An exchange programme is an adventure. One that is equally exciting and frightening at the same time. The best advice I can give in that regard is to focus on how exciting it is during your preparation and planning. Because it isn’t always easy, and everything doesn’t always seem to be going your way, but it’s all worth it.
Luckily UNC Charlotte provides helpful travelling tips about what to remember when you’re traveling, from a power bank to your DS-2019 form. They also provided me with a pre-departure checklist that included things like making sure you have medical and travel insurance, housing, immunizations and so forth sorted before going. Getting all this sorted beforehand really reduced my stress upon arrival.
Getting a Visa is one of those things that seem stressful and time consuming but really doesn’t need to be. Be prepared to sit on the US embassy’s website for an hour or maybe two when doing your application and scheduling your appointment. But once you’ve got that sorted going to the embassy for your appointment can be smooth sailing – just make sure you have all the documents they could possibly ask for (even though they most probably won’t even ask to see half of it) and be there on time.
Finally, I booked my flights and a US Eastern Discovery contiki through a travel agent – because who needs the extra stress?
Traveling before or after you’ve completed your semester at your host university is a must. Traveling half way across the world to a foreign country and staying within the borders of the university would be an absolute shame! The two weeks I spent traveling before going to UNCC was one of the best decisions I could’ve made. I spent two weeks on the Eastern Discovery Contiki ‘discovering the east’ of Northern America. I strolled through the markets in the French Quarter of New Orleans, I had a blast at Universal studios in Orlando, I spent a day in the sun at Miami beach, I spent a few wonderful days in Washington DC enjoying the busy life, seeing the White House, enjoying a sunset and local music at the Capitol Building and spent the rest of my time exploring the numerous museums Washington DC has to offer. I also walked the streets that Forest Gump did in Savannah, Georgia, experienced the rich historical culture of St Augustine and visited Kennedy Space Centre on launch day. Finally, the trip came to an end in New York City- specifically, at the Empire State Building, looking out at the endless lights of the city that never sleeps.
As that adventure came to an end the next one was upon the horizon. Next stop, UNC Charlotte!
Experience at Host University:
My experience at UNC Charlotte can only be described as the experience of a lifetime. Academically, I learnt so much; I made friends for life and gained irreplaceable life experience.
Academically, UNC Charlotte does it slightly different than Stellenbosch University, but that’s nothing to worry about. Professors go out of their way to know each student by name, teach in a way that is most beneficial to students and strive to help students succeed and do well. And by do well, I mean, if you do your part in preparation for an exam a 90% grade is yours.
Both of my business courses taught me a lot and would be most beneficial and applicable to my degree back home. I completed the Energy Economics 3090 course, taught by Professor Peter Schwartz (the author of the Energy Economics textbook that was used), which I would definitely recommend. My second business course was International Business Economics which I would highly recommend to any economics students interested in the internal and external workings of economics, how trade influences this and what impact trade has on individual businesses.
As a business student going to UNC Charlotte, I was limited with regards to which courses I could take due to very strict requirements on the part of the Business School. For this reason, I decided to take advantage of the opportunity to develop my other talent and passion… painting and artwork.
I completed three art courses: figure drawing, painting and 2D Design. And it is amazing how much you can learn in one semester at the art department. I had an excellent painting professor, Andrew Leventis, who is a very talented painter I could learn much from. I also had an excellent figure drawing professor who taught me skills and techniques that improved my drawing exceptionally.
But, UNC Charlotte is not only an academic experience, but a cultural one. I was privileged enough to be able to stay in Global Gateways. Global Gateways is a house in Greek Village – but what was a house quickly became a community and a community quickly became a family. The house has 14 female students living there in total – each with their own room. 7 Students were international and 7 were American. This created the environment to interact with American students as well as students from Japan, Korea, China and even France. We also went on a semester trip to North Carolina State Fair – which was an ideal place to experience American culture at its best with countless rides, games and of course, greasy and sugary food. Global Gateways also hosted an International Potluck where everyone contributed by making a dish from their country and sharing food, languages and stories from all over the world. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interact with different cultures first hand. I would definitely recommend living in Global Gateways to anyone going to UNCC.
UNC Charlotte also presented many other cultural events and opportunities to learn about American culture as well as other cultures or just opportunities to become part of a community. These included a Chinese folk music concert, an International Festival, a Study Abroad festival, football games (and let me tell you, American university spirit is something to experience!), soccer games, a Christian organization (Niner United) – and the list goes on. Something else that I feel is mention-worthy would be UNC Charlotte’s outstanding facilities. There are two dining halls on campus where you can get an unlimited meal plan as well as a on campus bus service that runs all day.
Return to Stellenbosch:
One thing I am thankful for is that I didn’t experience the so-called culture shock when going to Charlotte, nor when returning home.
When asked, and I did get this question quite frequently, “So, what is different here in Charlotte to what you experience back home?”, finding an answer was quite difficult. Because, in fact, things were quite similar. So, I’d usually go with, “The people here are so friendly, most of the food is fried and so on…”
But in the end, an abroad experience like this – no matter how wonderful – makes you appreciate your home country once again. Coming back to South Africa and Stellenbosch has reminded me how beautiful this country is, how great the weather is and what a good feeling it is to be among people who share love for this country.