When I got accepted to go on the summer school at Hohenheim University near Stuttgart in Germany, I didn’t know that it would be a highlight of my year. My preparation for the summer school played a great part in making my time abroad so great.
The first thing I did, was to book my flights. The sooner the cheaper, and you need booked return flights for the visa application. I used a travel agency to make the booking. They could get me the cheapest flights, with convenient lay over times. They also arranged the travel insurance.
There is no need to use an agency for the visa application. I experienced the application process very organised. I made an appointment on the German Schengen website (https://visa-germany.co.za/), which has a step-by-step guide. It was as easy as making sure I have every document on the check list and two hours to go to the office in Cape Town. Five days after the appointment, my passport, with the visa, was delivered at my door.
I made sure I had my visa before the June exams start – you don’t want to do the application in between studying.
The next thing I did, was to make sure I could access my bank account from oversees. You can make use of a travel wallet, in which you preload foreign currency that you can withdraw oversees as you need it. I chose to merely use my credit card. I only had to notify the bank that my credit card will be used in Germany. I think it is best to withdraw money as needed during the stay and to keep the credit card safe in the hotel, to avoid losing it. I would also not risk walking around with a lot of cash.
In regards to staying in touch with family and friends in South Africa, there is almost everywhere a Wi-Fi connection in the city centre, hotel and university. It is not necessary to roam your phone – that money can be spent in better ways!
Also make sure you have enough space on your phone or camera to take a lot of photos. Or make sure you can save the photos on another device. It is not necessary to buy a “power bank” or battery to charge your phone, because charging points are available in the plane, an in the airport.
Luckily, July is summer in Europe, so that makes it easier to pack. It is best to play by the rules of the airport and keep within the weight limit of the luggage. A back pack is also a good investment for the trip. It makes travelling much easier.
Experience at the Host University:
The summer school is on Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Finance. The programme is made up of a few lectures and industry visits a week. Two of the weekends are also used for industry visits. There is plenty of free time in between all the events, so Stuttgart can be explored thoroughly. There isn’t enough time to travel far though.
The classes are more interactive, than what you would get at Stellenbosch, because we were about nineteen students in total. Depending on your interests, some classes will be boring and others so interesting that you wished they never stop. The lecturers are professors not necessarily from Hohenheim. They all were brilliant in what they did. The lectures on financial markets, innovation and entrepreneurship were great. They are really future focussed and poses very interesting research fields.
The industry visits are definitely a highlight of the summer school. Hohenheim really did a great job in arranging plenty company visits from various sectors. The longest visit was to the European Patent Office in Munich. This was a two-day visit and included sightseeing in Munich and a visit to Dachau, a former concentration camp. Another great company visit was to BioRN in Heidelberg, and took place one Saturday. The founder explained his business model to us and took us on a tour through the laboratories. The last industry visit I would like to mention was a walk through the assembly line of Porsche’s factory in Stuttgart. This serves as example of how well planned the summer school was. They really achieved at stimulating innovative thinking in lectures, making us want to start our own business after company visits and all while showing us the best of Stuttgart and the surroundings.
I am very glad to say that I think that Stellenbosch is very much on par, academically with what the world has to offer. Hohenheim is a much smaller university than Stellenbosch, so the campus was not that busy. The summer school is also when the students of Hohenheim has exams.
The summer school participants were from all around the world, which made my experience very interesting. I got the opportunity to experience other cultures and more importantly to see what they though of South Africans. It was especially good to see their way of thinking, and to see what I can learn from them.
Return to Stellenbosch:
It is very true that there is only one place like home. Although I had a great time in Germany, I was very exited to return to South Africa.
Returning was as easy as arriving at the airport a few hours before the flight, and following the signs on the boards. I would really advise anyone to leave ample time for traveling to the airport – traffic jams and delayed trains are not that uncommon.
Living in a foreign country for almost a month really changes your way of thinking. It enabled me to see the areas of improvement in South Africa, and more importantly it learned me to appreciate the good things we have. I am truly grateful for the opportunity I had to go on the summer school. I would definitely recommend any student to apply for a summer school. I also think we should showcase our country to foreign students. I realised that foreign people know very little about South Africa. We have to change that, to place South Africa on the map.
The summer school definitely influenced my plans for the future. I would say that it gave me a taste of how fulfilling it is to experience other cultures and it surely broadened my horizons. I would definitely consider doing a post graduate abroad. I would also really like to work oversees for a few years after I completed my studies. What ever I do, will eventually lead to me working in South Africa with what I have learned abroad.