Catherine Carrow and Celia de Mengin Poirier, two graduate management students from Grenoble EM, talk about their experience at Stellenbosch University
We are two newly graduated students from GEM, Catherine and Celia, and we spent our last studying semester in South Africa at the University of Stellenbosch, on the Bellville campus, 30 min away from Cape Town. We will try throughout this article to describe how amazing and exciting these six exchange months were.
Before your departure
First of all, before the actual departure you need to think about some important things: medical and civil insurance, ensure that all your activities and diseases can be covered by your insurance. Indeed, medical expenses can be very high in South Africa if you go to a private consultation. Then you need to check with your bank agency that you can withdraw money or pay with your credit card without extra fees. Then, last but not least, the student visa: you should go to the South African consulate to get the list of the documents you have to gather and some that you and your physician need to file in. You should hand in all these documents two weeks before your departure but do not be surprised or worried if you get your visa one or two days before your departure… We could add that it would be a good idea as well to have a first contact with the other exchange students before you get there in order to arrange your arrival. For example we agreed to meet and stay at the same backpacker in Cape Town for the first nights. This way, it is easier to look for accommodation together.
Looking for an accommodation
Indeed it is not mandatory to look for an accommodation prior to your arrival. It is always better to see the flat or room you want to rent with your own eyes. The USB campus is in Bellville, 30 minutes away from Cape Town. Thus, most of of the exchange students live in Sea Point, which is a very nice and secure area in Cape Town. You can find an accommodation through the website Gumtree and through real estate agencies. For the transportation, the best is to share a renting car with other exchange students, with your roommates for example. In order to get everything fixed before the class starts, you should plan to arrive in Cape Town at least one week in advance. The administrative persons from USB were very helpful for this important first step in South Africa!
Time to start classes
Then it was time for us to start classes. We joined a MBA program, thus our classmates were older people who had already many years of professional experiences and most of them were South Africans. Being mixed with people coming from very different industries, it generates very interesting inputs during the classes, even though we could sometimes feel very different points of view between them and us, exchange students. The group works were good times to talk more about these differences, which can be very instructive. The full-time students have also more classes than the exchange students since they are part of the MBA for a whole year. The classes take place only in the morning, which give all the afternoons to do the group works or to enjoy Cape Town. Thus it is quite easy to find a good balance between studying and discovering South Africa.
Cape Town, a great city
About the daily life, we did not experience a big cultural choc. Lifestyle is quite the same compared to France, even if we need to be more careful about safety. South Africa is a dangerous country, but Cape Town is quite spared and especially Sea Point, but one needs to remain careful at all-time, and especially at night: for example, never walk alone in the streets at night. At the same time, some details makes you feel that you are definitely not in Europe. For instance, the small minibuses which can bring you to the city center have a specific African driving style and like playing South African house music. Cape Town is also a great city for hiking with its famous Table Mountain. There is also a bunch of museums, restaurants, bars and events you can assist to. On top of that, Cape Town’s area is famous for its wine estates. You can easily enjoy a wine tasting without driving too far away. The full-time students may know very well the area since some of them have been raised in Cape Town. Thus, they always have good advice about what to do, where to go out etc.
We definitely enjoyed our semester in Cape Town and can only encourage anyone who would like to study there to do so.