During the June / July holidays Lorenza Williams attended a summer school in Norway. Here is her report:
Going abroad for a Summer School is very exciting and really broadens your perspective of the world! I found out about the Summer School in Comparative Social Science Studies for Doctoral students from my research supervisor. He asked if I was interested in attending a summer school at the University of Oslo in Norway. I said yes! Who wouldn’t want an opportunity like this! I applied and was accepted a few days after I submitted my application form and motivation letter. Since then, the excitement just grew. Financial assistance from the Postgraduate & International Office allowed me to pay for my flight tickets and in doing so my trip dates were now fixed and I was almost half way to Oslo. As for accommodation, which is the other major expense, I didn’t have any problems. A friend of mine from Norway offered her student apartment at the University of Oslo for me to stay in while attending the Summer School. I met her here in Stellenbosch while she was an exchange student and volunteered at an after school programme where I worked at the time. Since her stay in South Africa a few years ago, we kept contact via Facebook and when she heard about my trip to Norway, she offered her apartment! What a gift! The organisers of the Summer School or exchange programme would normally have some options for accommodation in various price ranges. If it is not communicated on a website or letter, you should enquire about it. What I have found with my preparation is that the organisers are very helpful. We must just be willing to ask for help.
It is important to find out early about the Visa requirements and application procedures. Give yourself enough time to get all your paperwork in order and for the processing thereof. I had some help from a very friendly travel agent in town. She booked my flight tickets and helped me find and complete the Schengen Visa Application Form. Visa requirements vary according to the different countries you are planning to visit, so it is your responsibility to find out exactly what those requirements are, where the embassy or consulate is, the cost of the application, and how long it would take to be processed. My Visa application took one month. And I must say that it has been stressful, since I was not sure whether everything was in order and I did not have all my subsistence money yet. It turned out that there was some or other hold up at the embassy in Pretoria. I received my Visa about two weeks before I left, which gave me enough time to focus on the academic preparations and not stress about the Visa that can determine whether the trip was on or off!
There are various options for handling your subsistence and spending money abroad. The best thing is to pay a visit to your local bank and ask the consultants for some advice. I went with the Cash passport option from FNB. It allowed me to load foreign currency in an account and received a card which I used at any ATM or shop that accepts VISA cards. This worked very well for me together with a small amount of cash.
I have found that academic preparations play a huge role in how much you will benefit from the summer school. And once again it is up to you to find out about the reading material that you need in order to prepare for the course.
I learned some basic Norwegian as part of my preparations. I believe in respecting different cultures, and part of that is to speak their language, or at least to greet the people in their own language. I downloaded a programme called Byki (www.byki.com). It is a free language programme where you can learn the basics of different languages. You learn by looking at the words and hearing the pronunciation. This really helped me a lot to settle in during my stay in Norway.
Oh yes, and don’t forget to check out the roaming options for your phone at your local service provider, and activate it before you leave. You do not want to be out of contact in a foreign country!
During the summer school:
Being in Oslo just after the horrible events of July 22nd was really a unique experience. I arrived in Oslo two days after the attacks and the sadness was still very evident among the people. Even more evident was the solidarity amongst the Norwegian people. At the summer school we observed the nation-wide moment of silence at noon on the Monday and participated in the Rose march in the city centre after our opening event that same evening. It was really important for me to take in as much as I could about the events and talked to people about it as the opportunities came up during the two weeks.
The two week Summer School in Comparative Social Science Studies is an annual event at the University of Oslo. The PhD courses are designed in order to promote interaction between students from different social sciences like Sociology, different branches of Psychology and Political Science. For instance, my PhD course in Case Study Research Methods was presented by a professor in Political Science, whereas my academic foundation is in Psychology. This was actually very challenging, as I had to read more in order to participate in class, because every other concept would be a “new” concept for me. Most of the lecturer’s examples obviously also came from the political science field. I strategically befriended and positioned myself next to someone who did not mind to explain certain concepts to me J The second week’s course was more familiar to me. It was called Power, Liberation and Social Change, basically Community Psychology. It was lectured by a well-known author in the field, so I really enjoyed engaging with the lecturer. It turned out that she knew my research supervisor! I was also understandably much more confident to participate in the discussions. And during this week I was the person that someone befriended and positioned herself next to, in order to help with explaining concepts 🙂
The academic programme was structured as formal lectures and class discussions. We were required to read articles or chapters in books relating to the various topics for each session. The articles were posted to us in advance and we were required to obtain the books ourselves. As for assessment, we could write a paper after the courses in order to receive PhD credits, or just receive a letter of attendance. These credits are essential for the European universities, but not a requirement for Stellenbosch University.
This was my first time to Norway, so I wanted to experience as much of Oslo and
Trondheim as I could during my time there. The classes finished around half past three in the afternoons, and because the sun sets so late at night during summer time, we had a long afternoon and evening of free time. Activities included a boat trip and island hopping on the Oslo fjord, exploring the city by T-bane (metro train), Trikk (Tram), boat and bus. I also visited various tourist sites and even a braai at the South African Embassy on invitation of the Ambassador herself! I met the South African Ambassador to Norway, Ms Beryl Sisulu, at the home of the head of Psychology Department of the University of Oslo, Prof Fanny Duckert. Prof Duckert has a longstanding relationship with South Africans, and she wanted to meet me over lunch. I was very honoured to be in the company of two awesome women.
During my first few days back in Stellenbosch my life seemed boring. I would occasionally wish I could jump on a train, just walk around in the city and play tourist! Instead I had to catch up on work, relationships and tell stories to my friends and family. But I soon settled in and got my focus back. I also became excited again about my studies and my role as community change agent in South Africa.
During my stay in Norway I was often asked about the racial issues, social development and reconstruction, our president’s many wives and Julius Malema’s presence in the media. During those conversations I realised how proud I am to be South African and to talk about our country’s strengths and weaknesses. Those realisations really stirred me again to become more involved in issues of redress through research and capacity building in my country. I have toyed with my research topic, and I am planning to make my study more practical in order to speak to some of these issues. Participatory action research which was discussed during the Community Psychology module really captivated me, and is a perfect fit for the type of study I have in mind. The reading material we received is very helpful even now during my studies. I am also still in contact with some of the people that I met during the summer school, including people from Norway, Finland, Latvia and my fellow Africans from Uganda and Zimbabwe who study in Norway.
This summer school experience really broadened my perspective on the world. It served me well to be removed from my normal environment for a while and to take a fresh look at my life. It furthermore reminded me of my passion for community development. Besides the academic benefits of the summer school, I believe that I grew a lot because of the overall experience of traveling abroad alone and engaging with people from different nations and cultures. I am truly grateful for everyone who made this opportunity a reality for me. I would love to go on another exchange and I encourage everyone who is considering attending a summer school, to go for it!
Proudly South African,