A South African Exchange Adventure

By Olivia Johnston '22

I arrived in South Africa on January 6, 2020. My first day could not have gone better, as I walked out of the arrivals gate at Cape Town International Airport to be greeted by my South African host family. From that moment on, I’ve had the biggest smile on my face and I don’t think it has left since I arrived in beautiful South Africa. I live in a small town like Lakefield, in a beautiful farmhouse at the foot of a mountain. My exchange partner, Zoë Boyd – who will travel back to Lakefield with me on March 25 - has a younger sister and together they live with their mom, three dogs and two cats. And oh yes, they also have zebras in their backyard!

Along with Zoë, I am attending Bridge House, which is another Round Square School situated in South Africa’s beautiful Cape Winelands region, close to Franschhoek, Stellenbosch and Paarl. Like Lakefield, Bridge House is a co-ed, boarding and day school, but it’s twice the size of LCS, with over 800 students from Playschool to Grade 12. But from the beginning, the people have been very friendly and the school soon began to feel like home.

So far, I would say that the best part of my experience has been seeing life-long bonds being formed with amazing new friends. One of my favourite cultural experiences has been going to local markets. It is beautiful seeing all of the homemade art pieces and hearing different languages being spoken around me. One of the main things that differs in South Africa, compared with what I’m used to in Canada, is how dangerous it can be. I am still learning about what I can and can’t do in public and still be safe. For example, while driving down a road we always encounter many people selling fruit. My first thought was that it all looks so fresh and delicious. But what I didn’t know was how much of a risk it can be to stop on the side of the road. That said, I’ve had so much fun trying new foods, spending time with my host family and school friends, and have loved every minute of it.

The people I’ve met have been so warm and welcoming. One of the things I love most is the South African accent; it is so beautiful. While I don’t love “load shedding” as much, it is something I’ve had to adjust to in South Africa. Load shedding is when the government turns off the electricity in a certain region for two or more hours, which happens on occasion. At these times, I’ve actually come to enjoy being “tech-free”, as it encourages me to focus more on bonding with other people.

Something very interesting that I’ve come to learn while on exchange is how much of a cultural and wealth gap there is in the world. The experience has helped me realize that we need to live life with no regrets and do what makes us happy. For this and for the many other lessons I’ve learned in South Africa, I’d like to thank my parents, Mr. Bird, and Ms. Watson (the Round Square Rep at Bridge House) all of whom helped make this amazing experience possible.

As for the Grade 9 students back home in Lakefield, my advice would be that if you are not currently thinking of applying for exchange next year, then I highly recommend you change your mind. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and if you’re open to new experiences, I know you will have the time of your life. So many memories will be made with amazing people that you will never forget. Going on exchange to another country might sound like a scary thing to do, but trust me, everyone will be extremely welcoming. In fact, I think you’ll find that the people you’ll meet will be just as interested in getting to know you and learning about what your life is like back in Canada, as you are about them.


Lakefield College School’s membership in Round Square makes it possible for our Grade 10 students to participate in – typically 6 to 10 weeks - exchanges with students from more than 180 Round Square (and a few non-Round Square) schools around the world. Learn more about Student Exchanges.
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4391 County Road 29, Lakefield Ontario K0L 2H0   705.652.3324   admissions@lcs.on.ca

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Lakefield College School is a private, coeducational boarding and day school for students in grades 9 through 12, located in Lakefield, Ontario, Canada.

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