I worried a lot about the preparation and kept thinking that Stellenbosch University is waiting too long to guide us and pay out our bursary, but they did deliver everything on time. So, my advice is to wait for them to guide you, because they do this process every year.
Make sure you know the dates for any important submission or application dates at Stellenbosch and your host university for things such as course application, orientation program and housing. This information was communicated by Stellenbosch and Tilburg University, and their communication and assistance was very good.
When choosing subjects, choose subjects that you would not be able to take at Stellenbosch University and that you have interest in. I took some hard and some less hard subjects, because you also want to give yourself the freedom to experience more than just sitting behind your books the whole exchange. Give yourself enough time to read through subject descriptions. My advice would also not to take Financial or Statistic subjects, because they are really hard and sometimes the prerequisites differ.
If you do not find housing through the University, do not stress. There are loads of private accommodations. Ask your host university where you can start looking and I actually found my housing on a Facebook webpages of the city. I lived very nice and made really good friends.
I used the bursary that Stellenbosch awards me to pay for my flight ticket, my insurance and medical aid, my first month’s rent and deposit, and to get a sim card and data abroad. I have a Dutch passport, and therefore did not need to apply for a VISA. Get insurance and medical aid before you leave, it is much cheaper and then you do not have to deal with that administration when you get there.
I had a lot of problems with my sim card and data package. I would recommend to go to Vodafone, seeing that they were the only company that were able to assist me well and that I did not have any problems with.
Take a cash passport with extra money with for the beginning before you have a bank account. Tilburg university assisted the exchange students to get their residency and bank account. It took a while for the host university’s bursary to get payed over, so take extra money with for the beginning and maybe the second months’ rent.
It is normal to be scared of the unknown and worried that relationships with your friends and family here will be different when you come back, or even that you will change a lot and people will maybe not accept that. These are things that I worried about in my preparation phase, which was really unnecessary. When you come back, everything is kind of the same and you just “pick up where you left” with friends and family. Change your perspective to seize the opportunity and to experience and learn as much as you can.
Experience at the Host University:
I really enjoyed the academic programme. Tilburg University’s standard is similar to Stellenbosch Universities’. With this I mean that my final marks that I achieved at Tilburg University was more or less the same that I attain at Stellenbosch. Be prepared to do group assignments in every subject, for presentations and class discussions. This for me was something to get used to, but I have learned so much through it, such as being able to talk about what I learn and apply it practically, to be more confident in giving presentations and talking in front of people, and learning from other people during group assignments.
Compared to Stellenbosch University, Tilburg University has fewer small assignments, class tests and online test. Therefore, it felt like I had much more time during the week. Classes are longer, at Tilburg we had 2 sessions per class which included: 45 min for session 1, 15min break and 45min for session 2. I also enjoyed Tilburg, because the University consist out of 50% Dutch and 50% International students. In class it was interesting to hear different opinions and systems from different countries.
My main subjects were from the Management and Economic faculty. I did an Economic minor and two extra subjects. My subjects included:
Economics of European Union: Very good lecturers which explained the theory well and then we applied it in tutorials by having class discussions. In the beginning this was challenging, but I really did learn a lot from the discussions and how to apply the work practically in current economics. You get assists on your participation, one presentation and the final exam.
History of Economics: This was a bit boring, but because the other subjects was challenging it was nice to have one that wasn’t. You get assist on 3 group essays and their presentation, and the final exam.
Innovation and Development: This was by far my favourite subject! I learned so much and I loved the structure of the class. My lecturer was also very good! You have lectures where he explains the theory and then you have tutorials. For each tutorial you have to prepare an essay and then you work from that in the tutorial, discussing the issues and getting solutions. It challenges you, because you have to think and develop solutions in groups. All the material was based on current developing countries, so it was really interesting.
International Comparative Management: Classes wasn’t that interesting, but the actual content was really interesting. You have no extra assignments, only the final exam. Thus this subject did not take a lot of time, but I learned a lot about different cultures and their way of operating and functioning in a business environment all over the world.
Introduction to Corporate Entrepreneurship: The first term is only lectures and then you write a midterm. The second semester was really interesting, because you only have practical’s and one group project. The practical’s learned me a lot, because we got Pitch Training and outside firms gave us class where we had to design new projects and business plans.
