During the pre-departure period there is a lot of paperwork and admin that needs to be done which may seem overwhelming when you are still trying to study in between. However, I ensure you that it is completely worth it as it ensures that your exchange goes as smoothly as possible and that you have no unnecessary worries while you are abroad.
SU International is very informative and helpful with answering any questions; therefore, I would recommend scheduling a meeting in person if you have any uncertainties.
During this period NC State University sent me an acceptance package which contained all the necessary information about the university, getting your DS-2019 (which is a document that is needed to study abroad), expected fees and expenses and other general information about the university and its opportunities.
During the pre-departure period I found it best to do things such as getting my VISA and booking my plane tickets as soon as possible so that there are no last-minute things to get done.
I would recommend getting a return plane ticket with adjustable return dates as it allows for some time to travel and experience other parts of the host country once the academic semester has ended (should you want to).
The process of obtaining a Visa at the US embassy can be quite stressful as there is a lot of paperwork and a small interview where questions such as “For what reason are you entering the country?”, For how long will you be there? “and “What are the occupations of your parents? “are asked.
It was also important in the pre-departure period to go through the courses and course descriptions of the host university to familiarize myself with the classes I would possibly be taking during the next semester and finding the best fit for my degree. This took a lot of time as NC state had numerous classes for each major and it could be quite overwhelming choosing the best class from so many. I suggest emailing their academic advisers as they are very helpful in helping you choose the best possible classes to replace your classes at Stellenbosch for that semester. If you are however still unsure of which classes to take when you arrive at the university, don’t worry as the academic advisers schedule an in-person meeting to resolve any uncertainties you might still have.
There where 5 classes that I wanted to take at the start of the semester. However; NC State’s academic adviser recommended against it, because as an exchange student you should leave some time to experience more that just the academic side of a university abroad and I could not agree more.
Experience at North Carolina State University:
The study abroad staff at NC State were very helpful and approachable and the university is extremely accommodating for exchange students. Their orientation schedule is set out to help the exchange students get to know where everything is and be informed about everything that the university has to offer. During orientation we had sessions as a group where former students spoke to us about life on campus and we were also divided into smaller groups with two American students as our leaders. This allowed them to be able to give us a more personal perspective on student life at NC State and show us around campus.
Unlike Stellenbosch, there are no tutorials, however homework assignments are given every week for marks. There are only about two classes per week per module therefore; a lot of the work had to be done on your own time. This also allows you to attend small weekend trips organized by the university or by students.
As previously mentioned there are numerous class choices, this ensures that classes remain small and the lecturers can give more one on one help. I found the course content and difficulty to be very similar to that of Stellenbosch. NC State is among the top engineering schools in the US and this shows in their facilities and lecturers’ enthusiasm and fantastic teaching methods as well as their willingness to help.
I stayed in a residence hall called Alexander hall. Alexander hall is a university residence that consists of half American students and half exchange students, each paired together with the respective other in a dorm room. This works well as the American students are always ready to show you around and take you to events to experience the American culture and the exchange students are all in the same situation as you are and are excited to make new friends and experience the university abroad.
There were three university dining halls that provided great food from the morning till late at night. NC State provided us with a meal plan to be able to use these dining halls at any time that they were open. The university also has a great gym which was free to use by the students of the university. The gym was equipped with many classes and apparatus, a swimming pool, tennis, squash and basketball courts to name a few.
At NC state there are many events organized by the university, residence halls and students such as sporting events, shows, trips and dances. Some of the highlights for me were the American Football games as there is so much pride and spirit in the university. Another great experience was the Alexander Hall annual camping trip in a beautiful mountain range close to Asheville.
Return to Stellenbosch:
The return to Stellenbosch has been easy and it has been lovely being welcomed back by friends and family. As much as I enjoyed the semester abroad it is nice to be back to my normal routine and familiar surroundings. Starting with classes I don’t feel like I missed out any of the work covered in the semester that I was abroad, and I am ready to take on the semester with the new skills I’ve learned.
The semester abroad gave me new perspective and confidence in my ability to be independent. Therefore, I feel that in doing the semester abroad I have learned some valuable life skills. I have always wanted to go abroad after finishing my studies and this program has allowed me to experience being abroad for a short while and it has helped me realize that I am ready and prepared to go abroad again for possibly a longer period of time.
I am so grateful for this opportunity I had to experience life at a university abroad as it has helped me learn some valuable lessons and skills in academics. This experience has also allowed me to meet new people from all over the world and have the opportunity to travel and experience different cultures with new friends. I would definitely recommend stepping out of your comfort zone and taking the opportunity to go on an exchange as I have thoroughly enjoyed every moment of it.