Here you can read some personal accounts from DAAD South Africa partners, DAAD alumni members, DAAD scholarship holders and friends of the DAAD Information Center Johannesburg. If you have an experience with or story about DAAD South Africa, we would be happy to post it! Please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Diversity, Honesty, Kindness and Vitality. These words best describe my experience in South Africa over 10 months as the DAAD Language Assistant in the German Department of the University of the Witwatersrand.
As language assistant I taught language, culture and conversation classes in all three years of German Studies. This gave me the opportunity to engage with many different students and cultures. During my year at Wits, I had a lot of freedom to create the schedule for my courses, to conduct various field trips or to start different projects with the students. In cooperation with the former director of DAAD South Africa, Ms Philina Wittke, we did a multimedia project with the Ivory Coast, Madagascar and Mozambique to enhance intercultural exchange and highlight the importance of German language and cultural education in Africa. I also conceptualized and edited a magazine for the German Department, Wits-Herzschlag, which is funded by the German Embassy in South Africa. The magazine publishes literary work of the German students, news about German Studies projects and produces a platform for creativity within the German department.
Thus, the DAAD Language Assistant programme offers a wonderful opportunity to gain insight not only into teaching but into project planning and intercultural communication as well. Many thanks go to the School of Literature, Language and Media at Wits and the German Department with Anette Horn as Head of Department. I must, however, especially thank the DAAD South Africa Team and Ms Philina Wittke who served as my mentor. Without their help and encouragement I would not have come so far. Vielen Dank!
I am very grateful for the opportunity afforded me by the German Academic Exchange Service and would highly recommend this position to any young teacher in Germany who would like to engage with the wonderful people and diverse cultures of South Africa.
Professor Pamela Dube completed her Masters and her PhD in English Studies in Siegen, Germany. For both, she received a DAAD scholarship. Today, she is the Dean of Students at the University of the Western Cape, Cape Town.
- 1990 – 1992 MA, Anglistik, University of Siegen
- 1993 – 1996 PhD, Anglistik, University of Siegen
This is how she remembers her stay in Germany:
My studies in Germany through the DAAD support afforded me valuable international study experience. I definitely had a major fulfilling exposure and access to the high quality academic standards and state of the art facilities that Germany remains revered for. Being the largest economy in the heart of Europe, Germany provides a rich holistic international study experience. I benefitted immensely from the broad scope of intellectual and cultural activities Germany always has on offer as well as from the intercultural and academic networks within the country and beyond as I made utmost use of the opportunities to travel to other European cities. In addition, my acquired proficiency in the German language has not only enriched my academic network base, or my access to the wealth of German language heritage as expressed in the cultural, social and economic ethos of the country, but also won me valuable everlasting friendships.
The value of the international education exposure and experience I have had is reflected in the kind of the responsibilities and positions I have held in my career which all have aspects of advancement through international collaborations. I have been instrumental across all my roles in government, research councils and higher education institutions in fostering and promoting international cooperation and partnerships in research, capacity building and exchange of shared expertise. My Germany Alma Mater, the University of Siegen has also played a major role in this. As cliché as it may be, I believe, the high regard for quality of German academic standards as well as of the country’s work ethos has more often than not also stood me in good stead to access the kind of job opportunities I have had.
Merushka Peterson completed her Masters in International Business Economics in Halle-Wittenberg, Germany, the home of Martin Luther.
- 2009 - 2011 International Business Economics, Martin-Luther University Halle-Wittenberg
This is how she remembers her stay in Germany:
Guten Tag! My name is Merushka Peterson and I have been a student at the Martin-Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU) for the past two years in Halle an der Saale; a real student city, which is the largest city in the state of Saxony-Anhalt and its early history is connected with the harvesting of salt.
Initially, I started the Nutritional Sciences Bachelor’s degree which awakened my passion for Economics and in turn, resulted in my studying International Business Economics. Thus far, my experience has been both challenging but also very eventful. Coming from the “Rainbow Nation” where my fellow South Africans are much more extroverted, it took some time to build good friendships. On campus, you cannot help but to feel the buzz floating around, some rushing off to class, others chatting away, and some sitting on the nearest steps reading some schoolwork. A great atmosphere indeed! Just like all German Universities, the MLU is also a university which puts emphasis on quality and is always advancing in the latest research and technology which guarantees the best education.
