During the June / July holidays Alicia Roos attended a summer school at the Universität Hohenheim. Here is her report:
Rather too early than too late! This is the most important point to keep in mind while doing the preparations to go abroad. The visa appointment date and booking of the flight ticket are the two things to focus on first and try and do as quickly as possible. I did a summer school in Germany and therefore know mostly about applying for a visa to Europe. Most tourists visit Europe in the summer, therefore it can take some time to get a visa appointment during this time. An appointment can be made via the internet or telephonically. I found it the easiest to use the website of the German Consulate for making a visa appointment and to get all the other information regarding the completion of the application forms. When the appointment is made, the confirmation of payment and appointment date is sent via email. It is very important to take the confirmation form along. Rather take too much information along to the Consulate, because if any forms are missing or incomplete, the visa will most likely not be given and it will be necessary to make another appointment. It is therefore a good idea to make an appointment as early as possible, to leave some time if a second appointment has to be made. One usually does not pay for a visa if the reason is to study abroad. It takes about a week to get the visa. One can collect it at the consulate building, or make use of a courier service. I used the courier service and my visa was delivered to my house.
The earlier the flight ticket is booked, the more special prices are available. We flew with Etihad Airways at a very good price and the service on the plane was excellent. It is mostly more expensive to fly via main routes. We flew via Dubai to Frankfurt. It is a longer flight, but it is worth doing, if compared to the price for a direct route ticket.
It is a good idea not to take too much luggage, to have some space left for presents and souvenirs. One can have 23kg main luggage and 7kg hand luggage. They usually charge more if these limits are exceeded, but we were lucky on our flight back to South Africa and did not pay for the extra weight. It is better to be within the limits, because one never knows if they will charge extra. It is best to have only one bag for main luggage and one for hand luggage, because one walks rather far in the airport and we had to travel on quite a few busses and trains to reach the university in Germany. I carried a small bag around my shoulder with my visa, passport, flight ticket, train tickets and anything else I needed nearby. At every checkpoint these documents are asked for.
It is important to clarify everything regarding accommodation (bedding), course preparation and transport ahead of time with the contact person for the summer school. If one plans to travel far distances over weekends, it is best to book the train tickets in advance (while still in SA), because these tickets are very expensive if only booked a few days beforehand.
I used bank cards from Rennies Travel to draw money abroad, because the transaction fee is much lower compared to a usual bank credit card. The Rennies bank cards can be used again on another trip abroad. One receives two cards, in case one gets lost. It is also a good idea to have some Euros in cash and to keep some money in Rand for the return journey home.
I attended a summer school termed ‘Pathogens, Parasites and their Hosts’ at the University of Hohenheim in Stuttgart, Germany. It is a science summer school and includes scientific lectures regarding humans, animals and plants. It is fascinating to see how many similarities there are on molecular level. Whatever your field of scientific study is, it is worth having this knowledge, because certain principles in science are similar in humans, plants and animals. The summer school focused on parasites and pathogens (including potential pathogens) that infect and cause disease in animals, plants and humans. The course included a large amount of microbiology and genetics and focussed specifically on the interaction between the pathogens/parasites and their hosts. Parasite- and pathogen life cycles were studied and their responses to their hosts were discussed, including invasion, resistance and evasion mechanisms. Defence mechanisms and responses of the host to the pathogen/parasite were also explained.
Classes started at 08:00 or 09:00, with a lunch break at 12:00 and finished at different times each day (some days at 15:00 and others at 17:00) depending on what was done in the afternoon (classes, practicals or excursions). Practicals were done on topics discussed in class and demonstrated the relevance of the theory. We did an excursion with a Professor to a well-known botanical garden and zoo in Stuttgart, which was very beautiful to see.
The summer school was three weeks in total with a written exam and a presentation done in the last week. The exam covered all the theory and each participant received a certificate with his/her mark. The presentation was done in groups of four, on certain topics discussed in the lectures. The topics were chosen to give an overview of the whole summer school.
The summer school participants were very diverse and it was very informative to speak about science and hear so many different perspectives. Most participants were still students, but some were much older and had been working for a long time. All the different academic backgrounds made it very interesting to work together.
The summer school provided an opportunity to form connections with scientists from many different countries. This is a great advantage with regards to future studies or work abroad. I experienced it as an eye-opener to the many future opportunities available.
In terms of lectures/academic program, lecturers and university activities, what I experienced abroad is very similar to what I have experienced at Stellenbosch University. The academic course consisted of classes (lectures) and practicals, similar to what is done in a BSc degree at Stellenbosch University. I had more than enough knowledge from my previous studies to be able to follow the theory in class. Practicals were also done in similar ways as they are done at Stellenbosch University. We worked in groups and did practicals relevant to the theory covered in class. The academic standard and standard of education are also comparable to Stellenbosch University and student life abroad is very similar – there were quite a few university functions and student evenings held during our time at the university.
Due to all these similarities, it was not a big adaptation to study abroad.
It was indeed hard to return home after such a short and wonderful experience abroad! An opportunity like this is the best way to immensely broaden one’s perspective with regards to many aspects, in a very short amount time. It was not such a big adaptation to return to student life in Stellenbosch, because student life abroad is so similar to what we are used to here. Although, the wonderful friends made abroad shall be missed!
The chance to study abroad made me aware of all the possibilities there are outside of South Africa. I view my studies very differently now and am much more attentive to opportunities like this which may come my way.
We usually think everything is better abroad compared to South Africa. I realised Stellenbosch University has very good academic standards, fully comparable to the university in Germany. We have a vast amount of diversity in terms of culture and nature, which I would miss there. I think a student who studied at Stellenbosch University or other equally rated universities in South Africa will be very successful abroad.
I plan to finish my studies in South Africa, but after this experience I would most definitely want to go on a longer exchange, during my studies or afterwards and I would certainly want to work overseas for a while.
The chance to see how things are done abroad makes you more content with studying in South Africa, compared to a person who has never had the opportunity to experience life/studying overseas. One always thinks the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, which is more often than expected, not the case.
This experience has made me more certain of my future plans and of where I am heading. I would recommend it to any student who wants to broaden his/her perspective.
It is an unforgettable experience!