Hillbrow is not the safest place. But I learnt that there is a lot more to the inner city suburb than negative stereotypes. I stumbled upon Hillbrow as a visiting US graduate exchange student. It became my home for two months.
I had the wonderful opportunity of studying at Wits University in recent months, as part of my exchange programme with the University of Chicago. Desiring a fuller immersion experience, I opted out of campus housing to look for home stay opportunities on my own. I ended up connecting with the extended family members of a friend from Chicago. My host family lived very close to school, in a neighbourhood called Hillbrow.
I didn't know anything about Hillbrow previously, but would soon learn about its notoriously high levels of poverty and crime, a place known as the "hood of Johannesburg". Some people, including members of my host university, expressed concerns over me staying there. I took their concerns seriously and thought hard about my decision. I wanted a holistic experience of South Africa, beyond just the touristy areas, but I also was not going to recklessly put my life in danger.
In the end, I decided that I trusted my...