Julia Irma Lucie Fiedler, 23, student of BA in Visual Communication Design at Pforzheim University is doing a study abroad in Stellenbosch, South Africa, at Stellenbosch University
Why South Africa?
South Africa is historically, politically, culturally, socially and economically a very impressive country. Due many challenges South Africa is facing, Stellenbosch University is very much oriented towards politically and socially charged topics within the projects, which was the incentive for me to apply.
Stellenbosch and the Winelands
Stellenbosch is a calm town, located roughly half an hour from Cape Town and is depicting the second oldest settlement in the Western Cape. The historically rich and very beautiful town is known as one of the best wine regions in the world with its numerous and excellent surrounding wine farms and their famous wine tastings. Generally the lifestyle in Stellenbosch is extremely western-oriented. You could even come to this conclusion of amazement to ask yourself: “Am I really in (South)-Africa?“ The question alone sounds pretty stupid. But considering how the vast majority of people live in South Africa, this questioning increasingly makes sense. So, if you do not plan to leave your comfort zone, you will definitely not be forced to do so.
Around 30,000 students study on the massive campus site of Stellenbosch University. And no, it’s not a zero too much — imagine. If you are used to a campus size of Pforzheim you will definitely be more than impressed, by not knowing everyone at the end of the day. The best thing on campus is definitely the mall, for the most „essentially“ things you need (at least that's how it was introduced to me). These essential things can be seen in a cinema that shows the latest movies for a reasonable price, a huge underground food court and DJ’s every Wednesday and Friday to heat the masses during lunch time. Claustrophobic people should avoid this complex particularly during this time.
If you want to learn more about the cultural, creative history of South Africa, you should definitely take a theoretical course like „Visual Studies“ in the department. The lectures are strongly oriented towards Western aspects, but always based on the South African background, which I personally find very interesting, especially when it comes to the historical background of South Africa and its apartheid.
The practical projects in the course Visual Communication Design are wide-ranging and always oriented to learning a new medium within each project. The practical projects change every 2-3 weeks. During these weeks you will work exclusively on one project only. The department provides many analog laboratories, such as a screen-printing studio, a darkroom, a bookbinding studio, a printmaking studio and many more. Additionally to that, art & design talks take place every Tuesday featuring South African Designers.So far, my practical & theoretical projects have always been politically/socially charged with prevailing topics, which gave me the opportunity to dive deeper into the general history of the country but also to investigate from different perspectives.
Perhaps the most important point. The balance between work and leisure is very pronounced in Stellenbosch. During the week, work is very focused. On weekends you will find extensively celebrating life either at department-own parties or at the numerous surrounding clubs or bars. Going out is more inexpensive compared to Germany. Further, Stellenbosch is best known for its excellent wine production and at the same time one of the best wine regions in the world. Therefore, you can always and literally everywhere sweeten your life with a glass of wine, on one of the many surrounding wine farms with an inexpensive and amazing wine tasting.
Especially the Western Cape is extremely western oriented as I mentioned previously, which is also reflected in the culinary art. Fast food is available on every corner. In general the dishes are very meaty. For instance the "braai" roughly translated for barbecue is firmly anchored to the Saturday culture in South Africa and is a must do for every barbecue fan. It is actually so important that South Africa has introduced a separate holiday for the „braai“. If you are vegetarian or vegan — don’t worry — you do not have to starve. In the numerous cafes and restaurants you will always find something incredibly satisfying. In summary what I found out — eating out is definitely cheaper. And you will be surprised what delicacies await you here.
Stellenbosch is surrounded by a spectacular scenery out of a mountain range with many trails to explore. As a hiker or rider you have the dream right outside the door. For the slightly lazy people among us, the university-owned botanical garden invites you to linger in the afternoons. Not to forget about the university offerings itself. A huge number of societies such as sportive, culinary and socially oriented ones are provided. If you are a sports fan or you just want to experience something new, you could sign up for Scuba & Diving, Surfing, Rugby, Cricket, Sailing, Parasport and at least twenty more. Everyone from beginner up to professional is welcome here. Of course, make sure you do not miss to sign up for the wine-society, out of the culinary spectrum. They offer free wine tastings at the campus twice a week.
Probably the most interesting thing is that the university offers are volunteering services. This is a way to see another perspective of Stellenbosch and get out from your own comfort zone. Some of these programs are very intense, like the guided Global-Learning-Service, were you serve 300 hours of voluntary service in a nearby township with group reflections on the experiences made. But there are also less time intensive options within the socially services.
Public transport is a big problem in South Africa, and is considered very insecure. That makes life in Stellenbosch very inflexible sometimes. Nonetheless, there is UBER! UBER is here everywhere and the best known and definitely safest way from A to B. If you like cycling, there also is the possibility to hire a bike from university for your entire semester.
Stellenbosch itself is greatly safe compared to other cities in South Africa. Nevertheless, it also comes to offenses such as theft or credit card scanning - but that can happen anywhere in the world. However, it is better to pay more attention than usual to his valuables. During the day, it's definitely safe to get lost in the turmoil of the streets and breathe in Stellenbosch to the fullest. As soon as it’s getting dark you should avoid exploring the area alone. The university is doing a lot for managing this issue. For instance there are various emergency numbers that are always available in case something will happen. And a university-owned security service can be ordered via WhatsApp and will accompany to your residence.
Accommodation & Visa
On the one hand, the university provides various residences for internationals. These are very close to the campus and cheaper in comparison to other accommodations. If you want to live here, you should quickly apply for a room after your acceptance of the university, because there are only a limited number available. If you take too much time looking for a place to live (like I did), don’t worry, you have the option to get a private shared house with South Africans or Internationals. As in any city, there are better and worse areas, so you should definitely pay attention to where your accommodation is located. Moreover, if possible look for an accommodation were Wifi is included. Internet in South Africa is very very expensive and so you will get the opportunity to live more cheaply. Visa — a quick pointer for the visa, because this is an expedition on itself. Start as soon as possible after the commitment to get all the required. documents together. And I promise you, there are a bunch of them. The process itself for an application for the study visa lasts up to 8 weeks but it is assumed that you have all documents completely when you personally hand in your application in Munich.
Last but not least: The weather
From rough 10 up to amazing 40 degrees plus, storm, rain and sunshine — everything is represented in Stellenbosch. It might be possible that you will have all four seasons on one day, as chasing weather is not uncommon in Stellenbosch. Around the December-February time around here is summer season with high temperatures. Don’t forget your sunblock!
All in all - South Africa has a lot to offer culturally and scenically. The natural beauty of the most southern country in this world is hard to put into words, but would definitely consider the word „spectacular“ to describe it. So far the time here has promoted me very much personally as well as in my workflow. I’m thankful for my time here and I would definitely be down for another semester abroad at Stellenbosch University.