Of course students need a break too and Halle offers a variety of possibilities to relax, explore the nightlife and to experience the rich German culture; whether it be visiting the biggest chocolate factory in the whole of Germany, enjoying drinks along the “Kleine Ulrichstrasse” which is the longest street filled with bars and restaurants, or strolling along the river Saale and setting up your own little barbeque right there in the middle of a huge green open space and picnicking.
Being so far away from home has enabled me to be independent, to grow as a person, to treat both the challenges and fun times with equal grace and it reminds me everyday why it is important to look at the world with open eyes. It is the best thing that has happened to me.
My research visit to Potsdam, Germany: a visit to the whole world.
When I was awarded the DAAD research scholarship to spend two months at the Geoforschungszentrum (GFZ) Potsdam I was very excited! Not only excited for what would be my first travel experience outside Southern Africa, but also excited for the opportunity to visit Germany (very top in my bucket list). I landed at Tegel Airport, in Berlin, on a Thursday afternoon (02 of October 2014) and was lucky enough to have Nonhlanhla (a friend of mine from South Africa studying her Masters at TU Berlin) waiting for me at the airport. Without her there I would have broken down before my two months experience even started. I was extremely exhausted from my two flights (Johannesburg à Frankfurt and Fra à Berlin), bloated with a headache, and needed to complete some forms at the Lufthansa Baggage Office after my luggage was left behind in Frankfurt due to my delayed first flight. Nonhlanhla was my very helpful guardian angel who took me from the airport, treated me to curry wurst lunch at Curry36 in Zoologischer Garten, Berlin, and further accompanied me to Potsdam, around 30 km southwest of Berlin, where I had arranged accommodation.
In Potsdam I stayed in a flat with a young couple: Gerald, a German guy married to Emma a Mexican lady. They were incredible hosts who rented me a bedroom and shared the rest of the flat with me. Staying with them was one of the best things that happened to me in Germany because they took very good care of me. I remember that on my first Saturday they took me to the Sanssouci Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site full of 18th century palaces and baroque-style gardens. On the following Sunday they took me along to a flea market in Berlin where they sold old stuff that Gerald inherited from his grandmother. We bonded very well during my first four days (Thursday to Sunday) of arrival until I started going to the GFZ from my first Monday, and they started complaining that I was always busy and not spending time with them. They even started suspecting that I had found a German girlfriend haha.
The GFZ Helmholtz-Zentrum in Potsdam was my day home during the entire two months stay. I loved being there because of all the lovely people who work there, as well as all the laboratories I could visit to view and learn about the state-of-the-art instruments and equipment they have. That place is the ideal Disneyland to any geoscientist and I feel very lucky to have worked there with highly skilled people from different parts of the world. While there I even got myself a co-supervisor for my PhD study. I had visited the GFZ to do a short-course on the secondary ion mass spectrometry (SIMS) and to do measurements using the Cameca 1280-HR SIMS instrument after the short-course. The SIMS short-course was my best experience in Germany. I was very happy to be in a class with students from different parts of the world: China, Japan, United States and Europe (Germany, Poland, Switzerland, Hungary, Spain, Italy and Bulgaria). This was a great learning opportunity for me at an international level (another bucket list). When the short-course was over I started working at the laboratory, preparing my samples for measurements of oxygen and hydrogen isotopes. My samples were part fossil-bearing sediments collected from caves in the Cradle of Humankind (CoH) UNESCO site, 40 km to the northwest of Johannesburg, where human evolution fossil bones have been discovered. As part of my MSc in geology, I had dated Fe and Mn oxi-hydroxide minerals found in these sediments using 40Ar/39Ar and U-Th-He dating methods. This was part of exploring radiometric dating methods that can be used to date the fossil-bearing cave deposits of the CoH, and thus constrain the ages of the fossils found encased within these deposits. Following the success of dating these sediments, we needed extra information on their formation and evolution, and measurements of oxygen and hydrogen isotopes using the 1280-HR instrument could help us obtain such information.
