University in South Africa: A German Student’s Perspective

By Sarah Kraus – Many German students use the opportunity to study abroad to gain international exposure, whether it be for one term, one year or even longer. Many German students opt to stay in Europe for this experience. But why not study further away? Why not study in South Africa?

As an exciting multicultural society currently in transition, South Africa offered a unique and rewarding educational experience to me as a student of political science.

    Students at the Universtiy of Pretoria (© Sarah Kraus)

The central student union at the University of Pretoria (© Sarah Kraus)

I enrolled at the University of Pretoria (UP) as an exchange student from Constance (southern Germany) at the beginning of 2010.  Immediately, the organisation of the university impressed me. Before the term started, the international department provided a comprehensive orientation programme containing lectures and tours. During the orientation, I not only received useful information regarding security, South African culture and the university’s campus, but also had the opportunity to meet new students from all over the world.

Lectures at the University of Pretoria are shorter than those in Germany, but often more structured and exciting. However, despite more entertaining lectures, South African students are subject to frequent tests and examinations, which requires more discipline than the academic freedom that their German counterparts enjoy.

Sustaining this discipline, however, does not mean that South African students do not know how to have a good time outside of their studies. The UP campus has an exciting social environment. Students  often relax together in the beautiful campus gardens, enjoy a lunch on the campus speciality of ‘pie and coke’, or smoking a shisha pipe together in groups. Off campus, in the thriving suburb of Hatfield, a lively night-life exists in the many bars and clubs that stay open until the wee hours of the morning.

Sport is very important in South Africa and UP is no exception. The university’s huge sports grounds provides the opportunity, amongst other things, to go swimming, play tennis, play soccer, go to the gym – and all for a very low fee.

The central student union at the University of Pretoria (© Sarah Kraus)Of special interest to all students are the language courses that the university offers. Students have both the opportunity to continue learning a foreign language, such as Spanish or French, or (especially interesting for international students) to learn a local African language. Learning isiZulu, isiNdebele, Setswana or Afrikaans offers one the opportunity to have a much more authentic and deeper cultural experience. I completed an ‘Afrikaans for Beginners’ course at the university. Afrikaans is widely spoken in Pretoria, and I was excited to be able to pick up some of the conversations I heard and to be able to read the news in Afrikaans.

The success of a semester abroad depends completely on planning ahead. Students should first consider the cost of studying in South Africa, as international students pay double the fees as local students. Scholarships, however, are available to ease the financial burden. Students should gather as much inform as possible about courses on offer and whether these courses would be accredited at their home universities. Adequate planning in the form of good literature will also mitigate initial culture-shock in South Africa. No student, however, should worry about meeting new people and having fun – these things are part and parcel of an exchange semester in South Africa!

After the positive reporting by the international media regarding the 2010 FIFA World Cup hosted in South Africa, and the sheer dazzling beauty the country, I expect there will be more students interested in studying in South Africa!