Anyone who has ever spent time studying abroad worries about whether they'll find work once they return home.
So Nandipa Khuboni had only one mission when she got on a long-awaited flight back to SA at the start of the pandemic last year: to pour all her efforts into becoming a successful actress.
When Covid-19 was first detected, she'd been studying acting at the New York Film Academy in Los Angeles, a prestigious institution but not necessarily a golden ticket straight to stardom or secure employment – especially in a time of pandemic.
But when the Durbanite got on a plane with other South Africans being repatriated from the US, the fact that today she's be one of the lead characters on popular telenovela Gomora was just a dream.
She achieved the dream in just a few months though, thanks to hard work, determination and the support of those around her.
The 21-year-old who plays Sibongile on the show tells Drum that the people who play her family on Gomora have helped her to learn one of the most important skills an actor should have: listening.
On the popular show, Nandipha portrays the character of Sibongile – whose father is Don (played by veteran actor Israel Matseke Zulu) and stepmom Zodwa (Sanah Mchunu) – while Sicelo Buthelezi is Sibongile's brother, Teddy.
“They are absolutely amazing. I learn so much from them. I think one of the biggest lessons I have learned from them is to listen.
"What a lot of people do not know is that scripts are in English and so each person needs to interpret that script the way their character would. I often prepare for my lines and when I get together with them they improvise and put in impromptu things that are not necessarily in the script. That means you have to listen and pay attention. I truly appreciate the lesson . . . It has been such a great learning curve," she says.
Nandipha graduated online last year, because of Covid-19, and she says while abroad she did not realize some of the silliest things she would miss about South Africa.
"In LA, I was basically vegan. But when I came home, my family knew that I would [eat] any and everything – my ultimate favourite being dumplings and a hearty stew.
"I would then pack speckled eggs candy, Aromat and stock tubes," the eldest of five kids says with a laugh.
Nandipha says, growing up in Durban, she loved school. “I was always that kid in school who got excited for orals and stuff like that.”
When her parents got divorced in her Grade 9 year, she further immersed herself in her studies and extramurals.
“I was enrolling for different extramural activities just to keep myself distracted from what was going on at home and it helped me to really discover myself and the things I liked the most," she shares.
“Also, I loved high school. I know a lot of people don’t, but for me it was a great place where I was able to explore different interests and everyone was really supportive of each other and were had a great sisterhood with all the girls there.”
Having attended a co-ed primary school, Nandipha enjoyed attending an all-girls high school, recalling: “We were all able to be ourselves all the time without worrying about bumping into your crush at school or wanting to look perfect to appeal to the male gaze."
Having returned to SA at the start of lockdown, she spent two weeks in quarantine and that gave her an opportunity to try figure things out, the actress shares.
She spent about two months at home before she auditioned for Gomora.
“I sent them the same self-tape I had sent to Blood and Water. It was me portraying a mean girl.
"I am amazed at the people that I get to work with on Gomora," she adds.
“Like, randomly, seeing bhut’ Zolisa on set or being able to casually say ‘hi sis Thembi' or 'hi sis Kat’ like they are not the legendary actors I grew up seeing on TV!
"And besides the veterans, it is so lovely to have a group of peers that I am learning the ropes with. We have formed great friendships and often organise things outside of work too.
Asked about Sibongile's relationship with Stompie, Nandipha laughs and says, “hey, asazi nathi, sizobona (we also don't know, we'll see)”.
The young actress hopes to continue playing her role so well that she will be able to secure other auditions and roles so that South Africa can see her range as an actress.