Unfortunately, the 1280-HR instrument experienced some challenges while I was busy with my measurements and fixing these challenges took over two weeks, due to waiting for the specialist engineer and required parts from Cameca in Paris. Inconvenient as it was, it was also a blessing in disguise. During this time I travelled to Hungary to attend a two day methods in geosciences conference in Sopron, hosted by USRA Houston. After the conference I proceeded to Vienna, Austria, where I spent two days. Upon return to Potsdam and finding out that the 1280-HR was still down I joined two colleagues on a four days trip to Krakow, Poland. Luckily I ended up being able to finish my measurements but at the cost of my planned trip to explore Germany by train. I guess I will visit Munchen, Cologne and Bremen during my next visit to Germany. At least Gerald took me to Nurnberg when we visited his family in Pegnitz for a weekend.
Overall, my research stay in Germany was unarguably the best experience of my life. I enjoyed the German culture, especially that of eating and drinking. The canteen at the GFZ and the Heisser Wolf restaurant, at the Potsdam Haupbahnhof, were heavenly! Contrary to popular stereotypes, Germans are very friendly people, except the cashiers at all supermarkets: Rewe, Kaufland and DM. They refused to help me in English because my German language was non-existent. All I knew was greeting them and saying goodbye. Constructing sentences was a challenge but it will be fixed once I start taking German language classes at the Goethe Institut in Johannesburg. The only problem I had while in Germany was that I was overwhelmed daily by the level of development and systems in place. Top of the list was the efficient transport system and double-decker trains. In fact I remember that the transport system was so efficient such that I got left behind by a train (after being two minutes late) even when there was a strike. Such you never see in South Africa! And so it was a great experience for me. I then realised and concluded that it was the people that were developed in Germany. That is why everything was efficient.
Four students, myself included, in the German Department at the University of the Witwatersrand had the privilege and pleasure of taking part in the International Summer Course hosted by Tübingen University in Germany this past August.
The students who received funding from DAAD for the Summer Course are Monray Louw and Luca Pontiggia in first-year German, Anwyll de Leeuw in second-year German and yours truly, Jaco Herbst. I finished my Bachelor's in German Studies last year and currently work for DAAD South Africa.
The Summer Course offers intensive German language and culture courses over the month of August at Tübingen University in Baden-Württemberg, Germany. Upon arrival we registered and were assigned our rooms. On the second day we wrote a test in order to access our German language skills. We were then divided into classes with those who more or less share our knowledge of German.
Throughout the month, we attended intensive German language classes in the morning and took part in exciting cultural events in the evening. These included theater groups, salsa dancing, film seminars, swabian cooking courses, parties and much more. We had the weekend free to spend time or travel over Europe with our new international friends.
Also included in the course were excursions to towns and interesting landmarks and museums around Tübingen. The best day of the Summer Course by far was the excursion to Constance on the Bodensee. It was rainy and wet but one makes friends so easily with others in the Summer Course that not even bad weather can spoil your collective fun.
I would recommend a Summer or Winter Course to any student in South Africa who has an interest in Germany and the German language. It offers one the opportunity to learn about other cultures, languages and ways of life. One makes new friends and experiences Germany and its people with them. The memories I have made this August will stay with me forever.
A special thanks must go to my director and former German teacher, Philina Wittke, who, shall we say, lightly coerced us into seeing her beautiful country for the first time. I must also thank Tübingen University for awarding us with these scholarships. This Summer Course has changed the way I see the world and there DAAD once again delivers on its mission: Change by Exchange 🙂
I arrived in Tübingen with a great willingness to speak as much German as I could, yet as soon as a native speaker spoke to me, I'd panic and just respond, "Entschuldigen, mein Deutsch ist nicht gut, sprechen Sie Englisch," - even if I knew exactly what they asked. I left Tübingen finding myself speaking German to even the airport check-in counter people - where it's probably not the best idea to speak a Language where you may not understand something.
It's not that I went from A1 level German to fluent in one month - not even close -, it's that I learnt to be okay with making mistakes and to show that I am still learning. My one amazingly beautiful month in Tübingen was filled with the happiest of people, from all different cultures and a multitude of different languages. For example, there was an Israeli guy, studying Medicine in Italy in English, speaking German to a guy working in France from Burkina Faso.
The summer course is the kind of course that gave me back tenfold anything I put in. A shy and unsure hello can turn into ten friends. Ten friends that I explored the city with, ate with, drank with, laughed with and, in the end, cried with. I could not help but want to immerse myself in the many, many activities (Yoga, rock climbing, Salsa, painting, Choir, Theatre…) where I got the opportunity to learn and hear context-based German. From the teachers, tutors and participants to the student-filled streets and picturesque sceneries, the Tübingen Summer course is something that will forever be with me.
