Experience report – Exchange at Stellenbosch University, South Africa (Fall:... - By Yvette Pelgrom 315805

Experience report – Exchange at Stellenbosch University, South Africa (Fall: July – December 2014)
- By Yvette Pelgrom 315805 (y.e.n.pelgrom@tilburguniversity.edu)
Admission, arrival, housing
After I heard I got accepted, I started preparing enthusiastically immediately. Visa requirements have changed I
heard, so that might be experienced as a struggle for the upcoming students. All went well (side note: do not forget
to bring 800 euro in cash to the embassy for the deposit) so there I went: on the plane to the beautiful, picturesque
Stellenbosch! The introduction days were perfect to learn about the ins- and outs, safety rules and the next steps
(such as how to choose your courses and deadlines) to complete your study at Stellenbosch University. In addition,
this was the chance to meet all the other exchange students and set a base for new friendships. Overall, the
International Office at SU helped greatly and were easily reachable.
I arranged my housing in February 2014 at one of the private accommodations: the Bosmanhouse (22
Bosmanstreet, 7600). Wauw, what a perfect house to live in! At the corner of the campus, nice braai area and pool,
21 (mostly exchange) students in total, cleaning lady every 5 days per week and about 6 minutes biking from the
‘real centre’ where Eikestadt Mall is located. I would definitely recommend staying at either the Bosmanhouse or
the Poolhouse (two houses next to it, same landlord). Be on time though as the rooms are filled quickly each
semester. We got permission to have two parties (with about 250 guests) which were amazing! In addition, the
house is divided in ‘little apartments’ so you share a living room and bathroom with one or two others and you
naturally have your own nice room. So private space but also always entertainment! And, it is on the green route,
which means that it is in the ‘safe area’ with street security. You may also choose for either Concordia or Academia,
which are buildings provided by the University. They are fine and cheaper yet I would not recommend this. Despite
of the large size, you do live quite isolated and several friends regretted living there rather than in a house such as
the Bosmanhouse or another private accommodation.
With some of my housemates at the start of our second pool party
Location of the University/city
Stellenbosch felt like home. Despite of the safety problems (which I have not experienced myself, but you do get
warned for watching your stuff etc. and we were not allowed to walk alone by dark – which no one did indeed), it
feels very nice. It seems in a way that the town is run by students as the campus is located in the midst of the centre
and you see students everywhere. It is about one hour drive away from Cape Town which is thus nearby and most
of all: it is surrounded by many fantastic wine farms. Stellenbosch is known for its best wine tastings and you can
do a lot of stuff. Think of wine tasting, picnics, going out for dinner/drinks (Wednesday and Saturday are the most
common ‘going out’ evenings), hiking and so on. The nearest beach is Strand, a twenty minutes’ drive. This is the
ideal strand to learn surfing! (Surfing lessons are provided by Stellenbosch University). With regard to study
facilities, there are not one, but several places to study peacefully. Fargha is even opened 24/7, which is upstairs
at the Neelsie shopping mall.
I took the IPSU course (which is only for exchange students) ‘Overview of South African History’ and the
mainstream courses (much tougher courses and provided for all students) ‘Strategic Marketing’ and ‘Human
Resource Management’. In addition, I followed online courses from Tilburg University. The mainstream courses
were given by great lecturers and it gave me a better insight towards my future academic career. The level of the
courses are quite challenging but this triggered my interest. It is in a sense comparable to the level of some courses
at Tilburg University yet I did see a clear difference in the examinations: I had to apply more in the form of case
studies during the exams. Furthermore, I had midterms which were already half of the material for the final
examinations, which I never had at Tilburg University. Quite convenient actually, as you (if you have studied well)
then already have a part of the material in your head! I had to study a lot, write quite some essays and had several
assignments/projects (for instance setting up a strategic business plan for the launch of Bjorn Borg in South Africa,
really interesting!). Yet, I significantly studied less compared to the amount at home as your exchange semester is
also your time to truly experience another culture and enjoy! Before you know it, you’re back in the plane wishing
to stay at this beautiful place.
All in all, Stellenbosch University is ranked very highly worldwide and I definitely find this adequate! The courses
were challenging, informative and interesting. I do recommend taking mainstream courses as I felt the IPSU
courses are mainly there to make sure the exchange students pass so that SU gets money from your home
university. They might be interesting, yet the workload is super low, less (interesting) material and you will not
get into contact with the locals. For the lazy ones, naturally this is ideal! ;)
Social life
The students from the Bosmanhouse and the Poolhouse became close quite soon so we were with a big, nice group
of students with many things to do in Stellenbosch and Cape Town. There were house parties, partying every week,
wine tastings, going for dinner and lunch, watching soccer at the Happy Oak, pre-drinks at Bohemia, surfing,
sports (there is a very good gym, Coetzenburg, nearby) and so on. There are also many associations you can join,
such as the hiking association which organizes hikes in the surrounding areas for both internationals as well as
locals. By the way, the South-African language is super similar to Dutch so it is quite easy to understand funny
enough! (example: ek vin jou lief = ik vind je lief. And ‘ek vin jammer, ek nie Afrikaan praten nie’ = ik vind het
jammer dat ik geen Afrikaans spreek).
I got to meet several locals via the mainstream courses which was a nice experience. I also found out that religion
is still a big deal here in Stellenbosch so many of the students still go to church every week and are strictly religious
in many aspects. Most of the times I spent time with other internationals. In the end I also travelled with some
others through South-Africa, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana and to top it off, I celebrated Christmas
with several friends before I flew back to the Netherlands just before New Year. Wish I could have stayed longer..
