In Search of Further Education: From South Africa to Germany
By Ken Fullerton
Recently I made a big, and I believe brave, life decision to relocate from Johannesburg, South Africa to Potsdam, Germany in order to pursue further education. I am studying a Master of Public Management (MPM) degree at the University of Potsdam.
Former South African President Nelson Mandela once said that “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” and his statement is one that I fully agree with. It has been my ambition for more than two years now to study towards another formal qualification (I already have a Bachelor of Arts degree in History and a Master of Arts degree in Development Studies) but it was a difficult process for me to identify the right course at the right university.
Prior to relocating to Germany, I was working in the field of socio-economic and sustainable development for an international non-profit organisation called Positive Planet. Positive Planet’s vision is to “create a better world for future generations” and I was fortunate enough to be involved in many interesting programmes related to renewable energy, social enterprises, and small-scale farming. I was, and remain, passionate about the development of Africa and wish to see it done so in a sustainable, transparent, and multi-level fashion. Having been in Germany for almost two months, I am certainly very happy with my decision to come here, but at the same time I am missing many aspects of South African culture and life.
A significant challenge for me has been living in a country for the first time in my life where English is not the main language used. While many Germans speak very good English, at times it has been difficult to communicate effectively and simple tasks, like asking where a particular item is located in a shop, can be made more difficult and time consuming. In order to rectify this, I am taking German lessons, but this will take time to master. I am missing South Africa’s amazing sunny weather, too.
Leaving friends and family behind and moving to a new city and country where you don’t know anyone can also be difficult for many people. I have found myself in a position where I have had to start from scratch on a social level, but I’ve been amazed at how international university and German life actually is. Already, I have been fortunate enough to meet and become friends with people from all over the world and I consider this to be an amazing, and very important, aspect of student and university life.
The cost of living has also taken some adjusting to. While my student accommodation costs are less than the monthly rent I was paying in Germany, I have suffered due to the Rand’s worsening exchange rate. Each trip to the bank or ATM to withdraw money for living expenses is depressing knowing that the Rand Euro exchange rate is likely to have worsened since my previous withdrawal. However, compared to London and other European cities, Potsdam is relatively affordable, food and drink can be cheap, the shops often have specials, and I’m told there are many free give-aways and exchanges of second hand products (although I am yet to benefit from these). The poor value of the Rand has also inspired me to actively search for part-time sustainable development work opportunities so that I can have some additional money on which to live and to further explore Germany and other amazing European countries.
I am a passionate supporter of many of the major sports – cricket, football, golf, and rugby – played in South Africa and internationally. However, at times it has been difficult to watch the teams I follow due to the fact that they are not as popular in Germany as they are in South Africa and other countries. On occasions I have had to resort to streaming the game on a small laptop screen or missing it altogether and just checking the full time score, but doing the latter provides me with an opportunity to spend time studying or completing assessments, socialising with newly made university and German friends, or exploring and learning about some of Germany’s amazing cultural and historical sites.
Despite these challenges I would recommend to anyone, without hesitation, that is considering completing further studies and has the ability to do so overseas (or even in a different African country) that they should seize the opportunity and do so. Once I complete my studies and graduate it is my intention to once again work in the sustainable development field. Ideally, I would like to be involved with a large scale and international development organisation or body such as the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). I remain passionate about the African continent, and definitely believe that I will live there again in the future, and wish to primarily focus my work there.