March 14th 2024

Semester abroad in South Africa

Bachelor's students Ines Haisjackl and Lisa-Marie Kiefinger are spending their semester abroad at the National University of Lesotho and report on their experiences

Why did you choose this particular partner university?

Social Work in the Global South is very different to that in the West, as different needs prevail and therefore different interventions are required. For example, it is the task of Social Work to grow food within the communities together with the inhabitants in order to fight hunger.

Our motivation for choosing to study "Social Work" at the National University of Lesotho (NUL) for our semester abroad was therefore our curiosity. We both had a great interest in Social Work in the Global South, so Lesotho seemed to be the best opportunity to gain a theoretical and practical insight into our field of work. Furthermore, we have always been interested in getting to know one of the many African cultures in order to gain an understanding of other traditions. In fact, we didn't just want to hear and read about it, we wanted to experience it first-hand with all our senses.

How do you like the university city? How do you experience the culture of the host country?

The National University of Lesotho (NUL) is located in a small village called Roma, about 30 kilometers east of Maseru, the capital of Lesotho. Roma belongs to the rural areas of the country. Due to the fact that many students live in Roma, there is a supermarket and some small market stalls, which make this place very lively. Outside the university campus, however, electricity is limited and water is usually only available in the form of a tap in the garden.

Surrounding the campus is mainly untouched nature with beautiful plateau-like mountains. We therefore enjoyed spending our breaks outdoors and marveling at the idyllic landscape. Even after five months, we were still overwhelmed by this impressive nature almost every day. We therefore often used the weekends to explore the nearby mountains together with our "Basotho" friends.

Lesotho also disproves all the stereotypes that some people might have of an African country: The country, which is characterized by beautiful nature, lies 80% at 1,800m.  In the winter months it is therefore extremely cold and in some regions it even snows. In the summer months, on the other hand, it is very warm. Rain showers make the country blossom during this time and transform the brown, barren landscapes into green spaces.

The Basotho people we met were very open-minded. Even people you don't know are very interested and always ready for a quick chat. A quick shop can therefore sometimes take an hour.

The open approach of the Basotho made it possible for us to make friends, experience unforgettable adventures and learn a lot about the culture and traditions of Lesotho.

The Basotho culture is characterized by calmness and serenity. This serenity and flexibility means that times and deadlines are not taken quite so seriously from time to time.

Lesotho is one of the poorest countries in the world, which is why the crime rate is very high. However, we were able to make some very dear friends who always looked out for our well-being and accompanied us home at any time of the day or night.

Where do you see the biggest differences between your host university and the MCI?

Studying in the Global South is very different from our usual living environment. Internet access is rare. This means, for example, that notebooks were rarely used, notes were taken on paper during lectures, and submissions were usually handed in personally at the lecturer's office.

The lectures were held with a large number of students, but this did not prevent the lecturers from involving the students in the lecture and maintaining personal contact with them. We particularly enjoyed the exchange during the lectures. We were able to learn a lot from the Social Work exchange between lecturers and fellow students.

Our semester abroad demanded a lot of flexibility from us, as we were used to a lot of structure from our studies at MCI. Unannounced tests and presentations were the order of the day here. After a few desperate moments, however, we quickly got used to the circumstances and managed very well. The exams were written at the end of the semester.

The semester abroad was made particularly interesting by the "Child Welfare Practice" course, in which we were allowed to do practical work. Lisa was able to accompany a group of students to a community and educate people about child labor. Ines, on the other hand, visited a school with her group, raised awareness about healthy eating and hygiene and planted a garden with different vegetables with the children. It was a very impressive experience for us to get in touch with the people and be able to do Social Work.

What has been the biggest challenge so far during your semester abroad?

Of course, our semester abroad also brought some challenges with it. One of the biggest challenges for us was the annual strike at the NUL campus. Due to the poor living conditions, students in Lesotho are usually dependent on state funding in order to pursue their career plans. However, payments are never made on time and students struggle to afford their accommodation or food due to the lack of financial resources. For this reason, the students went on strike after about a month: palm trees were set on fire, stones were thrown and, in the course of police intervention, there were even gunshots towards the end.

This scared us. Especially because we had no idea exactly how the strike would go. Fortunately, we were informed about the strike in good time by friends, were able to stay with a friend and thus avoid the riots on site, but we still had to get used to the fact that it is not safe to be outside the campus at night. With vigilance, we were able to avoid the dangerous situation and nothing happened to us.

Is there anything else you would like to tell us?

One of our highlights was a visit to the Juvenile Center in Maseru, which we were able to visit thanks to the great commitment of our liaison officer at the NUL. A Juvenile Center is a rehabilitation facility where children between the ages of 13 and 18 are cared for if they have violated legal guidelines. The length of stay is a minimum of nine months and a maximum of three years. The visit gave us the opportunity to get to know the framework conditions and conceptual procedures of the facility. We were also able to observe and experience what the children's everyday lives are like, how they receive education in the institution and what their living conditions are like. It was a very formative experience for us and a good insight into Social Work in the Global South.

One of our favorite places was hidden in the middle of a hilly landscape. After just a 45-minute walk, we arrived at a breathtaking waterfall. There we were able to cool off from the hot summer days and enjoy the tranquility of nature to the fullest with our friends and admire the wonderful landscape. This hidden and unknown place was therefore our absolute highlight.