10 Ways South Africa is Different From America

One of the coolest—and hardest—parts of my trip was experiencing a different culture. I’ve lived in Europe, so I know what culture shock is like, but I have to say that South Africa is far more different from America than Germany is. Sure, they speak English (which really was a huge blessing), but it’s a whole different world. Here are ten differences, big and small and in no particular order, that stood out to me.

10 Ways South Africa is Different From America


1. They have a British accent.

So it’s not a pure British accent, but it’s way closer to British than it is to American. I loved listening to it. It was also pretty strange to be the one with the accent. I’d open my mouth, and people would look at me funny and say, “You sound like you’re from America.”

There’s a reason for that.

2. They drive on the left side of the road. 

This reveals my embarrassing lack of research, but I was not expecting this. I could not for the life of me figure out which side my seat buckle was on, and I kept freaking out when we turned onto the left side of the road. Actually, the driving there in general was freaky. Everybody is a bad driver, and I won’t even go into the terrors called taxis. Let’s just say if they got fined for running red lights, they’d be bankrupt in a day.

3. Everything is gated. 

Because the level of crime is so much higher there, everything—homes, stores, you name it—is gated. The sight adds to the atmosphere of fear there. No one walks too close to each other, everyone’s clasping their purses tightly, and when you ask someone anything about themselves, they get a wary expression and answer guardedly. It’d be an obvious lie to say America’s anywhere close to crime-free, but I know I at least take for granted how safe I feel in day to day life. If I avoid sketchy parts of town, I can into any store and not even think about getting stolen from or hurt in any way. But in South Africa, threats of theft and danger are a fact of life.

4. Whites are the minority. 

I have to admit, this was strange. It was also really, really good for me to be in the minority. And honestly, after a few days it didn’t feel that abnormal anymore. But it was eye-opening to live in a place where I was by far in the racial minority and to realize that that’s perfectly okay. I loved the racial diversity of South Africa. I’m realistic enough to realize it causes a lot tension and trouble, but it’s also a beautiful thing everyone should experience.

5. They have no insulation or central heating. 

Yeeeeah. And we happened to go during their winter. It’s not like their winters are all that bad—it was sixty-ish degrees Fahrenheit during the day while we were there—but there’s nowhere you can get warm. It’s nice in the sun during the day, but the minute the sun sets, it’s freezing again. And I mean freezing: At night, it gets in the low thirties. Fortunately, the missionaries gave us a space heater and tons of blankets, so we got through those chilly nights just fine.

6. Apple sauce is baby food.

No kidding, this was one of the first questions South African teens asked us: Do you guys really eat apple sauce? Some Americans had visited them a few years ago and wanted some apple sauce. And apparently, apple sauce is baby-only food for South Africans, like those mushy carrots and peas in glass jars in American stores. They thought it was hilarious that adults in America still eat it.

They also thought our obsession with pumpkins was strange (I wasn’t aware we had one, but they couldn’t believe we ate pumpkin pie and cookies and carved pumpkins for fun).

7. Robots = stoplights 

And jelly is jello and jam is jelly and flat phones are dead phones and serviettes are napkins and pacifiers are dummies and chips are fries and biscuits are cookies and buggies are shopping carts. Et cetera.

8. People clean your car while you shop at the mall. 

Because poverty is so rampant, they create jobs wherever they can. You pay people to watch the parking lot so people won’t steal your car. You pay people to walk your shopping cart—excuse me, buggy—to the car and then someone else to load the groceries into your car. And when you’re in the parking garage about to go shopping, people ask you if they can wash your car while you’re at the mall.

9. They have eleven national languages. 

Okay, but this is so cool. Here they are (thank you, Wikipedia): Afrikaans (basically African Dutch), English, Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Sotho, Swazi, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa, and Zulu. Most South Africans can speak more than one language, which is so impressive. Traveling always makes me wish English wasn’t my first language, because then I’d have to learn it in addition to my native language. If your first language is English, it’s so hard to learn another one fluently because you usually don’t really need to.

10. They are good at dancing.

I’m not saying Americans aren’t good at dancing, but everybody there—well, blacks primarily but they’re the majority, so—has amazing rhythm and moves. As I’m stiffly trying to shift from side to side, they’re shaking their hips and clapping and stomping their feet and just … moving in such a cool, graceful way. Ugh, it makes me so jealous. It was amazing to watch, and I love the energy and spirit they put into singing.

and pictures:


scenery from a game reserve
scenery from a game reserve
at the camp we went to
at the camp we went to
a real live zebra (they pronounce it zeh - bruh)
a real live zebra (they pronounce it zeh – bruh)
at camp
at camp

There you go! Ten (of many more) differences between America and South Africa. Let me know which ones surprised you or interested you most!


{Fireside Fridays} The Best Book I’ve Read This Year So Far

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow.

Yes, non-fiction. Yes, a hefty biography. Wait! Don’t go. This may not be fiction, but it’s still a story. A beautiful, raw, messy, healing story. A story that directly impacts you. A story that’s part of your own story. Let me tell you more about it.


