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8 December 2021
From Hoerikwaggo to Tāmaki
Few experiences are as unsettling as emigrating. It’s not just the adjustment to different cultures, climate, accents, food or the hot button political issues at the queue in the local grocery store. It’s also the loss of a certain sense of place that one unconsciously develops. For many people in Cape Town, the sight of the iconic mountain makes them feel grounded. Known to the Khoisan as Hoerikwaggo – the mountain in the sea – it’s also the last recognisable feature of the city that you see from the air when you leave.

Caryn Fortune (née Bergstedt), a UWC alumna who recently took the brave step of swapping Hoerikwaggo for new horizons, is now part of the vibrant South African expat community in New Zealand (at last count, about 1.4% of the population of New Zealand). 

After matriculating in 2006, Caryn was accepted at Stellenbosch University and UWC. She opted to follow her parents’ advice and do her BCom Law at UWC. 

“They wanted me close to home and thought very highly of the quality of education that UWC could offer,” says Caryn, who commuted from home for the duration of her studies. 

UWC was also more affordable, especially with the 75% fee rebate UWC offered academic achievers in their first year. She funded the remainder of her undergraduate degree through NSFAS, and her parents assisted with the costs of the LLB thereafter. In her final undergraduate year, a mutual friend reintroduced her to Sherwin Fortune, whom she had barely known when they attended the same high school. Romance blossomed and they eventually married. 

She was quite involved in peer mentoring and tutoring at UWC throughout her studies, serving as a peer facilitator, student faculty coordinator and mentor at CSSS, a tutor at the EMS Faculty, and as a researcher for Street Law in her final year.

She says seeing other students thrive and grow was all the encouragement she needed to continue. 

Caryn says, “Tutoring and mentoring assists students with comprehension of the subject, boosts their confidence, and builds important communication, study and personal skills that they otherwise would not be able to develop in a fast-paced environment such as the lecture hall of a university. The value I derived from doing it was a sense of fulfilment, personal growth and an opportunity for self-reflection, and personal satisfaction.”

While she “loved every moment” of being a UWC student and appreciated the value the lecturers and staff at UWC added to her experience, it was venerable former Rector of UWC, Prof Brian O’Connell, who was her biggest influence.

“I recall attending the training for the orientation programme and he was a keynote speaker. His message was so profound that it, till today, drives my notion of education. He indicated that education is a privilege that very few can experience and it is the duty of those who are educated to extend its reach to those unable to access it. 

“This has become the foundation of my drive to become an educator and pass on what I have learned to the next generation. Not only to extend access to education to all but to empower a generation with a hunger for knowledge. From hope to action through knowledge.”

But her path to this realisation, like most things in life, was not linear. After graduation, she was accepted and completed her articles at commercial law firm Raymond McCreath Inc., left for a brief stint at Parkers Attorneys, and returned to Raymond McCreath to work as a conveyancer until 2019, when she emigrated to join her new husband in Auckland (Tāmaki in Maori), New Zealand.

Settled in Howick, East Auckland, she appreciated the beach being only minutes away but adjusting was stressful at first. 

“Initially, I was so overwhelmed that I hardly left the house and never on my own. It was when I attended church for the first time here and encountered other South Africans, that I slowly overcame the anxiety and redirected my focus to the potential and opportunities that now lie ahead. 

“While there are many differences in the cultures, being so far from home made me focus on everything that I found to be similar, and their deep sense of community and family is what truly struck a chord within me,” says Caryn. 

Caryn didn’t feel called to continue practising as a lawyer, so, in the spirit of Prof O‘Connell’s counsel, she completed a UK online TEFL course and found fulfilling employment as a teacher’s aide at Tamaki College, a local high school, where she works with 14 to 16-year-olds.

And what reason would she give for studying at UWC, as opposed to other South African universities, if any of her learners were interested?

“UWC is an institution of hope, a promise of what South Africa can be, and any student attending it will discover the privilege it is to be there. Not only to be educated by some of the best the country has to offer but to be part of a community… a family that will support you and guide you on your path,” says Caryn.