robin-schindelka.reismee.nl

Recap of the last incredible months: Living, studying and traveling in South- Africa!


It’s Wednesday the 12th of June, 6.40am in Doha airport, where I arrived after my first flight out of South Africa, and I have finally decided to take the time to sit down and write about the last months. I was planning on writing something every month, but I got so busy being here that it just didn’t happen. So now that I’m sitting at a breakfast spot in the airport and I have 2 hours before I need to start boarding for my second flight, I’m taking a moment to reflect on the past 5 months of my once in a lifetime experience of living and studying in Stellenbosch, South Africa.


Boring stuff first: Academic life

As it is still ‘studying abroad’, it’s of course necessary to mention the academic part of my experience in Stellenbosch. Because this is both for me as for the person who is reading this the least interesting part (accept for my mom and dad), I'll quickly talk about this first. Studying in Stellenbosch University for me, as for most international students, was very different from studying in my home University. The biggest reason for this was that it has a system of permanent evaluation, which means that in contrary to studying in Leuven, you don’t just get exams at the end of the semester, but you are constantly being evaluated through writing essays, tasks, and tests during the semester. This meant for me that I had a very busy academic year, writing two fifteen-paged papers, one psychology paper, 5 tests during the year, and 4 exams in the end. I have so far passed everything and I’m getting two more marks somewhere this week, so all went pretty well, but I had a lot more work than I would have had in Leuven, which is not ideal if you’re also trying to travel the new country you’re studying in. As it was a challenge, the most important part was that I passed everything, since I couldn’t do second opportunities in South Africa and would have to take an entire course home for the next year, not finishing my bachelor. So this was a good motivation for me to keep working hard and passing everything, which has worked out so far (hoping that I passed the last 2 marks as well).

            The courses themselves were all pretty interesting. I took on psychology as a science, social psychology, phenomenology and existentialism, and African philosophy. The psychology lectures were well-structured and clear, while the philosophy courses were (sometimes extremely) chaotic, even more as in Belgium. They were however really interesting subjects and it was especially interesting to have looked at African philosophy and see the effects colonization had on the way (South) African people think. The lectures were obligatory but luckily only 50 minutes long, so it wasn’t a big sacrifice to go to class every time. All by all, the academic side was okay and Stellenbosch is a pretty good University. You just have to learn how to deal with the chaos.


Fun stuff: Student life in Stellenbosch

The fun part of being at a new student city was the new way of student life, and it was pretty awesome. I arrived in Stellenbosch in the summer season, when it was winter in Belgium. Since the academic responsibilities only started later on, the first weeks were crazy. There were house, pool, and day party’s almost every day, since it was so hot that no one wanted to be inside. The good weather really does make people happy and outgoing, I think. Every day I would get up, go running with a beautiful view of the mountains, go to class until 2 pm, and when I got back home everyone would be outside in the pool with a glass of wine or a beer in their hand and loud music playing. The vibe in the house was great. 17 people with all very different personalities in one house, and except for some problems we had with a housemate that moved in later on the semester, we all got along well without any problems. We all came from colder places in Europe (Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, France, …) and you could just feel the sun making us happy. It was such an amazing feeling to have summer again, since I went to Kenya last summer, where it was then winter, so I hadn’t had proper sunshine in one and a half years. It felt amazing and I could really feel my batteries reloading after the cold winter. Since Stellenbosch is one of the biggest wine areas in South Africa, we also went wine tasting a lot after class or in weekends. The wine estates are beautiful: located in the mountains, green grape yards and a blue sky, and always amazingly designed inside and out. The wines in Stellenbosch are some of the best I’ve ever had, and I can actually say that I’ve learned about which wines I like and don’t like, instead of just buying a random bottle in the supermarket. Stellenbosch is really idyllic with its beautiful wine estates but also the scenery. Apart from wine tasting, going for a hike or walk was one of my favorite things to do there because it was just so incredibly beautiful. After 5 months of being there, I still didn’t get used to the mountains everywhere and my mouth still dropped every time I took an uber somewhere. The beauty of just spontaneously looking around is one of the things I will miss the most when I’m back in Belgium.

            After the first month, deadlines started coming and things got busier and busier for me. The craziness of the everyday party’s went away and was replaced by some days studying, and other days taking the time to go wine tasting or to out with the house. Our house (de Jordaan) also became close with two other houses: beach house and bosman house, who were also housing international students. We each in turn, but mostly beach house, threw house parties where we all got together and hung out on Wednesday or in the weekend and I got to meet some great people there. All by all Stellenbosch was the perfect place for me to go on exchange. It even felt like an American College experience sometimes with the house parties, the long lanes with the high trees, and the huge rugby stadium where the whole university went to watch the games of the Stellenbosch rugby team.

