Elizabeth Cilliers

Elizabeth (aka ‘Liz’) was one of the first people I met in Cape Town.  She was an Orientation Leader (OL), dressed in a bright neon green T-shirt and a red zip-up hoodie.  This was the OL uniform, so she looked like the other OLs, but with those colours, she stood out from the typical crowd.  I was the first international student to arrive in Kopano, the student residence where we temporarily stayed for the few nights, and so I was just hanging around with her and other OLs.  We easily struck up a conversation, and she was super friendly.  She showed me around to important places around campus and her favorite place to eat in Rondebosch.

IMG_1228From the very beginning, I was drawn to Liz.  I wanted to be her friend because she was extremely welcoming and comfortable to be around.  There was something about her, her authenticity, that I wanted to be around.  And I am so thankful that she let me be her friend.  I am thankful that we were able to remain friends throughout the semester, occasionally getting breakfast/lunch/coffee.

In the beginning, I remember thinking, “Whoa, she’s pretty” but over time, I’ve come to learn that’s not all about her.  Liz is also incredibly smart and thoughtful.  She loves her coffee and takes her cappuccino with no sugar (she loves the foam!).  She cares a great deal about her friends and family.  She has an inner passion for traveling, exploring, thrift shopping, and experiencing new things.  She is one of the reasons why my South African experience has been so great.

Where were you born?
In the North West Province, and I lived there until I was 5

Where are you from?
I would consider myself from Pretoria.

Where in the world have you lived?
My family lived in Pretoria until I was in Grade 11 (9 years), then Malawi for three and a half years, and now we live in Zambia.
In 2008, there was a recession, and my dad lost his business at the time.  He had to work abroad in Tanzania, and he finally found a job in Malawi.  So, we moved there with him, and he worked there until the end of his contract, which was not renewed.  Then, we moved to Zambia for his work.
It’s ideal to work and live in South Africa, but at the same time, we don’t really want to come back here [due to the unfavorable labour market in SA at this time].

What languages do you speak (outside of English)?
Conversational Afrikaans

What is your race?
I consider myself White-English, Afrikaans, and South African.

What is your relationship with your parents? What do they do?
My dad is a financial manager within companies, and he’s currently a CEO for a company that exports wooden furniture.  Previously, [he was head of] a maize company.
My mom didn’t go to varsity but had a variety of jobs: a certified hairdresser, an optometrist, a real estate agent.  Now, she’s a housewife and does informal hairdressing.  They both live in Zambia, but both parents can’t work because they both can’t obtain a work permit.

Do you have any siblings?
Younger sister, who’s turning 19
Liz describes her sister as “free spirited” and arts-oriented, having taken courses in art and photography.  They had a close relationship when they were kids, but as teenagers, there was some distance and fighting.  But now, they are getting closer, and she acts as a protective older sister.

What year are you and what are you currently studying?
(At the time of interview)* 2nd year, B.Comm in Financial Accounting

Why that?
I knew I was going to do something in Commerce, but it was hard to choose.  This is a useful business degree because you’re on track to being a chartered accountant, it opens a lot of doors, and you’re guaranteed a job.

What was your journey like to get to UCT?
Growing up in Pretoria, I’ve always wanted to go to UCT because I love Cape Town.  But, it’s not typical for students to move away from home because of expenses and when you already have a good university nearby (referring to University of Pretoria).  Then, we moved to Malawi, so there was no excuse not to go to Cape Town.  I couldn’t apply to Pretoria, was rejected from another varsity, and UCT was the only option left.  I’m glad it worked out.

If you could be doing anything right now (not school), what would it be?
When we were in Malawi, there was a couple that lived on an island, building and managing a resort, and engaging with the community.  They were living in a beautiful place, building something special, and engaging with/helping the local community through their projects.  I think it would be cool to do something like that.

What is a memorable moment in your life?
There are lots of good memories after moving from Pretoria, but when we first got to Malawi, we did not have a good start.  We stayed in a hotel, where there was no water.  There was always load shedding, and the food was different [than what I was used to].  The apartment we lived in had very little furniture, and we didn’t own a car[, so I felt trapped in a place I didn’t like].
Liz and her family had to adapt to a new life, where the amenities she was used to having were not as accessible anymore.  She learned the life of having to fetch water and living with minimal possessions.

Do you have any fears?
[I’m] worried that my family can’t look after themselves or not being able to look after them.  But, I have lots of determination to be able to do this in the future.

What is your ultimate goal in life?
Be able to completely support my family and sister. And be happy.

If you could do anything in the world and be successful — qualifications, costs, and other people don’t matter — what would you do?
Astronaut, traveling in space seems awesome
I love the Planetarium. If you stare at the ceiling (referring to the planetarium dome) long enough, you feel like you’re in space.

What are your favorite music artists, movies, books?  Who are the people you consider influential?
Music: Coldplay, Mumford & Sons
Movies: “The Notebook”, “Inside Out”
Books: The Tenth Circle – Jodi Picoult (it includes not only a story but also a comic)
Influential people: Mom
She doesn’t consider anyone famous to be influential in her life because “you don’t really know who they are. I am inspired by people I know.”

What do you want people to say at your funeral?
Selfless and caring, a very loving person

What are the most important things in your life?
Family, being happy and loving myself, appreciating the little things

What kind of challenges have you faced?
Moving and leaving friends and my life behind.  It makes you a stronger person though.
Ever since moving to Malawi, I learned that traveling is important [in order] to learn about the world.  If you stay in one place, you don’t grow.

What advice do you give others?
Don’t worry about the future because it’ll take of itself.  Be in the present because it’s never as bad as it seems.

Is there something you live by? What motivates you?
I’m stronger than I think I am.  So in doubt, I try to convince myself:

“You never know how strong you truly are until being strong is the only choice you have.”

What is one thing you wish to see changed in the world?
I wish people weren’t so greedy and selfish.
She points out that these are the causes of many problems in the world, and if people were less selfish, it would save lives and prevent wars.  It would stop companies from cutting corners and polluting [to cut costs].

What are things you definitely want to accomplish in your life?  In other words, what is on your bucket list?
Whale watching, travel, go to a circus
“I can’t believe there are species of the animal kingdom I haven’t seen. That’s unacceptable!”

What is some skill that you’ve always wanted to learn but never got the chance to?
Play the piano

How do you feel about other people outside of Africa think about Africa?
(In relation to South Africa) I can understand how people feel about South Africa is based on media, but it will change when you experience it.  Their beliefs aren’t wrong, but [they’re not wholly true].  You should experience what South Africa is like before having a firm belief.

And we’re all the same.  Like every other place in the world, every place has problems and every place has things that make it unique.

Who are you?
I’m a simple soul trying to learn how to love and be happy.  I want to be a source of light and happiness for other people.  I can tell you who I am, but you may not see it.  I think people try to live out who they are, but worldly influences hold them back.

Liz, in the past 6 months, you have a been a source of happiness and light for me.  I have a learned a lot about Cape Town and South Africa from you, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all our encounters.  I am thankful that we have met, and you have only shown me how loving, caring, and thoughtful you are.  You have shown strength because of all the changes that have been brought into your life, and you are a stronger person now than ever before.  In the future, I know you’ll be able to have all the worldly experiences that you seek and become the person you want to become.  Be happy.

Over and out.



Since this is posted now at the end of the academic year, Liz is now in her  3rd year.

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