I found that students in Netherlands are much more relaxed about studying and life in general, compared to Stellenbosch students. They do not stress easily and during the semester they did most of their work during the day and took evenings and most of the weekends off. I really enjoyed cycling everywhere and experience Tilburg and Netherland in general as a very safe environment. Be open to different cultures and religions. If you are someone that is used to being surrounded with like-minded people or religions, be prepared to maybe experience a culture shock. This was the biggest adjustment for me, but also how I have grown the most.
I did not get place in Verbs (which is the universities residence for exchange students). At first a was very disappointed, but a lot of people do not get place because it is first come first serve. I ended up living near the city centre with two Dutch girls. This was so much fun! I really got to know them well and it was really nice to experience the “flat life”. If you are someone that likes quiet and your own space, I would suggest that you rather look for a flat with 4 or less people. For finding a nice and comfortable place was important, because it is going to be your home and ‘safe place’ during the exchange.
Orientation and I*ESN
TOP week is the orientation week at Tilburg University. I would definitely recommend doing this. You get divided up into groups with whom you do all the activities with and also keep doing activities throughout the semester. Every week on Tuesday evenings there is events with your group and other groups.
I*ESN is a part of Erasmus, which is the European exchange organisation. In Tilburg this is the international association who organises all the events and activities for the semester. To be a member it is 45 euro and you get discounts on a lot of things and get access to the group activities. I would recommend this, because it is a lot of fun, you are always connected to other exchange students and this is how a made all my friends.
As I have mentioned above, Tilburg consist of 50% international students. Therefore, there was many different students experiencing the same things as you are. Which is nice because compared to people that did exchange where there weren’t as many international students or who did not have as large I*ESN associations struggled a bit more to make good friends and meet new people. In Tilburg I was able experience the Dutch culture, but also every other culture.
One thing that is definitely different to my student life in Stellenbosch was that I travelled most of my weekends during the first 3 months. I worked hard during the week, to keep my weekends open to travel. I travelled most of my weekends, alone, with a friend or a group of friends. Before exchange I have never been in Europe so it was really nice to see more of the world. I also met up with some of my friends that where on exchange with me from Stellenbosch. This was very nice, because I got to know them better and since we are all back you have people that share some memories with you and can relate with you.
Return to Stellenbosch:
I was abroad for 6 months, after my 5 months of studying and exams I travel with friends that I made on exchange and alone for a month before returning to South Africa. I kept good contact with my family and friends back home while I was abroad, but I also made really good new friends. I got use to not seeing everyone from back home and in the beginning of my exchange I decided that I am going to make the most of this opportunity and experience as much as possible.
When it came time to return it was a bitter sweet feeling, because I looked forward coming back home and seeing everyone, but I was also sad to leave my “new life” and say goodbye to my new friends. Before coming back give yourself enough time to pack, close your bank account and say goodbye. I never thought about the coming back part of my exchange. I experienced the coming back part harder than the going part.
Coming back to South Africa it has been an adjustment, because I have been independent so long and use to doing my own thing and not having to take so many people (like friends and family) into consideration. At first it is really nice to see people and spend time with them, it is also overwhelming because you realise that you did miss them and it feels unreal to be back. After the first week it really hit me that my exchange is over and I felt detached from everything here. My reference point was Netherlands, so it took a while for me to adjust to be back. I realised how much I have grown and how much different my lifestyle was there compared to here.
I am more confident and content with who I am now. I think there are many reasons for this, but mainly because you do spend a lot of time with yourself and you learn more about yourself and your culture when you are around so many different ones. Also, because you are out of your comfort zone and have to be more confident to put yourself out there to meet new people and experience new things. I learned to be more independent and when there is a problem to stay calm and solve it myself. I definitely matured more.
I learned a lot about the world, geography, different cultures and kinds of people, and how to appreciate and get along with them. Now, I love having friends from all over the world and from different cultures and languages. I think my people skills improved a lot. My perspectives and opinions changed, and my mind set is definitely more open now.
My experience abroad definitely opened up new horizons for me. I never thought that it would be possible for me to leave South Africa or that I even wanted to. I still have a lot of interest in things that I would want to do one day, but being on exchange and taking different courses made me excited for different things. My plan for next year is to start working abroad to gain experience and learn more about innovation and development. I want to apply at businesses that does development research and invest in that to help developing countries.