Maybe you’ve heard of the Broadway musical Hamilton, inspired by and based off of this book. Maybe all you know about Hamilton is that he’s one of the Founding Fathers and got killed in a duel. This book will give you the whole story, one so fascinating you can’t afford to miss it.

Alexander Hamilton is about noble men who made mistakes, wise men who disagreed, geniuses who tripped up. It is about broken men who, for all their failures, did a glorious thing. Though Chernow doesn’t say this, it is also about a God who is gracious enough to use fallen people to accomplish impossible things.

From the nittiest-grittiest details to the darkest, ugliest days to the most transcendent, beautiful deeds, Chernow chronicles the birth of a nation. More than that, the birth of a world. He tells the tale of when the impossible happened. And he does it all through the life of a boy born to a prostitute on a slave-ridden island in the midst of the dregs of humanity.

How did this orphan surrounded by criminals on a filthy Caribbean island eventually help create the most powerful nation in the world?

How did this illegtimate child who grew up wild in the slums become the extremely well-educated genius who had no intellectual equal in his day?

How did he rise and fall, make both friends and enemies of legends, and ultimately come to find peace after a life of terrible turbulence?

Oh, it’s a good story, friends.

I could tell you about the writing style—some big words, but it flows beautifully—or the incredible amount of research that’s been put into this or any number of more official book review categories, but I want to focus on the story. Because, despite the superb writing quality and breathtaking amount of research (and the chapter titles that for some reason stuck out to me as brilliant), the best part of this book is the story. The story part of it is why I can recommend it to everyone, whether you’re a history buff or fantasy lover. Everyone loves a good story, and this book has one of the best.

Maybe it’s so powerful because it’s real. This happened, guys. Hamilton was a real man. A real man whose efforts directly impact us because he helped found and mold America. Who knows where you and I would be today without him and his peers.

His peers—that’s another highlight. The figure of Aaron Burr, his first friend and greatest enemy, shadows every page. This book tells Burr’s story as well as Hamilton’s, and it’s a heartbreaking one. It tells Washington’s story, the one man in the world Hamilton could truly respect. It tell Jefferson’s and Madison’s stories, John Adam’s story, men who fought with Hamilton but who shaped his life and America and our lives as much as he did. You’ll find a panoramic view of humanity in this book, the many shades that heroes can take, the many facets of just one person, the strengths and weaknesses that color everyone, for we all have a little of each.

Furthermore, is that it tells the story of women. You look back on history and think that they had no part in any of it. They’ve been shut out from everything until recently, right? Well, maybe. But you might not think that as much after this book. I do not hesitate to say that Eliza Hamilton, his wife, is just as much a hero of this book as Hamilton himself is. Without her, I don’t know what would have happened to him. Some people say the only reason she has significance is that she’s Hamilton’s wife. I’d combat that with the fact that he might not have had significance if he hadn’t been Eliza’s husband.

She’s beautiful, guys. Strong, intelligent, physically beautiful, but even more so in her heart. The kind of woman that made America great. The kind of woman I’d be honored to emulate just a little bit. The whole thing is beautiful, really.

And that’s the funny thing about this book—although, I guess if you think about it, it’s not so strange at all. You see, it’s dark. Really dark. The ugliness and depravity and sin in it—it could drag you down, depress you forever. The Revolution, America’s birth, is not a pretty story. The men we laud were by no means perfect. Often, they were quite the opposite.

But in the end, that’s what makes this story so beautiful. You come out from the other side of the darkness—in the very midst of the darkness—and you see light. You see healing and redemption and hope. You see forgiveness. You see relationships becoming stronger after something that should have destroyed them. You see this great man collapse into the ashes and rise again as someone so much greater, shining so much brighter. What a story.

So—summer is coming. That means a little more time, maybe some more brain power to tackle more intense books that would be tough to do during school. And that means that you can take up this book. Yes, it’s large, and it contains some more sophisticated words (though it’s totally manageable), but it’s worth it. You want a good story?

Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton is just for you.

{Fireside Fridays} All the Way Home ~ A Rare Gem

It’s rare that books actually make me cry. Don’t get me wrong, books often make me emotional—they make me feel a certain way, and they might even bring the beginnings of tears to my eyes, but very rarely do they actually make me start crying, to the point where there are tears on my cheeks.

All the Way Home by Ann Tatlock was one of those books.


“Augie Schuyler,” as the blurb on the back of the book proclaims, “is desperate for love.” Her broken family is far from quenching the thirst for love in her heart. Fortunately, when she meets Sunny Yamagata, she finds the home she has been aching for all her young life. Sunny’s Japanese family welcomes Augie in with open arms, and for a time, Augie’s scars begin to heal.

Then Pearl Harbor is bombed.

Several decades later, Augie and Sunny miraculously meet again, just in time to face yet another example of hatred and racial prejudice. This time, it is in the deep South, where the threats of the Klu Klux Klan dominate life. Is there a way to forgive so many evil offenders? Is there a way to defeat hatred—even in their own lives? Is there a way for Augie to find a real home, a real belonging place?


