And how are things in Stellenbosch?

In my search for an internship for my master's in Electrical Engineering, I wanted to stay away from the many options of Western countries. As a result, I ended up in a country I wouldn't normally go to so easily: South Africa. Here, I get to do research at Stellenbosch University. Even though I was looking for a culture shock, this one turned out not to be so bad at all.

photo Claudia

“But what is the difference between South Africa and the Netherlands?” The question I think I've gotten the most in the 5 weeks I've been here now, and directly also the most difficult question which, to save time, I'm not answering anymore. Because to do that you first have to answer the question “What is South Africa like?” And that turns out to be extremely difficult.

Because what is South Africa actually like, and do I really experience it? Repeatedly I am warned about the bubble of Stellenbosch, which I should not compare to the real South Africa. The bubble in which I, a stiff Dutchman, just bike to the supermarket and the university every day. This is by the way quite easy on the way there, but on the way back I notice that my old Gazelle, also known to people at the faculty as 'that weird Dutch bike', is not really suitable for the hill on which I live.

And don't get me wrong, there was some kind of shock, which started as early as when I rode in my Uber from the airport past townships. And if you can call the view of the mountains culture, it's still a (positive) shock every time I look out the window in my room or at the university. That makes it extremely easy to look forward to the weekend every day for a new (hiking) adventure in this beautiful country.

Still, there are few countries where I have felt at home as quickly as here. In that, the friendly people, and the Dutch influences help, such as the Afrikaans, which is slowly going from a little readable and poorly understood to perfectly readable and a little understandable. But the trivial things also help, like the supermarket on campus, which, super-familiar, is a Spar.

Speaking of the campus, it is much more alive than in Eindhoven. Certainly the better weather, but also the much better (and cheaper) supply of food and coffee help with that. They themselves think differently because they are still jealous when I tell them about Het Walhalla and the basic principle of pubs on campus. Let's just say you can't have everything.

The next two months, like every day here, promise to be different from the time before. Whereas I have been incredibly lucky so far, I am beginning to notice that winter is setting in here in the southern hemisphere, which translates into longer nights and sometimes even rain: I even needed a coat! Apart from the poorer weather, this mainly means that winter break for the students is coming up, which means it will be a lot quieter on campus.

South Africa is not just that beautiful country of pictures of beautiful nature and safaris. Nor is it just the country torn apart by Apartheid. South Africa is so incredibly much and diverse that it cannot be grasped in a 3-month internship, and certainly cannot be described. I hope to discover much of that in the coming months. Totsiens!

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