Hello matties! and welcome to another chapter in raven’s odyssey.
In more efforts to distract myself and hopefully you too from thinking about all of the horrible things going on in the world right now, here is a recount of one of the most memorable, life changing and beautiful experiences I have ever had
It was the summer of 2018, and I was at a crossroad. Do I study a masters degree in Public health, or sexual and reproductive health. I was nearing the end of my first year in medical school, and I had finished 2 months of hospital placement in women and child’s health and loved it, but I also really loved all of the lectures I had received in Public Health.
I also knew I would love to someday start a healthcare charity or social enterprise in Nigeria (and maybe even South Africa), so it was quite important to me to study Abroad in an African Country, and Nigerian universities unfortunately do not offer many of these opportunities. So I was going to take what I could get, come rain, come shine.
Luckily for me (and one of the reasons I chose the university), KCL has a global summer exchange programme allowing students to spend their summer studying a short course at partner universities all over the world, without tuition fees. You would however have to pay for your Flights, Accommodation, personal expenses and other social activities you choose to go on. The available universities range from the University of Sydney, to Hong Kong, to UNC, to NUS etc. Whatever and wherever you fancy, there is probably a course for you. So, when I saw that there was an opportunity to study Public Health at Stellenbosch University in South Africa, I could not resist.
So I applied, and I honestly did not think I would get it. But lo and behold 2/3 months later, not only was I accepted, but I was selected for a scholarship. The Broadening Horizons award (very fitting as I love nothing more than broadening my horizons). I accepted, filled in some insurance stuff, got a relatively cheap ticket (thanks Skyscanner), and a month later I was off to Cape Town.
One look at my Instagram page and you can tell just how much i enjoyed learning and living in Stellenbosch, and in South Africa. Initially, I was nervous and even a bit scared about going to South Africa, especially with all the news of Xenophobic attacks against other Africans. As a Nigerian, this was very concerning for me and my family, and they flat out told me to refuse the offer and not go. However, life is short, and it’s not everyday you get an offer to Study Public Health in South Africa.
Considering that I was Travelling from London and Studying in The Western Cape of South Africa (which is one of the more expensive areas in the country), everything was quite expensive. The flights were around 500 pounds, and I was lucky. Accommodation for a month was also very expensive, even though it was at the university, as it included breakfast, transport, accommodation and meals during the weekend retreat to Langebaan (more on that another time). Regardless of the cost though, I would do it again a 1000 times.
The course I selected was split into 3 parts. The first week was about South Africa and The political History up until 2018, the second was about HIV/AIDS in South Africa, and the last 2 weeks were all about Public Health. Going in, I had a lot of knowledge about HIV and Public Health (in High income settings), from Medical School. I didn’t know however, just how much I would be learning about South Africa and The political history of the country, and how much of a difference contexts and environments make in managing and treating medical issues.
I learned a lot about how colonialism affected South Africa, the period of Apartheid, and how South Africa as a nation, and under the guidance of Nelson Mandela, was able to overcome a lot of the negative history, and move forward, without erasing the history or the atrocities that were committed during all those periods of turmoil. I will discuss more of this in my blog post about visiting Robben Island in South Africa, but I do think that many countries, especially those of the colonial masters, can learn a lot from South Africa.
Not that all is rosy now, in fact quite the contrary as there are still huge racial and ethnic disparities across many sectors in South Africa. Black South Africans are more likely to be unemployed, uneducated, have poorer health and be less wealthy than White South Africans. Due to many of the historic policies that have been in place, and many of the ones that still exist, such as Universities like Stellenbosch, teaching majority of their courses in Afrikaans. A language that many black South Africans do not speak. This then leaves them having to have their teaching translated to English, and we all know how easily things get lost in translation. This was more frustrating to me, because the entirety of the summer school, was taught in English, and everyone I encountered spoke English. So there wasn’t a lack of ability, but just an unwillingness to make education accessible to the majority of the population.
Many issues like that still persist in South Africa, and it was nice to get that context before moving on to the health courses, where you see things like this start to manifest again. For instance, majority of the HIV/AIDs affected individuals in the country are black men, black women, migrants and other ethnic minorities. I realised through the course, that I had also underestimated how stigma and prejudice impacted HIV/AIDS treatment in South Africa, and most African countries (due to there being far less stigma in the UK). I also got the most glaring lessons on how inequalities in income and education can affect health. As there are also huge differences in other health outcomes across the different provinces in South Africa, and among different ethnicities partially due to some provinces being wealthier than others in terms of resources, opportunities and income.
This made me realise, that if I really wanted to improve people’s health, I needed to look at more than just the biomedical and clinical indications, and look at the causes of causes as otherwise the problem would continue to persist. I developed a new appreciation for development studies and social science, and that led me to LSE.
By the end of it, in spite of the cost, I couldn’t think of anything better I could have done in that time, and I was so grateful, for seeing and being able to take advantage of the opportunity. I also left with a high distinction, which definitely didn’t hurt my Master’s applications (I even had an interview for an Mphil course at The University of Cambridge :D, and I hadn’t even planned on applying, nor was I ready to leave London). So it’s safe to say, it also helps your CV.
Other than the inclusion of history classes in the course (by a brilliant visiting professor I must add), another aspect of the course I loved was the fact that we were all housed together on campus (and most people shared a room), which made it soo much easier to make friends, and made the experience a lot better, as everything we needed was close to the student accommodation.
Some of the South African Students studying at the university, were also taking some of the courses and living with us. This really helped as they gave us essential advice and often helped us with getting around, buying things we may need and eating at the best places in town. It also helped with the course as well, none of the students were shy about voicing their own opinions and sharing their experiences and views. This not only help with us getting a better understanding of the political history and context, but also of the healthcare system.
They also had a wonderful social programme, so far the best I have ever experienced in a Summer school (Only been to 2 summer schools though, and it was pricey, but definitely worth it). We were able to go to so many places such as Cape Town, Simon’s Bay, Table Mountain, Cape Point, Langebaan etc. Each one so Nice and memorable that I have to do individual blog posts on them (keep an eye out in the coming weeks), there were also lots of things to do around in and around Stellenbosch, so much so that I want to return just to finish checking off my to-do list, and I was there for a Month!. There was an option to stay for a week extra and do a tour of the Garden Route, in South Africa, I opted out of this due to the accumulating costs, but if you can I would recommend as those who did it had the most incredible time
Housekeeping things: I travelled via Emirates as it was the cheapest I could find, but that also meant taking 2 planes, and doing a layover in Dubai (which I had never been to, so I didn’t mind). That however, meant the total flight time was over 20 hours and I was exhausted by the end of the Trip. Lots of airline go to Cape Town, so finding a flight there will not be hard. On the Stellenbosch side, I was picked up from the Airport and dropped off by students from the university, which really helped as they both gave good advice on the way there and back, had good music and it was only me being picked up so it was a very comfortable drive.
Once this is all over, I would definitely encourage anyone with the opportunity to study abroad, to take it. You will meet incredible people and have an exhilarating time. I would particularly recommend the Global Summer Exchange Programme to anyone at KCL, or looking to study there. It is tuition free, regardless of your department (This saves you a lot as the tuition for my course at Stellenbosch was an additional £2000 depending on exchange rate), there are scholarships available at Kings (I got a Broadening Horizon Award which helped cover most of my flight costs), you get free travel insurance, and you get a lot of support from the Global Mobility Team at KCL. So go for it once this is all over, but be sure you can afford the other costs too.
I Hope you enjoyed the blog post, and see you on the next one
Peace and Love,