Reflections on How My Life Changed After Working In South Africa

By Crystal Joy

Crystal Joy

5  min read

We are back with actress Crystal Joy talking about her recent 3 month journey to Johannesburg, South Africa. Read her open letter to her past self about the lessons she learned while working in South Africa as another beautiful piece from our work abroad collection. 

Dear Crystal,

Remember when your short film became an official selection at an international film festival in South Africa? You were so excited! You quit your job and bought a one-way ticket to Johannesburg. As an actress and screenwriter, you realize how the spaces you dwell in play a part in your creativity. Not finding the opportunity or inspiration you craved in the States, you placed your eggs in several baskets and sought out work overseas, even though you had no connections. You were motivated because the unknown has never scared you. Now that your stay has ended, there are a few lessons I want to highlight for you.

Lesson 1: Business

Relax, that is what you’ll need when it comes to handling business in South Africa.The chill South African vibe in which they handle life bleeds into professional spaces, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There isn’t always a sense of urgency to get things done when compared to business in the U.S. The several years you lived in New York and Chicago have led way to your quick-paced mentality. So, at first, you’ll get frustrated and impatient. You will ask yourself, “how do things get accomplished with this type of pacing?”

Soon, you’ll realize that in a ‘timely manner’ simply has a different definition. It doesn’t mean things won’t get done; it just gets done on a different time table. And you will adapt to this.

Lesson 2: Communication

Besides your film being screened at the Africa Rising International Film Festival, you’re also there to teach a writing class. Go in with an open mind to a creative way of business communication—download WhatsApp. Communication in the U.S. is typically conducted through email and over the phone. In Joburg (Johannesburg), it’s mainly handled through WhatsApp. Be ready to administer business text messages. It might be different than what you’re used to, but you’ll grow to like it.

Also, be sure to re-read my previous point because responses can be rather slow. The standard response time in the States is 24-48 hours, however, in Joburg, it is typically 3 to 4 days. Due to this, you will learn to be flexible when setting timelines or deadlines.

Lesson 3: Industry Culture

Throughout your time there, you’ll frequent a lot of events, visit a TV set, and partake in filming a short project. Despite women being present at a lot of the events, you’ll notice it is still an all-boys club. You will hear from an all-female crew about their experiences being on set: their opinions aren’t taken seriously, their decisions are constantly doubted, and things are mansplained. You will realize how the struggle of professional equality between men and women isn’t an issue that exclusively exists in the States. Although, the #MeToo movement has made a major impact in the U.S. filmmaking industry, especially with women being behind the camera, you will notice that Johannesburg is starting to have those conversations and gradually making those changes.


By the time your 3 months is over, you will have cracked the entire top half of your phone on a safari, managed through power outages, and the class you’ve prepared to teach will be canceled the day of. On the flip side, you will have explored the country, met new people, and shared your work. You will learn that circumstances will happen that are completely out of your control, but you must take the good with the bad. That is life.

Above all, what’s most fulfilling is the inspiration you’ll receive from South Africa. The blend of people, fashion, food, music, history, and scenery will leave you motivated and extremely enthused. Being able to merge your love for traveling and passion with finding refreshing stories will inspire you to return. But that letter is currently being written.

Want to know more about Crystal Joy? Read her interview here.