Emily at the University of Adelaide, Australia


I was in my final semester at Stellenbosch before I applied to study abroad. Looking back, I wish I’d done it much sooner – it was an amazing and enriching experience and I will carry it (and the skills and friends I acquired) with me wherever I go next.

When selecting a Summer school and a course to apply for, I was initially overwhelmed by all the options. Stellenbosch has such a wide range of partner institutions that it almost makes sense to decide where you want to go before you even consider what you want to do. Having ruled out all the European options (I was hoping to go to Asia or Australia), I started looking at the courses on offer. I decided on a GIS course at Adelaide University in Australia, as it made the most sense from the perspective of skills I would need going forward. However, taking a course that was relevant to my degree was by no means a prerequisite – I could just as easily have chosen a course on history or philosophy or art. SU International encourages students to use exchanges and summer schools as an opportunity to expand their (academic) horizons.

The application process was simple and easy, and making a video gave me the chance to prepare well and plan my message. I think the entire application process took me about 4 hours altogether. The wait between submitting and hearing back was quite long, but after they successful applicants had been announced things happened quite quickly – it was clear that the SU International staff were used to handling the process. My travel bursary was paid into my account in less than two weeks and I could immediately book my flights.

The bursary amount could cover my flights, and what was left I could use for accommodation. However, Australia is a VERY expensive country and living costs (particularly housing, transport and food) is hardly comparable with European or Asian countries. Plan for this, as you would need to supplement a bit from other sources.

My experiences with the University of Adelaide’s international office was very positive – they were extremely helpful, their admin was amazing and they offered various get-to-know-other-international-students activities during the Summer school period. They were also great at answering my questions, particularly about accommodation and arrival.

Since the university did not provide short-term accommodation, I decided to use Airbnb for accommodation, as this meant that I could stay with locals, while having my own room, at a reasonable price. Another option would have been a hostel or backpackers, but I decided against it as I knew that I was going to be exhausted at night (after my course) and that I should rather stay somewhere where I could work and sleep well. This turned out to be a good decision!

My visa was not a problem, however I have heard of other South African passport-holders experiencing some difficulty. My best advice is just to apply as early as possible.

Experience at host university:

Arriving in Adelaide, there was someone from the University to pick me up from the airport, which was great. The next morning, I went to the administration hub, and walked out with my student card about 10 minutes later. Everything was very efficient.

My classes weren’t on main campus, and I had to use the public transport system to get to class every day. At first, this was quite a challenge, but within two or three days I had gotten the hang of it and could navigate my way around quite easily.

A “koala crossing” sign on Adelaide’s Waite Campus

The university’s facilities were really amazing – from easy-access internet (I did not need to register, I simply used my student number to login from anywhere on any campus), to state-of-the-art computer laboratories (which stayed open as late as they were needed); good cafeterias and nice public spaces. I eventually spent between 8 and 10 hours on campus every day, barely noticing the time pass. I was especially surprised by the quality of their IT-services: I had difficulty logging into a computer one day, and sent an email to the IT-department. The problem was corrected almost immediately – without me having to leave my desk with follow-up emails the next day asking whether I had any other problems.

A stunning winter afternoon in Adelaide

My course was beyond all expectations: it was well organised, the course materials were excellent and above all, the lecturer and class assistants were wonderful. My classmates ranged from undergraduates needing to earn extra credits, to Masters and PhD students needing to learn GIS for their research (such as myself). Somehow, the course satisfied and challenged everyone alike.

What I enjoyed most was the student-lecturer relationship. As far as I could gather, Australian universities have a much more practical (and less theoretical) approach to teaching. Lecturers seem to exist for the sole purpose of enabling students to reach their potential, even though they are recognised researchers themselves. Our lecturer would walk around during practicals and spend time helping students, going through our work with us. He also gave excellent and timely feedback, so we always knew exactly what was expected of us.

As part of the course, we had to complete a project (due a few weeks after the end of the course). Our lecturer encouraged us all to speak to him for help, and even told me to call or skype with him once I’m back home, should I have any questions or concerns.

With regards to accommodation, I had great experiences staying with other students and young working Australians with Airbnb, which contributed positively to my trip. I would recommend it to anyone!

Return to Stellenbosch:

My experience in Adelaide and in Australia in general was more than just a great holiday and a very informative course: it opened my eyes to new possibilities for studying and/or working abroad, particularly in a country and world region that I wouldn’t necessarily have considered. Moreover, being affiliated with a different university (other than Stellenbosch, where I had been studying for the past 4 and a half years) has broadened my understanding and exposed me to a different kind of campus, university, and teaching method, not to mention a different student demography, environment and way of living. This exposure was invaluable.

I return to South Africa with a newfound sense of independence and freedom, which can only be explained by the fact that I have now seen that there are different academic realities out there, and that my time at Stellenbosch is not representative of them all. Particularly at a time when I have grown tired of studying and of theoretical academics, I come back energised and excited to study further, perhaps focussing on more practical courses and more real-world experience.

That is not to say that my theoretical training at Stellenbosch has not been world-class – I fit in well and could hold my own at the University of Adelaide – but I have realised that there are different ways to learn, and that some independence (with guidance) goes a long way.

In Sydney, with the Harbour Bridge in the background

Apart from my course, I also took some time to see other parts of Australia, notably Sydney and Cairns. (This part of the trip was self-funded, as my bursary could not have covered it. I highly recommend saving up and seeing more of the country – it is a wonderfully diverse and interesting place! Going all the way to Australia is reason enough to explore a little further). Sydney was fascinating from a historical and cultural perspective, with great museums (all free!) and galleries. I also made a point of seeing a concert in the famous Sydney Opera House, as this had been a dream of mine since childhood.

Swimming in a volcanic lake in Cairns

I went to Cairns with the sole purpose of diving on the Great Barrier Reef, which I subsequently did and loved. However, the next day I took a tour to the rainforest, which is just as magnificent, but perhaps slightly less famous that the Reef. I found Australians very welcoming, friendly and warm. It was also very easy to relate to them and I found it quite easy to make friends. I would definitely go back if I ever have the chance.

I am grateful to SU International for the great opportunity, which has inspired me to keep exploring and learning!