The acceptance letter to attend the exchange program in Germany for any student is always a total source of joy and I knew I had to be ready to profit from this coming experience. I have always dreamt of visiting the old continent and my dream came true, and I was afraid I was not going to be ready. Likely the international office is there to assist and to give us tips on how to prepare for the trip and how to benefit from the time abroad.
It all started with the selected students accepting the offer and sign agreements with the University that provide us with the travel bursary. The international office provides us with guidelines to apply for Schengen visa. The visa application process is totally our responsibility, collecting the required documents, the visa application fee usually comes from the travel bursary we receive from the university. The German visa application office has a website where all the information is to be provided, payment of the visa fee and a check form where one checks that all the required documents are in order. This is when one requests an appointment from the German visa application office and choose an interview date.
With all the documents in order, the submission of the hard copies of the documents at the German consulate is done smoothly and the interview is done well, this is where one’s finger prints are collected. The process will take a maximum of two weeks and a message will be sent to the applicant for the passport collection.
Hopefully, with your visa in hand, this is where one starts preparing for the exchange school program and trips around Europe. This includes usually sorting out your budget for trips one would like to take around Europe and places to visit in Germany, information about all this is readily available on the net. In Germany particularly, the communication system is efficient so once should make to always have the tram or train ticket in possession to avoid a very expensive fine, the host University usually offers train and Tram tickets for the duration of the program but before or after the program, it is always wise to buy and have the ticket in possession. It cost around 5 Euros which is around 80 Rand but the fine can cost up to 80 Euros which is around 1280 Rand.
It is always wise to keep a good relationship with the host family, they can help a lot in providing information about the city and how one can enjoy their stay. They give tips on the sales periods when one can buy nice product extremely cheap. Germany is overall a highly developed country and has almost all the aspect of culture and luxurious lifestyle so all you must do while there is to enjoy it. One more thing, if the program will happen in winter, keep warm at all time. You can wait and buy warm clothes in Germany because they comparatively cheaper around the time you arrive in Germany.
Experience at the Host University:
The program at the university was well organized to respond to our inquiries. The German language course was the best of all because it was a group of students from different countries speaking different language and all learning German. It was a vibrant environment in that we got to learn about other people cultures in terms of language, food and the way their Universities run. The other groups were the subject courses of which I chose German film and literature after 1990, it was the perfect course to learn about German culture through films and literatures, this was a great source of information. For these two groups, there were organized excursions by the University where for the subject course we visited Museum and art galleries, here we learned about the Germany history of war, socialism, activism on which we were invited to comment. For discovering Germany, at least the sides where we were, the University organized trips for us at the cost not more than 25 Euros which very economical compared to what one would spend if the trip was individual.
The first trip was to the Black Forest which is a beautiful place completely covered in snow and lots of trees at the border with France; we snow sledged with friends and had some nice coffee at the coffee shop there were a demonstration of the German black forest cake was presented to us. Another beautiful organized excursion was the visit to Strasburg, France, here we visited the city and the massive church that was built in 700 years, the level of intricacy is mind blowing and the fact that the building is still standing today is another great testimony that our ancestors were smart although it took forever to finish. The city is beautiful, an expression of the French style of life a bit mixed with German culture since it is right at the border with Germany.
Personally, I visited the old town of Esslingen which is one of the beautiful old cities of Germany full of castles and other beautiful architectures. Since Stuttgart is an industrial city where one finds the headquarters of both Mercedes-Benz and Porsche, being a mechanical engineer, I had to offer myself the pleasure to spend a day at each of their museums where they layout the history of the company and the technologies. These were the great days of my stay in Germany.
Apart from Stuttgart, I also visited the cities of Cologne, Bonn and Aachen in the Mid-west of Germany. I visited the Dome in Cologne which like in Strasburg is an amazing architecture. In Bonn, which was the capital of West Germany, with most of the architecture I visited the beautiful old city there. Germany is a very beautiful country.
Since the visa that I got is the Schengen Visa, I got the chance to visit Belgium cities; in Leuven I visited KU Leuven which is one of the world leading university. I visited my cousins in suburbs around Brussels. I also visited Italy, Venice and Treviso where another cousin of mine lives. I appreciated the importance they give to education.
Return to Stellenbosch:
After an unforgettable stay in Europe, the bell rang, and it was time to come back home. The process was not difficult as we had constant reminders about the process, like arranging the travel documents and returning to the libraries or the university any borrowed items. The host University was available for support.
The trip was more of a testimony to something I have always thought of Europe and it reinforced the idea of pursuing further studies in Europe since they have world class universities and people are more welcoming than I previously believed. So, a lot of things I thought about Europe was confirmed and a lot of misconceptions were cleared off my mind.
My future plans have definitely been given a push in the right direction because the achievement of most my goals will depend on meeting people and drawing inspiration from them, travelling around the world because that broadens my prospects and my view of the world and it teaches me new ways of tackling challenges. In Germany, there is a lot of things that the Germans have done in mechanical engineering and every mechanical engineer would like to wrap their mind around their projects. So, this was not the last time I visited Europe but just the beginning a long relationship from which I believe I will benefit a lot in sight of the dreams I have for my continent.
I have been travelling around the world to gain a better education, having done my undergraduates studies in India and now completing my Masters in South Africa, I think my next stop for PhD will be Europe and possibly America before I come back home to Africa and carry out the long plan to prosperity and freedom.
After visiting some educational institutions in Germany, Belgium, Italy and France, I can proudly say that Stellenbosch University has something to be proud for. The education here is as standard as in Europe and the facilities are per international standard. The educational environment allows students to think independently, which is one of the strengths of European Universities. The fact that we have that at Stellenbosch is proof that Stellenbosch University is amongst the best in the world and getting an education from the university secures a better career.
The burning need to pursue my PhD in Europe was confirmed by what I witness in Europe and this gave me extra motivation to smartly work on my Masters with tact in order to complete it with great results and be able to achieve my goals. So, travelling to Europe had an impact on me personally and on my education. This motivated me to I keep working as hard as possible.
I would like to that the University for allowing me to spend this amazing time in Europe and for offering me with the travel bursary that helped a lot.