Keeping up with Kaloso

Alex Haylock

Kaloso Tsoaeli is the new South African exchange student visiting the U.S. for the next eight months.

On Friday, January 12, an international flight touched down on snow-covered American soil. Kaloso Tsoaeli’s first act within the United States was to adjust from the warmth of his home of Durban, South Africa, to a frigid Pennsylvania winter.

Tsoaeli has a clear memory of his first time seeing snow. “When I woke up and I see outside I could see the snow and I was like ‘wow, how beautiful… and then I went outside and felt the cold and I was like hmmm… it’s freezing. I didn’t really enjoy the snow,” he said.

During his time in the U.S., Tsoaeli will be staying with junior Chase Bennett and his family.

“It’s a different experience,” Bennett said. “Definitely a big culture change for him, but also for me and my family. We’re all trying to learn what South Africa is like, and how he lives.”

Tsoaeli has finished grade 12 in South Africa, but is spending the second semester here at Malvern. He will also be in the U.S. for the summer.

Kaloso Tsoaeli is embracing a new culture at Malvern Prep / A. Haylock

School for Kaloso is very different from what occurs here at Malvern. Most students, for instance, don’t start their day at four A.M..

“If I’m going to school, I wake up at like four in the morning, get everything done and ready,” Tsoaeli said. “School starts at half past seven, but the thing is we have problems with taxis back home. So you never know [how long] it’ll take so the earlier I am, the better.”

Tsoaeli takes taxis because of how far he is away from the school he attends. “I take two taxis to school. My school is in a different town, and I have to go through another town to get to it,” he said. “I get to school at about half past six.”

On top of his early start on the day, Tsoaeli also has additional roles as a leader of the school. Tsoaeli was a prefect, a senior student authorized to enforce discipline.

“In the morning I’d have my first three classes. Instead of break I don’t sit around and do nothing, I do my duties with my partner. I go to my next two classes and then I go back to my duties.”

Tsoaeli’s work schedule also extends past normal school hours. “After school I’ve got extra lessons, do my homework and stuff, or I’ve got sports, like hockey, cricket, or soccer,” he said.

For him, life as a student was not as simple as one might seem. “It’s different there because there is no one there I really know from my area that goes there.” However, there are aspects that he has come to love.

Hockey has been Tsoaeli’s favorite sport since he started high school. Four years later, it has become a true passion of his. “The thing is with hockey is once you have the basic skills, you pretty much can play anyone,” Tsoaeli said.

Tsoaeli’s love of the sport has led him to become quite good at it too. “From grade 11, I knew I was good. Like at that [point], even my teachers were like ‘you’ve improved a lot since grade eight,’” he said.

Tsoaeli wants to continue to play hockey outside of school, but not on a highly competitive level.

“I wouldn’t say I’d want to play it as a professional sport,” he said. “But I think that it will always be a hobby… playing club or something.” Tsoaeli hopes to branch into other sports at Malvern and shows interest in running track.

The treatment of sports is one of the first things Tsoaeli noticed about Malvern.

“The way people love sports here… like the Eagles thingy. Back home, people will support certain teams, but they won’t wear [players’] stuff, where everyone will sit in front of their TV to support them,” Tsoaeli said. “They take sports very seriously here.”

The differences in sports is not the only differences Tsoaeli is noticing between Malvern and Durban. Some of them may seem very obvious.

“My community and the Malvern community are very different,” he said. “First of all, it’s a race thing. There’s no white people in my area, where I am.”

Tsoaeli chuckled, thinking about the vast differences he’s seen between Malvern and Durban he has seen in just a short period of time.

“The houses here are big. Where I am it’s like government housing with two rooms. and most people [at home] don’t have cars. It’s either they have one car or they don’t have a car at all. Here they have like five cars. and they are expensive cars too,” he said.

Tsoaeli is accustomed to being in a community different to his own. “My school is about 60% white, which is quite a lot when you think about it. It’s a semi-private school so most people that can afford it are white people,” he said

The population of Malvern, however is overwhelming for him.

