Mikhaila at Leipsig University


So: is this the part I freak out about the fact that I’m spending my winter holiday in the European summer, OR is this the part where I attempt to finish my 15 page German essay due before I jet off to Leipzig? Both. I’m ecstatic about Europe, but the fact is I still need to take care of my academics.

The “pre-departure” is all about planning. If you’re a person like moi who likes to make lists, now would be a good time to start – you can put VISA at number 1. Underneath VISA you’ll find FLIGHT TICKET, ACCOMMODATION, etc. etc. – it’s quite a tedious list, but believe me, one needs to sort out the visa ASAP and just as a mental note from me to you: it takes time.

Different countries require different things for the visa application. If you’re travelling to Germany, you’re going to have to apply for a Schengen Visa – this visa covers a lot of European countries, but just be sure to check that if you are planning on traveling, your destination doesn’t require a different visa.

Google is your friend. Whether checking the weather to see what to pack in terms of clothing (I find www.yr.no fairly accurate for day-to-day use), or downloading the Google Translate & Maps Apps on your mobile, it’s a great help as a glimpse of what you’re in for. The Google Translate app is quite useful, especially because of the “camera input”-function; this allows you to point your phone’s camera to a sign (let’s say at the airport or train station) & then via magic (technically technology,) the translation pops up on your screen in whatever language you picked. In case your internet connection lets you down, download the offline map of your destination on the Google Maps app (pre-departure download comes highly recommended).

Cash monies. As a South African travelling to Europe one tends to cringe at the thought of the Rand-Euro conversion, especially in June/July (the EU-Summer, i.e. prime travel time). Once again Google is quite helpful in this regard; one can check the trend of the currency so as to know when it’s the best time to buy. I’d advise shopping around before you buy. Some travel agencies have vouchers when it comes to currency exchange so feel free to ask about that when booking your ticket.

Something to remember: one can only plan SO much. It’s important to go with an open mind, because the fact is you’re travelling far from home and all you know – i.e. there’s much to learn and explore (within measures and means)!

Experience in Leipzig:

Do I even speak German? Why does the University building look like a church? Which direction do I go?

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The confusion is (well, in retro-spec) R-E-A-L. Those are just a few questions I asked myself during my first few days in Leipzig. After living in Saxony’s Graffiti capital (according to BILD, a German newspaper) for 4 weeks I pose this question: When can I go back?

I attended a language summer school at InterDaF College called “Sprachen bauen Brücken” (= “languages build bridges”). Not only did I learn a lot of German, I also made friends from around the globe whilst exploring Leipzig and the roundabouts on our various excursions. Excursions were all over, not only in terms of topic, but also in terms of location; be it looking at art in the Albertinum in Dresden with a Mexican, or walking up the 232 stone steps in the “Turm der Thomaskirche” (= “Tower of St. Thomas Church”) with some Americans ending in a breath-taking view of the city.

The summer school was basically an introduction to German(y) – yes, German and Germany. Leipzig is a culturally rich city. At the time of our course it was the Bach Fest (who knew he lived there? Not me!) and as part of the course we had the opportunity to go to a concert in the Gewandhaus (oh yes! Another note: pack something NICE, you never know if you’re going to be invited to an event that requires something a bit more formal than flip-flops or jeans). Before you think “oh no! *insert rolling of the eyes*”, the city has something for everyone, at this time it was also the Campusfest (= a campus festival where one can find bands, theaterworkshops and a make-your-own-shirt stand amongst other things).

Our classes started at 09:00 (German time, i.e. punctual) and in the afternoons we undertook various activities like “wandern im Wildpark” (= walking in a “wildpark” – still not sure if Bambi is seen as “wild”, but it was fun nonetheless), other than that went to the Moritz Bastei (a student hangout, think Boho’s or Aandklas – but much nicer!) a few times, actually within the first week for our Wilkommensparty (= welcome party) and then later for a Spielnachmittag (= games afternoon).

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My experience in Leipzig was GREAT! Sure, there were the occasional bumps in the road, like getting on the wrong tram, getting lost or just missing home, BUT with insight of hindsight I look back on my time there and smile. The experience was an unforgettable adventure.

Return to South-Africa:

Humour me for a second; just imagine spending 4 weeks in Leipzig with the sun rising at 05:00 and setting at 22:00 and then flying across the globe to Cape Town where sunrise is 07:46 and sunset 18:00… we won’t even mention temperatures.

Yes, the change from summer to winter was drastic and sudden; the same can be said for travelling from Germany back to the Mother city, Cape Town.

After being back for a while I can say with conviction: Germany and South Africa are worlds apart. South Africa is a much bigger country, but Germany does have a bigger population (thank you Google). Both are extremely diverse, but in a different way. Let’s take language as an example; Germany has 1 official language (German) and South Africa has 11, it’s not strange to speak 2 of the 11, but in Germany I find it’s a tad more rare for Germans to speak let’s say English too. The country is however diverse in the sense of German having so many dialects, roughly one for every Bundesland (= region / equivalent of a province in ZA) – note: there are 16 Bundesländer – and believe me, every Bundesland has a different type of German.

I never quite got why South Africa was always associated with safari’s, but after being in Germany and seeing Europeans rave about some strange looking lion in a zoo, I totally get it. Our country is a hidden gem, sure there are more than a few rough diamonds that need refinement, BUT for me, there’s nothing quite like “koffie en koek in die Karoo” (= coffee and cake in the Karoo) or sunsets and ice cream at Blouberg.

A personal mental note: Your train might be on time in Germany, but the cashier isn’t going to make small-talk with you there.

Both places are unique and I cannot make a clear cut decision between them. I enjoy the Albertinum with what feels like endless German books or even the traditional Lerche at that cute bakery around the corner in Leipzig… AND… I love seeing Table Mountain when I drive to Cape Town or our family’s Saturday night braai.

As a student of literature I can summarise the whole with a quote:

„Wir lassen etwas von uns zurück, wenn wir einen Ort verlassen, wir bleiben dort, obgleich wir wegfahren.“

– Nachtzug nach Lissabon (Pascal Mercier)


“We’ll leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place; we stay there even though we go away.”

– Night Train to Lisbon

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