Semester Abroad Go and Live It

June 23, 2021
By Summer Kapanka, CAS '21

University of Cape Town

To this day, I cannot express the magnitude of the effects studying abroad had on my college career. There is no experience like organizing, preparing, and embarking on the adventure of a lifetime -- especially when that journey seems so fantastic. Growing up as a first-generation, low-income college student, I never imagined that I would be jumping off the world’s tallest bungee, scuba diving with octopi, or learning to surf in Cape Town. Studying abroad allowed me to experience the world with my own hands on the wheel: I was offered opportunities and given free rein to pursue them. That was awesome.

Besides the leisure aspects of abroad, I received an education at the University of Cape Town that is impossible to acquire anywhere else. During my semester abroad, I took two social work courses, a cognitive neuroscience course, and a sociology course. I particularly enjoyed my social work classes, as my professors were deeply in tune with the subject. All of my social work professors were women of color who grew up in South Africa during apartheid and currently work as social workers, helping others rise from the oppressive culture of colonized South Africa. They taught me about focusing on others while brainstorming, interviewing compassionately, and understanding the effects of childhood trauma on current identity. Of all my courses at Penn, I would say these classes were the most effective in teaching me practical skills that I can implement on a daily basis. For example, I am cognizant of the fact that I am a better listener now than I was before my abroad experience because I learned strategies in active listening and making others feel comfortable. I am grateful for these courses, as I now feel more prepared to embark on my journey into the “real world.”

As a recent college graduate, I have been doing a lot of reflecting on my time at Penn. It is safe to say that studying abroad in Cape Town was the best decision that I could have made for myself. Not only did I have access to world-class education in my field of interest, but I also was able to challenge myself with adventures beyond my wildest dreams. Additionally, I made irreplaceable friendships with people different from anyone I had ever met at Penn, and these wonderful humans helped me to recognize my individuality -- beyond the Penn bubble. None of this could have happened without the help of Penn Global and the Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship, both of which encouraged me to expand my horizons and allowed me, financially, to reach them. So, to my fellow FGLI kids, adventure is out there. Go and live it.

Summer at Camps Bay in Cape Town, South Africa
Summer at Camps Bay in Cape Town


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The Semester Abroad (SA) program offers undergraduate students the opportunity to study in a new global community through extended study for a semester or year. Penn Abroad partners with top institutions around the globe and collaborates with Penn’s undergraduate schools to offer programs for students across academic disciplines.

Princess sitting in front of a rural landscape in Italy.
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