Lené at Ghent University, Belgium


How exciting the news was when I first heard I was accepted to go on an exchange!! It was something like a distant dream that came true (even though you have been busy with paperwork and application processes for aaaages)

The first tip of all – create a Dropbox folder and keep all your checklists, application forms and ALL scanned documents together. It really made my life easier knowing that I have all the documents together and I can access it anywhere with internet.

In terms of the visa application, start as soon as possible, especially with things that take time like the Police Clearance. I search so many sites to obtain an actual “What documents you need for your visa” and they differed so I just worked off 3 lists and had everything! What I would rather advise is maybe working through Neelsie Travels. They have better connection with all the embassies and I think it’ll just be a smoother, less stressful process. For the medical certificate, the embassy gives you the option of 4 doctors in the Cape Town surrounding. I went to Dr. Stofberg – I would STRONGLY recommend him. Everything was super quick and he did not need a whole range of x-rays and vaccines etc needed for some of the others. The rest of the visa applications is just boring admin and papers that needs to be fill out – just do it as quick as possible then it is over. Good luck – it’s worth it!

The other big thing that needs to happen before you depart is to find housing. This was quite a challenge for me, the university housing was quite expensive compared to private housing, but on the other hand finding a 6-month contract is very difficult. I was lucky and knew another girl from stellies that have been studying here from last year so she knew the areas and where to look for housing. Location is so important and coming to a new city you obviously have no clue. We ended up finding a place where previous exchange students from stellies also lived. If you don’t mind spending another 100E per month this will not be a challenge! (For anyone going to Gent, Belgium – Plato, 43 Jozef Plateau Street ;). The other option is to book a hostel or Airbnb for the first week or two and then find a place once you arrived! Facebook groups can also help quite a lot with this along with student housing websites.

During the exchange:

I am currently 3 and a half months into my exchange and I am absolutely loving it! We finished our classes a week before Christmas and my exams are starting in the second week of January!

Lené Oosthuizen - Lene Oosthuizen Picture4

The classes are a longer (75min) and for a subject it was not uncommon to have a double period which was quite intense because they are loaded with so much new information – but I found it more time efficient to have less frequent classes in the week with odd off-times. Attending class is also therefore riskier to miss one – because you easily miss 3 hours of lecturing which is not easy to catch up.

The biggest difference between the courses here and in SA was the fact that we did not have weekly tut-sessions, but we did work colleges. These work colleges took more the form group assignments in which we were exposed to current research in the field and to apply the knowledge what we have learnt in current situations. This was very interesting but because we never had tut-tests or semester tests so it means that nothing pushes you to study during the semester and some more self-discipline is needed to actually study and process the work.

Lené Oosthuizen - Lene Oosthuizen Picture2

The other big difference was the relation between students and lecturers – the lecturer is much less in a “distant power” authority – but really hands on, interactive and closer to the students. This lead to very interactive classes.

I followed Masters Courses in Ghent which is not that common in Stellenbosch as most masters degrees in SU just consist out of a 2year thesis. Compared to the bachelors courses I followed in SU the theory we covered here was frequently explained in the context of their application in current situations and areas of research locally and globally. To see how the theory is applied in the industry and working with the newest published articles gave a better idea of how knowledge look outside academic context.

Lené Oosthuizen - Lene Oosthuizen Picture3

Examinations commonly occur in the form of oral exam. You would receive your exam paper and have time to prepare and then have one on one session with your lecturer. The thought of it was more horrifying and intimidating that the actual experience. I after those exams I really felt that the mark I would get, would really describe the insight I gained into the course and enjoyed it.

Other activities we attended is the free sport sessions that was presented by the ESN commitees, I lived in a building with numerous international students and we learned so much about different cultures and politics by just cooking together and getting to know each other!

The experience as a whole has thought me so much that books will never be able to – to travel independent – to be proud of your heritage and to share it – but also to lay aside preconceived ideas about people and places – to adapt so much so quickly – to have patience with public transport – to not worry about things you cannot do anything about – to love so many different people! I feel magnitudes richer and so thankful for this insane opportunity!

After the exchange:


It is insanely good to be back – sun & braaibroodjies- yes please! I’ve been back for two and a half weeks now, it was hard to say good bye, specially knowing that I will never experience Ghent the same way as I did the past 6 months, so far out of my comfort zone but with so much new friends and life changing experiences! I returned home with my soul rich!

I started to settle back home and even though it is incredible to be reunited with everything familiar which I missed so much – my heart is starting to long back! Before I came back, a friend who completed her Erasmus exchange warned me that you leave home a circle and upon returning you realise you’ve become square and it is just uncomfortable trying to fit back in where you used to belong! I can relate so much with that now, but it makes me excited to realise how much I have grown over the last 6 months.

I finished my MSc in Biochemistry, with my exchange being the last 6 months of my studies, so I will be getting my degree in March 2017! I moved back home and I am busy with job applications, so it is an exciting time, to see what is the next step and moving into a completely new phase in my life! Studying in Belgium opened my eyes to the possibility of working abroad and I am also applying for some internships, not only in Belgium but also other (more English speaking cities). After successfully relocating and settling in in a new environment on your own, you realise suddenly, that it is not that scary and you are much more capable to adapt and explore and dare to put yourself in those uncomfortable situations where you grow so much, be it in your career, personal or spiritual life.

Coming back you can’t help to compare everything you have seen to what and how you experience it in South Africa and I return home more proud to be a South African citizen than ever be for. You realise that each country has its challenges and we must stop standing back in the international community, we have so much to offer. A change that I would love to be a part of is that we can give a good education to each person in SA and inspire more small businesses and entrepreneurs within local communities.

I would love to maybe work abroad for another year or two but I am so excited and happy to be back! I would like to thank Stellenbosch University for the incredible opportunity to do this exchange – it changed my life!