Experiences of South Africans in Germany

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Experiences of South Africans in Germany


Pamela Dube

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

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.


Ammiel Bushakevitz

Ammiel Bushakevitz completed his degree at the University of Music and Theater in Leipzig, one of the fewer colleges of Arts and Music that Germany has.

  • 2009 - 2011 University of Music and Theatre "Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy" Leipzig

This is how he remembers his Germany experience:

Thanks to a DAAD Scholarship for Artists which I received in 2009, my outlook on life has changed significantly. When growing up in George, South Africa, my dream was always to study music in Germany. As a classical pianist, Germany is probably the best country to be in – not only from a career perspective, but also for the cultural benefits the country has to offer. I was fortunate enough to be able to study in Leipzig, a city rich in musical heritage and home to Bach, Mendelssohn and Schumann. The scholarship from the DAAD opened many doors for me and the DAAD has been a wonderful mentoring institution – always willing to assist, even now when I am an alumnus of the institute. The DAAD has a sterling reputation in Europe and having been a recipient of a scholarship from the institute opens many career doors both in and out of Germany. Without any reserve and with full confidence, I recommend the DAAD to anybody considering overseas study.


Tebogo Vincent Makhubela

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.


Lorenza Williams (October – December 2014 in Göttingen, Germany)

As part of my DAAD-NRF In-country Scholarship for doctoral study in South Africa in 2014, I have applied for and received a scholarship for three months to work on my research project in Germany. Through my contact at the African Institute for ATLAS.ti at Stellenbosch University a supervisor for my stay was secured quickly. Dr Susanne Friese regularly teaches the advanced summer school course in data analysis using ATLAS.ti at the African Doctoral Academy at Stellenbosch University, where I attended one of her courses the previous year. Not long after I have received the news that my application for the exchange opportunity was successful, was I on my way to work with Dr Friese, a world renowned qualitative researcher and key contributor and developer of the ATLAS.ti qualitative data analysis software that I am using in my PhD study. And what was even more amazing was the fact that she was a fellow at the world renowned Max Planck Institute (MPI) which acted as host for my research stay. The MPI that I joined was the one for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity (MPI-MMG) in Göttingen – a university town geographically more or less in the middle of Germany.

Dr Friese and I, met regularly as she guided me in the coding process, a fundamental part of my qualitative data analysis. When I arrived in Germany I was going towards what Dr Friese referred to in her book as a coding swamp – where I had way too many codes and little or no system of integrating the codes into meaningful categories. Basically, I was in a mess. Dr Friese guided me in defining more suitable codes and building up a more systematic project in ATLAS.ti. Besides the systematic way of doing things I also benefitted from the Germans’ hard-working culture, which seemed to be contagious (or was it just psychological?) as my study progressed immensely and I completed a first cycle of coding of all my data and built up categories for further analysis. Besides the work, I also took some time for exploring Germany as well as travelled to neighbouring countries, Netherlands and France.

In addition to the fact that my studies benefitted greatly from the solitary time away from my normal routine and surroundings, I also grew a lot personally as I had time to think, had to live alone in a foreign country (I had friends though!) and had to learn to communicate in ways beyond words. With the little bit of German that I acquired through self-study, I could follow bits and pieces of conversations and the news, find my way with public transport and did grocery shopping. However, I would suggest to students that want to do an exchange programme, to invest time in learning the German language.

Another aspect that made my stay in Germany extra special was the people that I met there. Firstly Susanne and her family; Dr Norbert Winnige and all the people at Max Planck Institute (MPI MMG); as well as the people at the local church where I visited, formed a very strong support system. My bonus and personal highlight however, was to experience snowfall and building a snowman for the first time and to experience a truly special German Christmas. I particularly enjoyed the Christmas markets, glühwein, lebkuchen and all the trimmings.

In closing, I would like to thank the Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst (DAAD) for the opportunity of a lifetime. And in particular Jasmin Ramershoven, DAAD administrator in Germany and the DAAD Johannesburg staff for all their help. Dr Susanne Friese for sharing her knowledge and guiding me in my research project, and Dr Lauren Wildschut at the African Institute for ATLAS.ti for making the connection with Dr Friese. Prof Steven Vertovec and the staff of Max Planck Institute (MPI MMG) for hosting me and welcoming me to their international team of researchers. The staff of Psychology Department and particularly Prof Tony Naidoo my supervisor at Stellenbosch University for their continued support and investment in my academic development. And lastly, my family, boyfriend and friends that supported me via telephone, e-mail and social media while I was in Germany. I am truly grateful.


Christel Hansen

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 some-thing 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.