arrived, I was expecting the after-effects of apartheid to not be as present, but I think you can still see them in things like load-shedding, inflation, and the townships.”

South Africa’s leadership has taken steps to make their country feel like home for all its citizens. South Africa has been investing in its citizens through social welfare programs, which provide access to health services and education, with the hope of combating poverty head-on.

Sophomore Reilly Henderson noted, “Most South Africans are proud of their history, and value the fact that they overcame apartheid as a country.”

The project, however, was not just one big history lesson. Students also visited landmarks, beaches, animal sanctuaries, and went on excursions with their host families.

Elsie said, “We had a few days where we got to spend the day with just our host students which were my personal favorite. I went to a music festival with my hosts, as well as shopped and hung out with them and their friends.”

Students were able to see what being a teenager in Cape Town is like compared to life in Chicago, as they visited all the local hang-out spots.

Despite traveling so far in a big group, there were few bumps in the road.

Elsie said, “All of our flights went pretty smoothly, however on the way back to Chicago, our flight out of Cape Town was delayed which caused us to very nearly miss our connection in Amsterdam. Luckily we made it, but had to sprint through the airport!”

Latin looks forward to return Cedar House’s hospitality in the fall.

Vivian said, “I’m grateful that [my host family] was so welcoming! I’m excited to do the same in November.”


Latin students taking in the view at a beach in South Africa.