Leaving on a Jet Plane
It’s happening! I’ve submitted my application to the international office at Stellenbosch University and it was approved. I am going to Germany. A little time spent on the internet and I book my flights to Germany. I booked a return with an unsettled return date, as it was cheaper. I will just have to schedule the return date closer to the time when I actually know when I can come back to the Republic of South Africa. Now I just need to setup a Visa application and get into contact with my host institution – Hochschule Konstanz. The application to arrange an appointment for the Visa was quick, as on the website of the Consulate (I intend on going to Cape Town), there is a concise guideline of what all I need to bring to the appointment and when and how to book it. For future reference, I recommend that it’s better to arrange a Visa appointment as soon as you can i.e. after flights are booked, book the appointment.
I communicated with my host’s international office and a Ms.Favata was super helpful. She tried to answer each question to the best of her ability and even called across the sea when things were a bit unclear. I had applied for accommodation by filling out a simple application form. Once I had done this, I just had to email it to Ms.Favata before the exchange student deadline and everything was set. I eventually found out where I was staying – a student block of flats about 600m from the campus grounds. This was all organized by the company Seezeit, a company which organizes all the student accommodation in the town of Konstanz. What was great about this was that it was super cheap per month. After sorting out accommodation I arranged my own Health Insurance for the Visa appointment. Furthermore Ms.Favata sent documents stating my enrollment for the semesters I was to spend at Konstanz. She had basically sorted me out for the appointment. Hence, everything went smoothly and I received a study visa two weeks later.
Ensuring that everything would be okay with regards to baggage and arriving in Konstanz, I researched everything I could about transport to and in Konstanz. There is no airport in Konstanz and the closest is Zurich so I had to make sure that my Visa would be okay in Zurich. I also carried all my documents on my person incase I needed to back up my story. Everything went smoothly and few questions were asked. It seems that a study visa is not easy to attain so the officials were rather relaxed with me. I booked a train ticket and arrived safely in Konstanz. I also arranged before the time with the secretary of my block of flats to leave my keys in the safety deposit box so I couldn’t really have asked for a smoother travel. I arrived at the blocks, typed the code in, retrieved my keys and proceeded to become a resident in Germany.
Experience at Host University
I enrolled for the entire summer semester at Hochschule Konstanz. I took up less subjects than I would have had at Stellenbosch University as I intended to explore the town, country and continent! The semester started from March and ends at the end of July. The Hochschule had a nice group of exchange students and we were induced nicely to the ins and outs of the town and eventually a small group of exchange students became my friends. We explored, swam in the Bodensee and did what exchange students do. I also became good friends with one of my flat mates and he helped me a lot with questions on Germany – he was German.
On the academic side, the actual work load of each subject I found to be much less than that of Stellenbosch. The schedule is a lot more open than Stellenbosch and each subject maybe has about 7 contact hours with the subject lecturer a week. Practicals exist but aren’t as frequent, at least from my experience. The classes are smaller, attributed to a small university, so relations with the lecturer is a lot more personal. They also only have a final exam at the end of the semester and that was interesting as you don’t really know what you’re in for until it’s happening! All my courses were in English, except for the German classes of course. One or two of the courses were catered for exchange students, however I attended one or two classes that were actually apart of other degree fields in the Hochschule. Here I also never really experienced much difficulty in the subjects, however it is possible that the courses were watered down because they were in English. Apart from that I found a comfortable rhythm in the classes and could easily balance workload and extra-mural activities.
I even applied for their student racing team and helped out at the workshop a few times where I could. It was just a pity as the actual race events coincided with other events I had already agreed to and could not experience the full tilt of the racing days. After this my investment in the Hochschule group declined slightly as I relocated priorities. I found a small sport club where I could practice and cycled to and from each week. The Hochschule had a committee that arranged events for the exchange students, and this committee was called Helping Hands. One guy kept in contact with me frequently and I was even invited to his birthday which consisted of a small group. I felt special. I think the entire experience as a whole was a very positive one as I cannot really think of what I would have preferred that I had the power to change. I maybe would have invested more time in getting to know the actual residents of the town, but I can at least always go back. I have contacts.
Return to Stellenbosch
Returning to Stellenbosch provided some difficulties such as arranging accommodation and transfer of one or two courses. Fortunately, I had one friend that still needed a place to stay so we managed to eventually locate a flat that we were happy with. After that, some admin was involved in assuring that I was successfully transferring credits. This process took some time but not much effort. I attend a class of mostly new faces so integrating into the class took a bit more time than it would have, had I attended the class of 2019. My perspective has changed, not only at the university but also how I view certain aspects of the country.
Small things and big things. For instance, I am a lot more aware of the recycling sections. I go out of my way now to recycle properly and actually keep all my plastic bottles – I think I still get “pfand” for them. I am less tolerant to people that litter now and don’t care about keeping things clean. We have a beautiful country and I wish we could look after it more. I was the victim of a language barrier in Germany and now I know what it feels like first hand. I at least appreciate the immense effort in South Africa to include everyone. I found that in Germany there was seldom or no effort at times, to include those that cannot speak the language. I also now appreciate the freedom we have to pursue things and try things out. Entrepreneurship for example; starting a business in Germany is not as easy to do. I found that there is a such a massive opportunity for our country to improve and it makes me excited. I could not wait to come back. The different cultures make me feel at home.
I secured a great internship abroad and the supervisor mentioned to me that when I am done studying my masters I should let him know and maybe he could arrange something. For me that is a big opportunity. We also intend to stay in touch and now I can safely say I have a good contact for future opportunities. This experience definitely changed my view on working abroad. I used to be content with just working in South Africa, but now I believe that I need to at least work abroad for a few years. Europe is a great continent to progress in experience in the Engineering department. The opportunities are abundant and the remuneration is attractive. I can see myself working in another country to kickstart my career. It would be a great experience to learn so much from the different cultures in the work place and the way they work and operate. However, once I have completed a few years abroad I see myself returning to South Africa to settle down in the country that I love. All in all, I still want to give back to the country that gave me so much to begin with.