Getting ready for a study abroad experience was quite exciting, but also tiring, daunting and stressful. I study BCom (International Business) and an exchange semester is therefore compulsory in our third year. Mannheim University in Germany was my first choice, because its Business and Economic school is highly ranked in Germany, and the university is located in a beautiful baroque palace.
- Mannheim Business School
My home and host university assisted me with my preparations for my study abroad. Firstly, Stellenbosch helped me to come in contact with my host university. After the initial interaction, I received emails regarding the application process from my host university. Both universities provided me with access to online portals where I could find all the relevant information about my study abroad. The online portals were very convenient as they had step by step guides on how to apply and prepare for abroad. It was also very easy to upload the requested documents on both online portals. The application process required many documents such as learning agreements, reference letters, motivational letter, previous transcript of records, passport details, housing information etc.
My private preparations included my visa application. It was required from me to apply for a long stay student visa in order to study in Mannheim, Germany. The visa application process took a very long time and a lot of documentation was required. When I went for the visa appointment, they wanted a document that was not on the document check list (proof that my home university allows me to study abroad and proof that I will come back the following year to study in Stellenbosch). I then had to ask Stellenbosch to provide me with such a letter and the German Embassy only looked at my application after I submitted this letter. Therefore, I would suggest that students apply for their student visa and get all the documentation ready well in advance. Packing was also part of the pre-departure preparations. I first flew to Greece for a few days before going to Germany. This was problematic, because the flight to Greece allowed me to take 30kg of luggage while the flight to Munich, Germany only allowed me to take 20kg of luggage. As a result, I had to think very carefully about what to pack and how to pack. I did pack my bags a few times before my departure which helped me a lot in the end.
I would suggest that students work through Studierendenwerk Mannheim to get student accommodation as soon as possible as there is limited space available for international students. Studierendenwerk Mannheim offers student accommodation for international students at a reasonable price. The only negative is that once your accommodation is finalised, you have to pay three month’s rent within three weeks. I would also recommend that students draw up a proper budget before they go abroad and keep track of their expenditures when they are abroad. Academic tip: Choose your courses wisely and keep your learning agreement up to date.
Cultural tip: Learn a few German words or phrases before you go to Germany as it will help you to survive the first few
Experience at Mannheim Business School:
The registration process at Mannheim University took place during the orientation week and it was fairly easy. Afterwards I had to deliver my registration documents to my German health insurance provider and register at Mannheim Residents’ registration office. I also had to register and pay for a broadcast license. The course registration process in Mannheim was very different from Stellenbosch’s course registration. I had to visit the course registration website and preliminary register for courses before the closing date.
Admission to the registered courses are not guaranteed, because each course has a predetermined student limit. As a result, I had to register for more courses than what was required from me.
The course difficulty varies between my home and host university. Some courses were more difficult than courses at my home university while other courses were easier. I found the economic course work very difficult and the pace of teaching was very fast. Intercultural communication was very easy and the quality of teaching was rather poor. Overall, the economics and business subjects were of high quality. The main difference between the academics at Mannheim and Stellenbosch was the length of the classes. At Stellenbosch you have one course three times a week (50 minutes each), while at Mannheim you have one course once a week (90 minutes). The grading system and amount of assessments also differs. Mannheim University score between one and five, while Stellenbosch score between 0 and 100 percent. At Stellenbosch you have several assignments that count towards your final mark, while at Mannheim there was only one final exam or assignment.
Life outside university included dinner parties with fellow internationals, travelling to other countries, trying out new food at restaurants, going to festivals, watching sport and attending leisure activities organised by the host university. There were many student organisations that organised leisure activities (Monday evening socials, sport activities, language activities etc.) and the university of Mannheim also organised a few events (orientation week, international food evening, welcoming event, field trips etc). The staff at Mannheim University was always ready and prepared to help any international student with anything and they made sure that all the students felt welcome. I attended class from Monday to Thursday which meant that I could travel each weekend. It was fairly easy to travel in Europe and it was not overly expensive. I visited the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Greece. I also travelled within Germany (Munich, Cologne, Heidelberg, Grainau). All the sights, new food and different cultures made it worth every cent. At first, I experienced culture shock, but after a while I got used to the German culture and I embraced it. I explored Mannheim and also the surrounding towns. I would recommend that students visit Heidelberg as it was the most beautiful town that I visited in Germany. The cheapest form of transportation is the student semester ticket. It gives you access to Mannheim and surrounding towns for an entire semester. I also experimented with German food, beer and music. Living with four other international students in the student housing was quite interesting and fun. We shared different things form our own culture with each other, including food and music. If you stay with other students, try to make food together as often as possible, because it is the cheapest option and it gives you the opportunity to taste food from different cultures.
- Enjoying the time outside Class
Returning to Stellenbosch:
I went to Mannheim for the 2018 fall semester and came back to South Africa in January 2019. I think the biggest shock for me when I came back to South Africa was the weather as it was snowing in Mannheim and in South Africa the summer sun was shining brightly. Another shock to my system was the friendliness of South African people. In general, people in Europe are not very friendly and they mind their own business as they are more individualistic people. When I arrived at Cape Town’s airport, I received smiles and greetings from so many South African people. In that moment I was so proud of my country and so happy to be back. When I returned to Stellenbosch, I felt more at ease, because I knew where to go, what to do and how to react. I felt more comfortable on my home ground. With that being said, I do think being out of one’s comfort zone is important. I learned quite a lot while being abroad. I had to survive in an unknown environment where everything is so different than what you are used to. I learned a lot about myself and I grew in both the academic and social spheres of life. I gained so much international exposure which is quite important for my career. I did come in contact with so many different people from all over the world and we shared our experiences with one another. My perspective on life and the world has definitely changed by being introduced to different cultures and life views. I also developed a fundamental skill: to work in a group with people from different cultures. It was quite challenging at the beginning, but after a while you learn to be patient and to be open to new ideas. After this enriching experience, I am more self-motivated, independent and willing to embrace challenges.
The few things that I learned about South Africa: South Africa is a very friendly nation, South Africa’s weather is fantastic, Europe can not compete with the nature of South Africa, South Africa is rich in diversity, food in South Africa is simply the best (and less expensive), the standard of tertiary education at Stellenbosch is more or less the same than in Germany. I will definitely go abroad again to see and learn more of Europe.
I will consider doing my postgraduate studies abroad or even work abroad for a while. If I go again, I would prefer to go with someone familiar as it gets very lonely without friends and family. I would encourage anyone to grab any opportunity to study abroad, because you learn so much from different people and your network of contacts grows tremendously. This study abroad experience has broadened my horizons in so many ways. I am very grateful to be a part of the few BCom (International Business) students that got the opportunity to study abroad. My photos and words will fade, but my memories will last a lifetime.