“Back home, or at school I guess, there are white people around me. But the only black people I see [here] is someone I don’t know,” Tsoaeli said. “In my government class I’m the only black person in the class so I’m kind of like ‘what is happening’ I can see that this community is mostly white, so I’ll just have to get used to that.”

Other differences, were only discovered through Tsoaeli’s observations. “Back home, everyone is outside. Here, I haven’t seen anyone outside, everyone is indoors doing something,” he said.

Inevitably, Tsoaeli is struggling a little with adjustments to a radically different environment.

“I think the hardest part for me is the language… my main language is Zulu, and no one knows Zulu here so I’m going all day speaking English,” he said.

Tsoaeli learned English at his school, which was also difficult. “[Learning English] was quite hard. So I had to read books on top of books, to help make my English better.”

It’s also become a struggle for Tsoaeli when communicating with others on campus. “People here sometimes don’t understand me, I guess it’s my accent or something,” he said. “I’ll have to repeat myself like three or four times… another thing I’ll have to get used to.”

In his short time at Malvern, Kaloso has noticed some of the differences between the English here and the English of his country. “The difference [between] American and South African English is a lot of the slang. There are some slang words that I say to my friends back home that they understand here, and others, they’re just like ‘what are you saying?’” he said.

Thinking about his native language makes Tsoaeli reminiscent of his life back in his hometown. “It’s a typical black township,” Tsoaeli said. “Where everyone wakes up, someone is playing their radio full blast, where there is kids on the road playing.”

While the differences between Tsoaeli’s community and Malvern’s are painfully obvious, Tsoaeli is adjusting quickly. On January 26, Tsoaeli earned the Citizen of the Week at the Friday Morning Rally, “for bringing a positive attitude every single day.”

Outside of school in South Africa, Tsoaeli spends his time being a part of his community. “I wake up any time I want. After I’m done washing my uniform I can sometimes visit my aunts, because they live around the area. Or, with my friends, we can go and walk around the area, seeing people we know,” he said.

Despite the hardships that have come with Tsoaeli’s travels, he is finding new experiences that he truly appreciates.

“I finally have my own room. I’ve never had my own room in my entire life, I’ve always had to share a room and a bed with my brother,” he said.

For Tsoaeli, living with the Bennetts is also refreshing.

“It’s kind of crazy. also, having a big family, like having a mom and dad. Mostly for me last year, my mom wasn’t at home and my dad passed away in 2006, so it was just me and two brothers,” he said. “So now, having a mother and father figure and having a sister, it’s kind of fun. I get to see a different lifestyle.”

When arriving from South Africa, Tsoaeli came here with dreams of sight-seeing as well. “Well of course I want to see the Statue of Liberty… I want to see some of the big museums too,” he said.

Unfortunately, there are some negative aspects of visiting as an African. Tsoaeli has heard of President Donald Trump’s comments on the continent, and has some opinions of his own.

”He’s never gone there so he has no right to just say that,” Tsoaeli said. “He’s a billionaire… he’s got scandals on top of scandals… he’s got a Trump Tower somewhere around here. I know he’s rude, I know that.”

Tsoaeli believes that if Trump were to see the way his community interacts, then he would think otherwise.

“Just seeing everyone together… know everyone around the area. Even if you don’t know their name, you know their faces. You know you can ask anyone for help… There is a lot to learn from us,” he said.

Tsoaeli hopes that the President’s viewpoint doesn’t reflect those of other Americans, especially the ones on campus. “I don’t want them to think that people from Africa don’t know anything, or that they don’t know what technology is, or that they live in a hut,” he said. “I kind of want them to know I’m pretty much the same person that they are, and I just want to learn.”

Regardless of what anyone says or thinks, Tsoaeli is here in America for the good experiences, people, opportunities, and especially the food.

“They are always talking about cheesesteaks here,” he said.