Here you should focus on your preparations for your trip abroad. It should include information about the visa application, as well as suggestions or “tips” regarding what works well and/or areas for improvement.
Hello, to the potential study broad student. Firstly, I would like to say you have made the best choice of your university career by wanting to study abroad. Stellenbosch is a great place to study and it cannot be rivalled on many aspects. There is however a sense of not broadening our horizons further than a certain threshold as you stay there due to it being a student town. As a student, you want to experience as much as you can in a short as time as possible and therefore an exchange program is the best way to do it!
My first tip would be to do your own research. Find out where exchanges are happening, about possible bursaries, what it requires and what you would like. Then go speak to the personnel at the international office. They are more than willing to help and will make the process so much easier. By chatting to them personally, they’ll get to know you and would only be beneficial to the application process.
He after you are excepted to a exchange, speak to previous participants and also make contact with the host university as early as possible. This will make the whole process of going there much easier. Start your VISA application as early as possible so that you can plan flights and other administrative efforts. Plan financials, trips, academic schedule and other aspects ahead of time. Makes things a lot easier when you get there. Knowing what you want to do before you get there makes it easier to actually go and do those things and gives you a framework to plan around and allows you to do other things as you won’t feel that it will intervene with other things. Having a clear academic schedule makes it easier to plan trips or cultural experiences. It also makes you adhere to academic progress and can provide motivation to keep on working hard on academics.
Also check stuff like the weather, where you are going to stay and what you would need to bring along. I would say packing first only the necessary stuff first and always keep spaces for things you want to bring back. The earlier you book flights the less you will have to pay so keep that in mind.
You will never be fully prepared for your trip. That is the beauty of it. Don’t stress to much about the little things. Get all your admin out of the way so that you can focus on the important things. Make sure you have a good contact on both sides, at each university, so that you have someone to refer to each time you go. Make sure you have your financial arrangements in order, like activating your bank card for oversea purchases.
Experience at the Host University:
This section should include information about the academic programme, as well as other activities done during your stay abroad. Describe the academic programme in detail and more importantly compare your experience with what you have experienced at Stellenbosch University.
The academic program for the DIME exchange at Reutlingen University is not that labor intensive. It however requires a lot of planning and group sessions. The subjects were very interesting and relevant. I enjoyed all the classes for their content and relevance towards my degree and the current market. It should be noted that I chose this exchange based on the subject matter as it would contribute to my thesis and also towards my career prosperity. We had to write a couple of exams and had to do projects and presentations, so there is a degree of academic responsibility, but if you have made it this far in your degree this is very easy to navigate.
I highly recommend making use of the university facilities, such as the library, the classrooms, lecture halls and factory areas. Also, if you can and want to, extend your knowledge by taking extra subjects. I took German for Beginners and couldn’t be happier. It helped me communicate on a very basic level which helped a lot with small things such as travel, shopping, general enquiries and getting around. It makes the travelling and exchange experience so much easier. People are also more inclined to help you and they appreciate people trying to learn their language. I feel you show respect and consideration to people when you try and communicate in their language and you can see their appreciation when you interact with them.
One difference at the host university is class sizes. It is mainly due to it being a prestige program and small university that the classes were a lot smaller. For all classes we were less than 20 students. It was a nice switch I found. I had a good relationship with lecturers and made me give more attention in class and made lectures more engaging. I found the classes to be more entertaining. Their classes were also a lot longer than ours. For example, the amount of work covered was a lot more at Stellenbosch for any given lecture period.
I joined several football clubs here, to meet new people and keep active. The university offers a lot of social sports and they facilitate them which was very cool and allowed me to meet more people. Their student council is very accessible, and it was easy to communicate with them. I joined the gym but was disappointed when a week after I joined the price dropped for a week-long special from 20 euros a month to 1 euro a month haha! Public transport here is amazing and bus travel across Europe is amazing. Buy a Naldo ticket which allows you to travel an unlimited amount of times in the region. Going on sites like flixbus, BlaBlaBus Eurolines etc. makes holiday transport so easy and cheap. I visited Prague, Paris, Zurich, Frankfurt, Munich, Porto, Budapest, Vienna and Amsterdam in my time here and the travel sometimes was cheap. For example, it cost me 11 euros to Amsterdam and back. Meet new people and make effort, the weather is gonna be cold and suck sometimes but it is up to you to make the best of it.
Return to Stellenbosch:
As I returned to Stellenbosch, I found myself quite nostalgic of my time in Germany. It was an amazing experience and I was somewhat reluctant to come back. But as all good things it had to come to an end. As I came back, I acclimated quickly. I was back in the office working the first Monday after my return, had my first braai the night I came back and got to see most of m loved ones as soon as I arrived back.
It was a few days before I got into the swing of things, found my feet and returned to somewhat normal skin-color. I realised how much I missed the South African spirit, the people and the WEATHER. I’ll never take hot days for granted ever again.
When coming back to South Africa, don’t delay things too much. Get back into a nice routine and gradually do all the stuff that you wanted to do when you got back. Trying to cram all the social and family time into the first week will just end up leaving you exhausted. It is important to touch base with your supervisor as you return and with the people that are helping you along your thesis journey. I would recommend doing this as early as possible. Things however got a bit difficult when the coronavirus broke out as I got back from overseas.
Take what you have learned from your experience and apply it to your life. No really. It sounds like a cliché but it couldn’t be more true. I learned so many personal skills, developed as a person and grew stronger in relationships and it was evident when I got back. Being able to communicate better and being more self-efficient is something that I noticed a lot. I make meals everyday instead of very now and then since I have been back. It is an embarrassing fact that I only learned to do laundry when I was 23, but that is something that I have been doing since I’ve been back, haha!
All in all, it was a great opportunity that I was glad that I made the most of. Thanks to Stellenbosch University and to Reutlingen for making it an incredible experience and helping with the entire process. Everyone wants you to succeed and it is evident in the help that they provide, so thanks to them and if you are reading this and wondering if you should go