Profile: Karen Brier '15

Karen Brier touching an elephantMajor/Minor: Business and International and Global Studies

Study Abroad Program: CIEE: University of Cape Town (Spring 2014)

While attending CIEE’s Arts and Sciences study abroad program at the University of Cape Town, Karen Brier was exposed to a South African city steeped in a complicated history of racial, societal, and economic disparities. Emerging from its apartheid and colonialized past, Cape Town is now one of the most diversified cities in the world. CIEE’s Cape Town program encourages students to become active participants in the local multicultural environment and Karen took this to heart. She challenged herself beyond the classroom and embraced South African culture and life, joining the collegiate Ultimate Frisbee team and experiencing the country’s dramatic landscape by swimming in the Indian Ocean and jumping off Bloukrans Bridge, the highest public bungee jumping destination in the world. Below, Karen highlights moments from her time in Cape Town’s energetic hub.

Reason you chose this program: I wanted to explore a brand new city and Cape Town had everything I wanted. In particular I chose CIEE: Cape Town – Arts and Sciences because I knew they would not only provide me with the assistance I needed to be successful in Cape Town and at the University of Cape Town, but also the tools and resources to explore Cape Town independently.  

Favorite class: Gender, Sexuality, and Politics: Debates in Contemporary African Contexts with Dr. Helen Scanlon.

Housing situation: Off-campus house with Americans from my program and three local South African RAs. We each had our own room but shared bathrooms and kitchens. The house was divided into three different apartments and it was nice that kitchenware was supplied. Although living with other Americans did not enhance my immersion in South African culture, it was nice to live with friends going through similar abroad experiences.

Best memory: Traveling the Garden Route along the coast of South Africa before classes began. Known for its oceanic weather and beauty, swimming in the Indian Ocean and bungee jumping off the Bloukrans Bridge in South Africa were my favorite parts.

Greatest challenge: Ensuring that I was safe while walking around Cape Town. There are a number of precautions that I took to make sure I stayed safe that I had never had to think about while at Brandeis. Additionally, acclimating to life in a country with poor infrastructure. Living in Cape Town is not the same as living in the United States or even Europe, and a lot of patience is necessary.

What you know now that you didn't know before: I know now that the only way to truly learn about a different culture is to get involved with locals. By joining the Ultimate Frisbee team at the University of Cape Town, I learned so much about what life is truly like for typical South African college students.

Fact about South Africa that you think people would be surprised to learn: South Africa actually has three different capital cities. Pretoria is the executive capital, Bloemfontein is the judicial capital, and Cape Town is the legislative capital.