            However, I have to conclude this part with a contradictory effect of this perfect experience of the Stellenbosch life. Stellenbosch is a very rich, perfect bubble in a country that’s not doing all too well. One of the first things I was taught when I got there was that Stellenbosch is not South Africa, and this is absolutely correct. Stellenbosch is a very white, rich student city where students live the most amazing, fun life, but the people that serve them are still living in Townships right outside of Stellenbosch. If you eat in a restaurant or drink in a wine estate, the guests are always white people and the people working are black. For students, this also means that black women clean their rooms and houses, and when you walk on the street there are only black men working on it. This made me really uncomfortable a lot of the time and I felt pretty guilty, comparing the way I was living with the way the native South African people live. You can see that injustice is being done towards them because of the effects of colonization and apartheid that are still present and that’s why it’s important to realize that the beautiful picture of Stellenbosch isn’t so perfect as it seems, even fake. I felt that it was important to note this while writing about Stellenbosch because it simply is the harsh truth and I couldn’t just ignore it, neither while staying there nor while writing about it.

           Having this said, studying in Stellenbosch was a very meaningful, unique and fun experience that I really recommend to those that ever want to do it.

Traveling around + visits

The last major part of my experience abroad for the last months was the fact that I was able to see some amazing places outside of Stellenbosch as well. Most of this happened when my parents and boyfriend visited. Faust came in February and April, and my parents in March. When Faust came, I went to Cape town properly for the first time. I had been there for an activity or two with Isos, the international student organization of Stellenbosch, but I had never actually been there for a whole weekend to see everything. Cape Town is absolutely amazing and one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. You have beaches, mountains, city life, thrift shops, parks, markets, … and everywhere you look it's gorgeous. Faust and I climbed up Table Mountain the first weekend there to have a view over the whole of Cape Town and it was incredible. We hiked the wrong (advanced) hiking trail which meant that it took a long time, sweat and tears to get up, but it was absolutely worth it. Walking down however was not an option anymore so we had to take the cable cart for that. Some other favorite things to do in Cape Town is watching the sunset on signal hill, the lions head hike, going for a walk at Camps Bay, having dinner at the Waterfront, and going to the oranjezicht market for fresh foods and nice souvenirs. Also the city life is pretty great for going out at night, you just have to be safe and stay in a group. Some other things Faust and I did was going to Ultra festival and into the wild festival, which was amazing since I had never actually gone to a proper festival before. We also went to some new wine estates, went hiking, and surfing a few times. I have actually learned how to surf here in South Africa (can just stand up though nothing crazy), and I love it! Another fun thing we did was go to boulders beach, a beach where you can chill with penguins: funny and cool as hell but it smells like bird poop though. It was really nice to have him here and we did a lot of fun stuff. He also got to know the people of my house and some friends of mine that I made, and we went out a few times as well.

            My parents came in March and because I had a free week from school then, I got to travel a bit more and further with them then I could do on my own or with Faust. My parents and I first went to Stellenbosch and then Cape Town, where I showed them around the places I loved the most (as I mentioned above). They were really impressed by everything and I felt pretty proud showing them everything that I had discovered myself over the last months. After Cape Town, we rented a car and did the garden route. The garden route is a route across the coast where we stopped at beautiful spots to go hiking, walking, surfing or just lay at the beach enjoy the view. When we reached port Elizabeth, the end of the garden route, we took a flight back to Cape Town, stayed there for another night, and then my parents flew back home and I went back to Stellenbosch. It was so nice to have them there and have some quality time with them, since it had been a long time since I joined them on a holiday. My sister sadly couldn’t join because she had high school but I can’t wait to tell her all about it and take her back myself one day.


Goodbye South Africa

For my last weekend, I went to Cape Town to see all my favorite places one more time. The people from Stellenbosch also came and we all had one last crazy night out together. Then I went back to Stellenbosch for my last night, said goodbye to everyone, and packed up my bags. It was sad to say goodbye but I’m also excited to go home again. When you’re away for 5 months, no matter how amazing the country is, I still always miss home like missing a part of me and it’s time to see my friends and family again.

            For my last week though, I’m staying in Marrakech and closing up my semester abroad here. I’ve always wanted to go, and it seemed like a good choice because it’s on my way back to Belgium from South Africa. I am going alone, which will be exciting since it’s my first time actually traveling on my own (I always went volunteering or studying so I never actually travelled alone before). I’m really happy about it and about going back home after. 

To finish up, I want to say thank you to everyone who made this last semester the experience that it was. Each of you are all unique, crazy individuals who have a special place in my heart and memory, and I hope to see you all again someday in one crazy way or another (or Oktoberfest of course). I hope all of you go in great directions to become the people you want to be, and I wish you all the best.


Baie dankie.  


Love, Robin.

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Beverly

Thank you for the amazing update! I was wondering how you were doing. Loved reading your insights. Glad you had a great experience!

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