Upon my nomination of the program, I was able to get direct correspondence with the host University – whom were not only helpful but seemed quite excited to have us attend the programme. I still had almost three months until the actual programme date so I was quite relaxed in terms of booking of flight tickets and visa applications. The panic only started to kick in when only a month was left and I had not done a thing!
Ergo, by the time I booked flight tickets prices had gone up quite a bit! Quick tip: check how much flights are online and compare them to quotations from at least two travel agencies to get the most buck for your money. Also be sure of the dates you wish to travel on as some programmes require that you arrive the day before orientation. In addition, confirm the accommodation period if the host university is providing it (this is also important for visa purposes).
The rest of the process of organising everything else was surprisingly easy!
Once I had received the Visa Letter from the SU Student Affairs office it was more a matter of making sure all of my documents were in order. This wasn’t too excruciating a task seeing as there is a checklist provided for on the Study Abroad Module. Once I had the Visa Appointment booked, however, the consultant required explicit instructions of my accommodation upon arriving at the host university as well as how long they would be providing the accommodation for (PS: MAKE SURE TO DOUBLE-CHECK ALL THE DOCUMENTS YOU NEED ON THE VISA WEBSITE BEFORE BOOKING AN APPOINTMENT!). The second Visa appointment went much smoother after “triple-checking” that all my documents were in order. The period between visa application and receiving the visa took exactly 10 days – something which I was very grateful for as it was my biggest worry! After finalising all the formalities, I made sure to have three copies of each document (passport, ID document, host university address and visa) for my hand luggage and suitcases. Overkill – I know – but necessary as well.
- Make sure to download phone applications that have an offline map of the destination you are travelling to.
- Download applications of the bus or train systems as this will definitely make your life easier.
- English is not as universal as you may think, familiarise yourself with some easy words that are essential – for example “I’m lost, Please Help”.
- Check flight times and check-in online to save you queuing time.
- Travel with a portable phone charger everywhere you go – you never know where you may end up!
- Don’t forget to get a universal charger for purposes of charging your laptop and other devices as it is much cheaper in South Africa than overseas.
Experience at the Host University:
The programme was on European Private Law – a summer exchange for the duration of two weeks with the University of Salzburg.
Each lecture was presented by a representative Professor for each country ranging from England, Italy, Scotland, Portugal and other Nordic Regions to Canada, Louisiana and Puerto Rico. The duration of lectures differed from an hour to three hours at a time depending on the country. There were additional panel discussions pertaining to the creation of civil codes, mixed legal systems, comparative law, and law and languages. We further had workshops which consisted of group discussions that focused on family law, breach of contract and transfer of title scenarios. We had received a programme schedule of the seminars that would be held and were all quite diverse in the countries that they represented. Each seminar was given with the purpose of educating and informing the audience of how the creation of the respective “civil code”, South Africa being one of the few to present on our mixed legal system. The programme was on the whole very informative and had many different perspectives. We were not obligated to submit a final test or examination which made the whole programme more relaxed. The biggest difference between classes held in Stellenbosch as compared to the programme is that the seminars were held for much longer periods with breaks in between. The seminars were very interactive although a little clustered.
What I did not expect was a very hot 33 degrees Celsius upon arrival! Lesson learnt, check weather reports of EVERY day of the trip and pack accordingly! Salzburg’s weather went from extremely warm to decidedly chilly in a matter of days – not forgetting the numerous thunderstorms that decided to make an appearance towards the end of the trip.
Albeit a full schedule, it makes it easier to plan out all the activities that you are interested in so that you know how much time to set aside. My biggest regret is not having prearranged my schedule so that I could get the most out of enjoying the actual change of scenery and visiting more neighbouring villages in Austria. We did, however, get to visit Wolfsgangsee – a very large and beautiful lake as blue as the sky which was a welcome breath of fresh air from the hot weather with its open shores that allowed for an awesome swim. We also went to Halstatt, a small village which is known as the hallmark for the production of salt in Salzburg; the visit was absolutely breath-taking in addition to the Salt-Mine Tour which we took. Bad Ischl, on the other hand, known as a “spa town” had by far the best lager I had ever tasted!
The best part of the trip was the fantastic group of people we got to meet who were also attending the summer school. These were students from all parts of the world which made the experience that much more exciting and fun.
Return to Stellenbosch:
Two days prior to my departure from the summer school, reality started to kick in! Although it was a beautiful experience, I couldn’t help being excited about going back home and seeing all the faces that I am much more familiar with! As soon I arrived home, however, I found myself missing the 8PM sunsets on the terraces of some Austria’s oldest buildings, the morning runs next to River Salzach and her neighbouring fortresses, the short passages of the small town and steeped gravel pavements to the Stiegl-serving beer gardens, and especially the exquisite views of the Mirabell Palace gardens and her statues. Not to mention the Mascarpone-centered chocolate bars! Yum-my!
The programme opened my eyes to how different laws work across the globe, what influenced the development of certain legal systems and how different outcomes can be reached in a variety of ways. I did not anticipate such notable differences between the various legal systems. I further realised that just and fair outcomes can be achieved through various means, which implies that one legal system is not superior to another.
I couldn’t help but notice all the differences between life in South Africa compared to that in Austria, our economic and political priorities compared to that of most other countries which were presented, as well as the numerous accolades South Africa received for having “one of the best Constitutions in the world”. I found that South Africa makes more use of electronic means of payment, as this tends to be limited in Austria where a few corner restaurants only accept cash payment. This was quite surprising as presumed that Austria, as a developed country, would be more “up to date” in this respect. On the positive side, I found it a wonderful discovery that fresh and wholesome foods are more readily available in Austria as compared to South Africa’s refined-foods dispensation.
The perspectives gained from other students who were a part of the programme were more personal and gave me insight into the kind of lifestyle and set-up of their respective countries.
This intrigued me and ignited my curiosity about cultures and experiences in foreign countries. As such, I am already planning trips to these awesome destinations and I most definitely am planning to travel to a lot more places in the near future (especially considering that I made so many new friends who happen to live across the globe).
I find myself constantly keeping a look-out for study opportunities such as summer or winter schools, as well as opportunities to study further overseas.