I arrived in Leeds in the late Autumn of 2010, fresh, yearning to learn, quite happy for a ‘break’ from working life and mostly overwhelmed at the idea of moving to Europe and studying again. The weather didn’t faze me much, until about two months later when the first snowflakes fell and the worst winter of my life started. Where I am, in the north of England, it gets incredibly cold. Maybe that’s an understatement. It gets freezing. And the snow that seems so beautiful and romantic turns into ice, and a simple walk to the nearby Tesco becomes an excruciating exercise. I almost broke my neck trying to navigate a little slope on the pavement. This is particularly if your shoes are not designed to walk on snow. Falling, slipping and generally sliding are all part of the winter arrangement. My warmest boots betrayed me and I finally settled for a wollen pair of rock ‘n roll boots. Fancy!
Fast forward to 2011, I’ve been here for three months. Three exciting, lonely at times, but stupendously crazy months in this little town. Leeds is quaint, with a big enough city centre and basically everything you need for a place with thousands of international students. At the market I found a whole bag of Iwisa Maize meal! In the months that I’ve been here, I’ve been trying to figure out the weather. I still dress either too warmly, resulting in piles of clothing when I go out at night, or just a little too little. The weather, which can, at the best of times, be described as freezing, is the one reason I am homesick at times. I cannot believe just how cold it can get here.
Perhaps the best thing being about South African in Leeds is that when you take a cab, or when you have a conversation with a local and you mention that you’re South African – although I tried not to divulge this piece of information after Anni Dewani’s murder – the next question you’re most likely to get is, “Eh lurv, you know Lucas Radebe”. At this point you cannot help but feel a little warm inside. So yes, I always answer that him and I go a long way. This hasn’t resulted in any reduction in fares though.
Of all my modules last term, my favourite one was Democratisation and Media in Asia. There were only two non-Asians in this class, including myself. I know I annoyed my Professor chirping in about Africa when the class was clearly about Asia. But I think he understood. Apart from being the most engaging and interesting, it was one of the most rigorous exercises of brain activity. Every week a group of three students presented a pre-selected topic and, at the end of their 20 minutes, received questions from the class and the Professor. Ha! Just wait for the comments; “Sorry, but I didn’t get your presentation, do you mind repeating?” to “Sorry, but China is NOT a democracy, therefore, your entire presentation is incorrect.” Such agony in that class.
Most of the classes deal with Europe, the United States and Asia exclusively. There is almost an absence of African politics. I think these are seen more as a mystery more than anything. I have to say, though, that this is a little disheartening. Sometimes it seems as if the entire continent doesn’t exist. This is a bit of a challenge, so I try to make it known that in SA this is what happens and why. At least many people know where Cape Town is. The classmates come from many parts of the world; Saudi Arabia, Netherlands, England, Syria, Malaysia, Kenya, among many, and the classes do get a little heated from incorrigible bursts of opinion (highly emotional at times). We are mostly required to read volumes of materials and then in class the tutor will speak about the different theories, and since we’ve read prior, we discuss these. My most interesting, and a topic we spent most of the term speaking about, was democracy and the media’s role in different political systems.
So, this time I’m preparing my dissertation proposal. Probably the scariest part of doing Masters. But after rigorous thought and reading, I have decided to go the China route and will be doing it on relations between Africa and China. Right now I have to wade through millions of books and submit my (great) proposal. I can’t say I’m not terrified of this.
Palesa Mokomele is a Political Communication Masters student at the University of Leeds in the UK.