GUEST BLOG SAWITU Essentials Magazine

A South African in Charleston, South Carolina     Elsa Dixon                February 2022

I wrote this guest blog for the editor, Antonet de Ridder, of SAWITU Essentials Magazine (SA women living in USA and Canada.

I settled into my car seat, reached for the ignition with my keys, and realized I was sitting in the passenger seat. Blushing at my stupidity, I pretended to search for something on the floor before moving to the driver’s seat - just in case my friends were watching. I need not have worried. Unlike in South Africa, where saying goodbye usually means walking out your guests and then waving until the car rounds the bend, people here tend to slam the door shut when you exit their front door.

 No doubt, other ex-pats have encountered similar types of experiences. Of course, there are many adjustments to make when settling into a new country and culture and many things to learn, but I found that accepting the challenge, having a sense of humor, and a positive attitude, help absorb the culture shock.

 In 2002, I came to the USA on a teaching contract with the Visiting International Faculty (VIF).

My future as rector of a black teacher training college in South Africa was uncertain. My children were worried about my safety because of the increase in crime in the rural area where I lived, close to the Kruger National Park. After a harrowing three years at a Title One public school in South Carolina working with mostly disadvantaged students, I obtained a position as a music teacher at Ashley Hall, an exclusive private girls’ school in downtown Charleston.

 The move to the USA resulted in many unexpected and unimaginable opportunities. My American friends were intrigued by stories about my life in South Africa. They clamored for a trip to my home country, and so, in 2008, I took a group of six friends on tour. Word spread, and before I knew it, I regularly organized tours during school holidays. I registered a business, TravelswithElsa LLC, and expanded the trips to include other continents and countries.

 Friends encouraged me to write about living in the Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve and teaching in the homelands during the Apartheid years and beyond. So, in 2021, I published a memoir, Hippos, Hotspots, and Homelands, under my maiden name, Elsa van der Byl (MalanMedia). It has received excellent reviews on Amazon.

There is no easy road to becoming a citizen, and everyone’s case is unique. Although I did not receive financial assistance, I was fortunate that my school was willing to sponsor me, advertise the post nationally, and do most of the paperwork. After obtaining permission from South Africa, I became a dual citizen in 2014.

 Like most South Africans who emigrate, I find myself in the position that my children are wide-spread, two in Canada, one in Switzerland, and one in the United Kingdom. However, living in the States has given me security, a sense of belonging and expanded my world. It has opened many doors and enriched my life. Although there are frustrations and one sometimes long for the familiar things of one’s country of birth, it is indeed true that one can make a good living in America.


 Elsa is also a travel writer, writing for various magazines. Read more about Elsa’s life and publications on her website,

The daughter of comedian/songwriter Pieter van der Byl, she also published a biography PIET wat POMPIES was (MalanMedia 2019)


Back to blog