From a technical standpoint, All the Way Home is superb—the plot flowed along smoothly, the latter half of the book satisfyingly tied in to the former, and the prose was a delight. The characters were well-drawn as well. Augie was relatable, and although flawed, she was certainly a character I wanted to root for. I especially appreciate the way Tatlock portrayed the complexity of all characters—even the not-so-nice ones had redeeming qualities, and even the “good guys” had flaws. In a book dedicated to the topic of prejudice and hatred, Tatlock masterfully avoided stereotypes and portraying anyone in a black-and-white way. Instead, she hit home the point that all people have value, despite their inevitable failings.

However, the true value of this book arose from the themes it spread and the way it portrayed those themes. All too often fiction of this sort—especially in the Christian genre—come off as preachy or introduce the Christian element too soon. However, Tatlock portrayed a non-Christian family who was still capable of loving a girl in the way she needed. No, it was not a perfect love, but it still mirrored the Biblical love we are exhorted to have. By doing so, she broke down any barriers non-Christians may have when approaching this book. Later, when she introduced faith in the story, she did so at the perfect time with the perfect amount so that it made sense in the context of the plot and enhanced it, rather than detracting from it.

Let me point out that this book is not just philosophical ponderings. There is quite a lot of adventure and suspense, especially during the time when the adult Augie is investigating a Klu Klux Klan story. I stayed up way too late, heart thumping, during those scenes. I found the depictions of America at two crucial, complex times in its history to be fascinating. All Americans should be aware of the racial struggles our nation went through (and is still suffering from.) There is also a romance which I really enjoyed (and take note, for I am not easily satisfied with most romances in books these days—they are either too cliche, too shallow, too physical … I could go on for a while). This one, however, did not dominate the book, but like the faith message fit perfectly with the plot and added depth to the themes.

Speaking of which, some of the themes this book explores are hatred, prejudice, family, race, forgiveness, the power of music, what makes a meaningful life, and faith. To show you a small glimpse of these messages and the lovely prose of the book, here are some quotes:

How do you say good-bye in Japanese? In all my time with the Yamagatas, I had never once bothered to learn how to say good-bye.


Sunny thought a moment, then said, “It takes a certain greatness to see beyond your own ambitions, let alone sacrifice those ambitions for the sake of other people. Cedric Frohmann is a good man, but I’m not sure he’s a great man.”


And I realized maybe that’s what prayer was after all, the simple cry of the heart, a crying out to the one who was faithful enough to bring on the morning at the end of every night.


Who knows, maybe something is hopeless only when we’re not willing to sing anymore.


I had imagined it a lofty place, this artist’s solitude, this cozy corner where the Muse and I lingered and plotted and schemed, creating our little world of words. But it was only an empty room after all, with nothing in it. Nothing but my own cloistered and well-protected self.


I will warn you, this book can be depressing in places, especially when describing her childhood home, with her mother going insane and her drunken uncle. However, there is nothing graphic, and the ultimately hopeful and beautiful message of the book is worth the pain.

If you are looking for a meaningful read that will move, instruct, and challenge you, this is it.

{Miscellaneous Mondays} Thank You

Sometimes I forget why we celebrate certain holidays, especially these long-weekend ones that often end up being an excuse to forget about school and play games with my family. Visiting the National World War I museum today helped remind me what today is all about: remembering those who gave their lives to keep us free.

It struck me that we pay so much attention to those who died—and it’s entirely fitting that we do so, don’t get me wrong—but we tend to forget about the families. I think they have it even harder than those who died, because they have to live with the pain, with the irreparable hole in their lives. So, in this post, I want to thank not only the servicemen who died, but their families, who supported them and gave them up.

Thank you for knowing what the war might do to you and your loved ones, and letting them go anyway. Thank you for facing the possibilities and choosing the hard path with them in sight.

Thank you for enduring not only the death of a person, but the death of your dreams, your future. Thank you for giving up your plan for a greater good.

Thank you the weariness of a wife left to lead a family by herself. Thank you the loneliness of a betrothed one left who thought they’d finally found the one who would that eliminate loneliness forever. Thank you for the pain of a parent whose child went ahead before them.

Thank you for loving your family members so much that you were willing to let them obey their country, their hearts.

Thank you for your support, for being the ones who kept the soldiers going, gave them a reason to fight, something to look forward to when they came home.

Thank you for the long nights, lonely vigils, tearful prayers, aching hearts, weary bones, worn letters, lost years, shattered dreams … and so much more.

And I thank you, those whose loved ones didn’t die physically but came back forever scarred, changed. Thank you for your example of selfless love as you cared for them.

I know these words aren’t nearly enough to touch upon what you lost, what you gave, what you endured, but please know that we remember you. We honor you.

“Our sacrifice is greater than his,” cried Rilla passionately. “Our boys give only themselves. We give them.”

~ L. M. Montgomery, Rilla of Ingleside