Definitely go and explore this overwhelmingly intriguing country and its neighbouring countries! We travelled
parts with just three girls in total and I never felt unsafe in Zambia, Zimbabwe nor Botswana. I figured that these
countries are considerably safer and with friendlier locals compared to parts in South-Africa. Nevertheless, if you
get the chance: do the Garden Route during your recess week (if it is nice weather though!) and also travel along
the Wild Coast which reflects ‘real Africa’.
Living costs
Housing was 380 euros per month, all inclusive, but it can also be a lot cheaper if you arrange it yourself in another
private accommodation or when you stay at either Academia or Concordia which is organized via Stellenbosch
University. There are several nice apartments, even on Dorpstreet (the ‘main street’). Many are cheap, spacious
and beautiful. Though I, by far, preferred the Bosman house because of the people. And of course, you always
have someone to walk home with by night! My trip was most expensive but that is logical (it was a mix of road
tripping, hitchhiking, camping, dorms and fantastic activities such as Victoria Falls and rafting). The food is about
the same (you have everything you can imagine in the shops!), maybe even a bit cheaper depending on the
exchange rate. Drinks (and sushi!) are significantly cheaper!! Also the wine tastings and food platters were crazy
cheap. You can make your living as cheap/expensive as you want. Going out for dinner is sometimes even as
equivalent as cooking yourself and braaien (barbeque in South African style) is really common during the week.
I did not really experience a culture shock besides more clearly realizing the poverty gap. There is a township
nearby Stellenbosch and you will see mostly black people doing all the work in Stellenbosch itself. With regard to
cultural rituals, where else than in South-Africa will you get a day off at Uni to celebrate ‘national braai day’? The
locals are very chilled, the climate is perfect and being there in December with 35 degrees while at home it was
max. 4 degrees made it even better (summer and winter is opposite in South-Africa). Do not get mistaken though,
in July/August it can be pretty cold and very rainy. Furthermore, the South African people are very friendly yet
the criminality and violence rates are pretty high. The only thing I disliked was the constant awareness of having
to lock the doors well and to not walk in the dodgier areas. Also the houses are secured by gates which makes it
feel less cosy. On the other hand, Stellenbosch is very pretty and the houses are beautiful which balances it
somewhat more. Learning about the history of South-Africa was an eye-opener and I would recommend it to
everyone, even though it might sound boring. You see a lot of Dutch and French influence, reflected in house
styles, food and the spoken languages/dialects. Last but not least, the Maties rugby culture clearly unites the
students and brings a joint feeling of coherence. Here I could see the nationalistic pride. Travelling through South
Africa, starting in Durban, showed me a greater aspect of the real Africa with a greater variety of cultural
backgrounds and different levels of poverty/wealth.
Personal development
As I already lived in several non-European countries when I was younger, I did not have much difficulties to adapt
and to meet new people. Also living in such a house is the perfect way to meet new people straight away! The
uppermost important lesson I have learned from my exchange semester in South Africa is definitely to enjoy life.
Life is not all about studying, getting cum laude average, participating in as much committees/boards as possible:
life is experiencing, being with great people and misbehaving before it is time to become serious. And this is said
by someone who highly prioritizes extra-curricular activities and a cum laude average! I fell in love with South
Africa and might even see myself working/living there in the future.
Tips for future students
I tried to extend my semester which was unfortunately not possible due to a mandatory course the next semester
but for everyone considering to go to Stellenbosch (or CT): this is one of the best choices you can make. Everything
is perfect: the people, the food, the climate, the sceneries, the activities. I am 200% sure you will have an
unforgettable, amazing experience and will want to go back as well. Enjoy every moment and do as much as you
can every day! Before you know it, the semester is over and it is time to go back to reality. Sometimes it felt like
we lived in a happy bubble, in a positive sense. I did not have time unfortunately but if you have the chance,
definitely do voluntary work in the township to truly realize what is still happening in South Africa and what the
consequences are of the Apartheid.
With regard to to-do’s: definitely go to the Old Bank (de Oude Bank/Schoon Companjie) which is a nice (from
origin Dutch) place where you can have amazing breakfast and lunch. It is beautifully decorated and even has a
small butcher and bakery inside. In addition, have cake at Birdscage, sushi at Sunfish, dinner at the Wijnhuis in
Stellenbosch and Beluga in Cape Town. Go out in NuBar and Tollies. To dance Sokkie (kind of ‘stijldansen’ on
quick music, common for South-Africans) go upstairs in Catwalk, quite funny to experience/see. Have some nice
wine tasteries at Spier, Lanzerac, Stark-Condé and so on, and have a fancy picnic at Warwick/Vergelegen. Also
don’t forget to chill at Shimmy’s beach club in Cape Town, enjoy at the pool, have a cocktail and party there in
the evenings. Goldfish also plays there during the summer period. With respect to the beaches, I loved Clifton
beach! It is also nice to watch the whales in Hermanus, go shark cage diving, sandboarding, parasailing and hiking
at the Table Mountain and Lion’s Head (bring some Savannah’s or wine for a sundowner). With respect to lovely
markets: go the Slow Food Market, Green Market, Route 44 and the Houtbay Vintage Market! Probably I am
missing so much more but you will find your way yourself very easily. For good tips, always check ‘Kaapstad
Magazine’ (Facebook or website).
Another tip: bring an old phone which you mind less losing because of theft. A sim-card and prepaid date (internet,
texting and calling) is easily arranged at the Vodacom store (at Eikestadt Mall or Neelsies) and relatively cheap.
For those with a driving license, definitely consider renting a car with some friends for the semester. This way you
can move around very easily and can do and see a lot of stuff. It is cheaper than going by taxi each time! And trust
me, you will need a car. When in need of a taxi, use the Uber (first download the Uber app). They are trustworthy,
have reasonable prices and will be at your destination very quickly. And lastly, never walk alone home by night!
Enjoy every moment, before you know it you’re back in rainy, cold Netherlands again! 