This article was published in the Plymouth Review. Human du Plessis, South Africa 2021-22, is placed by AFS-USA in Plymouth, WI
So long South Africa, hello Plymouth
PHS foreign-exchange student Human du Plessis said he wanted to get out of his comfort zone and experience the world a bit.
So he left Empangeni, a town of about 110,000 people, to study – and swim and act and volunteer – abroad.
“I kept an open mind,” he said. “I know every small little place has its things that make it worth going to. I’m not disappointed in Plymouth. The sense of community is something I experienced on the swim team. The brotherhood was amazing, just the friendliness of a small town and the acceptance they have for someone who’s not from here. It was pretty amazing.”
There have also been some differences since arriving at the home of host family Bill and Melinda McCreedy.
“But there were lots of little things,” du Plessis said. “Like the showers were different, the doors are on different sides sometimes, when a whirlpool forms in the pool it goes the different way because I’m from the southern hemisphere, so it’s strange. You don’t have bars or windows on your doors. In South Africa, every home is fenced in and you have to have protection so to speak, otherwise insurance doesn’t pay out for burglaries.”
The 18-year-old du Plessis was scheduled to arrive for the start of the 2020 school season but had to wait because of the pandemic. As a result, he would Skype with his host dad for over a year, so he knew the family pretty well.
“Coming here, that made it easier to adapt and I felt right at home with this family,” he said.
This past fall, du Plessis played on the junior varsity soccer team and participated in the school play. He’s currently in Plymouth’s “Bye Bye Birdie” and recently wrapped up his varsity swim season.
The freestyle swimmer qualified for state in two events and helped the 200 relay team finish third and the 400 relay place seventh with a school-record time.
Ask du Plessis what he’ll remember most about the season, however, and he says the camaraderie and brotherhood he felt.
“It feels kind of blasphemous calling it camaraderie because we got really close as individuals,” he said. “The team was so semantic in everything they did. There was just this amazing dynamic that I had never experienced before. … I didn’t expect it to be as much a team sport as it was. “What a pleasant surprise. It was an awesome experience.”
Soon, du Plessis will begin volunteer community service work through the U.S. Department of State’s YES program. He might also find someone to play squash with, only if they stop asking what the heck that is.
“Yeah, I get that a lot,” du Plessis said. “It’s a pretty interesting sport.”
Perhaps a trip to Lake Michigan is in his future as well, since he has surfed a bit back home. “But nobody’s invited me to go yet, so I’m still crossing my fingers,” du Plessis said.
June 7th is when du Plessis leaves, and by then – if not already – he’ll be used to the “personality and way of living” here when asked to name some of the biggest difference between countries.
“I was raised to say thank you, be very respectful towards like older people especially,” du Plessis said. “Calling people by their first name is out of the picture for someone in my ethnic group back home.
Another difference is the “absurdly large” food portions Americans have. Although it would be interesting to see du Plessis’ plate if it consists of his favorites: hamburgers and fried cheese curds.
“I’ve heard they put them on poutine before but never heard they fried them at all,” he said. “That’s quite a welcome surprise.”