Working in the Antarctic
Speaking of the Antarctic always engenders images of vast planes of snow, glaciers and bearded explorers. One is tempted to think of ice--caught ships, storms, eternal darkness and an indomitable human spirit. It is after all one of the last wildernesses on earth, being the highest, driest, windiest and coldest place on this planet. So why do people go there? You can go either as a tourist, which costs a pretty penny. Then you can go as a visiting dignitary to one of the more than 40 stations of various countries currently on the continent. Lastly, you can go as part of a scientific research expedition and this is how I was able to visit Antarctica again this year.
I have been incredibly privileged in being able to have gone to Antarctica not only once but four times. I completed my M.Sc. on a landform near the South African station of SANAE IV and was given the opportunity to visit the continent twice during that time. After completing my M.Sc. I chose to continue my studies and during my PhD studies I have again visited SANAE IV twice. I work with a group (Landscape Processes in Antarctic Ecosystems) that researches how the landscape changes in the Antarctic. In particular we look at the active layer and permafrost (the portion of the ground that is permanently frozen) and the interactions that exist between these. We look at the interactions that exist between the landscape and biological activity, such as lichen, bryophytes and mites. It is exciting work and our team this year consisted of six people: Ian (our academic supervisor and team leader), Liezel, Cam, Gaby, Jess (M.Sc. students) and I (Figure1).
The last journey took place over the previous summer. We left Cape Town on December on the Agulhas II (Figure2).
Ship journeys can be long and uneventful but fortunately the Agulhas is a research vessel, meaning there is always something interesting going on. Oceanographers deploy buoys, CDTs (measuring conductivity and temperature with depth), XPTs (an expendable bathythermograph –a smaller version of the CDT), Argo floats (Figure3),wave and under water gliders and do all kinds of strange and wonderful things.
The flight to SANAE takes you over great expanses of ice but soon enough mountains – or nunataks as they are known – become visible on the horizon. This is when your pulse starts truly racing and you cannot wipe that smile off your face! SANAE IV is built on the southern portion of the Vesleskarvet nunatak– a mountain that rises about 200m above the ice plane around it. You can see it on the horizon quite a while before you reach it and excitement grows as it become bigger and closer. Once at SANAE all those people on the flight that hadn’t been to SANAE before were given an introductory and orientation tour of the base and the outside areas. The base is situated near a cliff to allow for less snow build up during the winter months and orientation is given to everyone to ensure people know where the safe and dangerous areas are. We were also given Ski-Doo (ice scooter) training, since we would use these vehicles to reach many of our study sites. Because the Antarctic is inherently dangerous we also spent a number of days on hazardous terrain traversal training, rescue and safety training, climbing training and first aid training.
Working in the Antarctic is challenging. You only get to visit once a year and the field season is short. This year we had about six weeks on the continent but the season was marred by two bad storms. Due to bad weather we lost almost three weeks in the field as no outside work can be completed with high winds and snowfall. As a result you work extra hard when the weather is good and it can be incredibly exhausting. You also need to rely on your teammates, especially when crossing dangerous areas such as crevasses in order to reach study sites. The work is physically and emotionally exhausting but in the end you count yourself lucky and blessed for being there. Nothing compares to being out in the field in such a beautiful place! The landscapes of the Antarctic are stunning and it is an absolute privilege to be able to work in such a breathtaking place. It also doesn’t have to be only hard work. For Christmas we had a lovely dinner and got to build a snowman – a unique experience for those that had never seen snow before. The base has a table tennis and pool table, as well as a darts board so after work people challenge each other for games. As a result I got quite good at table tennis, mostly thanks to the time forced to spend inside due to bad weather. There are also many board games and books on base so you will find something to entertain you.
You also form close friendships and bonds with others at base. All the different groups, be they there for science, base maintenance or logistical support, also help each other and it is the sense of camaraderie that makes these trips the life changing experiences that they are. Although the Antarctic is incredibly challenging and can be very hard on you it is ultimately the people that make the experience. So after six long weeks of hard work we departed SANAE for the ice shelf.
Once all cargo had been loaded back on the Agulhas we headed back to Cape Town on the 7th of January. After a few days spent in stormy seas we picked up the researchers from Bouvetøya and pointed our nose straight at Cape Town, where we arrived on a glorious and sunny day.