Global Affairs

A day in the life at the University of Cape Town, South Africa

Tiyani Rikhotso, Editor-in-Chief of UCT’s leading student newspaper VARSITY, reports on the day in the life of honours student Kelsey Maggott.

During orientation week in first year, you hear over and over how much of a privilege it is to be at the University of Cape Town. Not only do people sing your praises congratulating you on your acceptance, but a tune follows you around as well. A reminder that you have set foot into the best university in Africa.

Being a student at UCT is a privilege indeed. Though it comes with its challenges and pressures, it is an encouraging environment filled with multi-faceted individuals. All who trek up UCT’s Jammie stairs and gather the strength needed to face another day and keep up with the motions of university life. 

One of those individuals is Kelsey Maggott, a 21-year-old Capetonian currently studying her honours in Religious Studies. I got a chance to sit down with her and reflect not only on what it means to be a student at UCT but what an average day in her life looks like. 

Kelsey studied her undergrad in Multimedia Production, Media and Writing and Religious Studies. For a one-liner that sums up her favourite pastimes, she enjoys dancing just for fun, doing stretches, writing poetry, sunsets and eating good food (vegan food preferably). 

When asked “How do you feel about being university?” most people’s answers might be filled with dread or regret. However, for Kelsey it’s quite the opposite.

“I love being in university because I’m learning new things and interacting with different people all the time,” she shares. University, especially UCT, can be a space that forces you to question not only the way you see the world, but how you see others and yourself. That is a challenge that Kelsey wholeheartedly embraces, as she loves how being at UCT provides a constant challenge to what she thought was normal. 

Speaking of challenges, getting up for early classes is something that most students have to fight through as we often get used to sleeping in due to our more flexible schedules. However, for Kelsey, sleeping in isn’t an option (even if she has late classes). After her morning breakfast ritual with a friend and a complaint or two about the res food, it’s time to get ready. This isn’t done with the typical haste of someone rushing to catch the jammie bus as Kelsey is lucky enough to stay at Fuller Hall, which is on campus.

One of the things that caught my attention as a first year at UCT was how well-dressed people were on campus and how important fashion can be in the life of a young person trying to navigate the world. I was interested to know where Kelsey falls on the spectrum from someone who pulls out their best pieces when getting dressed for campus to someone who couldn’t care less about what they wear to class. 

“I like wearing edgy, quirky or ‘funky’ clothes, as my mom would call my style,” reveals Kelsey.

Having a unique fashion sense is really important to her and she likes styling an interesting outfit for the day that represents a part of her or how she may be feeling. She added that she isn’t into the mainstream style that’s often modelled around campus, both because it’s not flattering for her body type and is part of a consumer culture that isn’t good for the environment. 

Being environmentally friendly is something that permeates through various aspects of Kelsey’s life and sticking to plant-based food is another way she manages her environmental footprint. During Lunchtime, or ‘Meridian’ as it’s called at UCT, Kelsey heads to Higher Taste Cuisine: a vegetarian Indian place on campus. 

“I love how warm it is — it’s like a perfect home-cooked meal. They have samosas, roti, vegetables, butternut and chickpeas,” she shares. “Sometimes I splurge on a chai latte from the cafeteria or I’ll treat myself to a piece of cake from Higher Taste.”  

Meridian is also a great time to catch up with friends as it can often become really difficult to carve out time to see them during busy days. Kelsey shares that it’s important for her to find balance between work and friends, because her friendships keep her sane. It seems as though meeting during mealtimes really is the best way to fit your friends into your day as a student. Kelsey reminisced on first year where she and her friends would gather on plaza during lunch or meet at the same time for dinner and have debates and long discussions as they enjoyed a meal together.

Her friendships not only keep her grounded, but have also been an enlightening part of Kelsey’s university experience. 

“Meeting different people that I would’ve never have met where I grew up has been amazing. Hearing about their backgrounds, languages, religions and their worldviews has opened my mind up completely.” 

Not only do her days bring wisdom, personal growth and joy into her life, but being at university is also quite a big deal for Kelsey’s family. 

“My mom only studied when she was forty and no one else has been to university. Everyone thinks its quite a big deal especially because UCT is so renowned,” she shares.

“I didn’t think I was going to go to university. My brothers never went to so it wasn’t on my mind. I never really knew what it was or what you do there. I didn’t really understand the implications of it but once I got here it was awesome. I love it.”

For Kelsey, being at university is also about more than getting a degree. Part of her days are spent contributing to the clubs and societies she is part of. Varsity Newspaper is one of the things she has committed to and she is the Online Editor for 2020.

“I did my undergrad in journalism and that’s the stream that I want to pursue as a career. So being a part of Varsity is important to me because I love that journalism allows me to connect with other people. Through it, I can also find out new information and learn to critique dominant structures or oppressive systems.”

Though Kelsey admits the stress hasn’t kicked in yet, I can imagine that an average day for her is quite busy. Over and above her studies and position at the student paper, Kelsey is part of the creative team at Her Campus, the receptionist coordinator at her residence and part of Rainbow UCT’s social media team.

“For the environmentally friendly stuff, I’m with Vegilicious, the vegan society. I love having good food that brings people together, and it’s kind food. I also joined Green campus initiative, I’m excited to see how I can help out and make campus more environmentally friendly.”

She is also part of the Colby Catholic society. 

“I am a catholic — a critical Catholic, I’d say. There can be so many problematic things there, but I joined the society because I like to stay in touch with what they’re up to,” she added. 

UCT, and university in general, is known for being a very high-pressure environment that takes a heavy toll on students’ minds and bodies. Considering this and all of Kelsey’s extra-curricular commitments, I was interested to know how she keeps up with everything, manages her time and adds into her daily routine to make sure that she is taking care of herself.  

One of her secrets is her calendar. She uses it to schedule all her deadlines and keep up with upcoming tasks and events. Where part of most students evenings (and early mornings) are spent working in the library or computer labs, Kelsey shared that working in the comfort of her room works best for her.

In terms of self-care, stretching and building movement into her day be it jogging or doing a few sit-ups is one of Kelsey’s go-to’s. She admits that though it isn’t the healthiest, when she’s stressed she also needs to have snacks on hand. Setting time aside to do something fun, like going to get ice-cream, attending a society event or having debates with friends are some of the ways she’s able to take her mind off things and relax.

Reflecting on what being at university means for her, Kelsey shares that over and above the friendships and the lessons learnt both in and outside the lecture hall, being at university gives her hope. 

“At UCT there are people from different religions, different races and different cultures and where I stay that would never happen. So it’s so cool to see everyone mingling and that it is possible to be able to learn together and to connect despite our differences.”

Though being a UCT student comes with its pressures and challenges, it is an experience that opens you up to new ideas, new people and the chance to grow. That growth stretches from academics to skills and in your social and political awareness as well. To top it off, we get to spend our days on a beautiful campus nestled right beneath Table Mountain. A constant and towering reminder that there is still beauty in the world, even though UCT might be putting us through the most.