Discover Studying Abroad

Thinking about studying in South Africa? We have great advice!

Ever considered South Africa as a study abroad destination? Dr. Elizabeth Ferguson did! She travelled all the way from USA to South Africa for higher studies and here is what she has to say about her experience.
BY Julia Regul Singh |   09-12-2018

BrainGain Magazine

Think South Africa! The first thing that pops into your head might be beautiful beaches, amazing wildlife, and crazy adventures. But do you know that it’s also a viable higher education destination? In fact, in recent years, South African universities have entered the top rank of higher education institutions that offer international students a quality experience.  

According to the International Education Association of South Africa (IEASA), the numbers of international students in the country have been rising steadily since 1994 – the year South Africa became a democracy. While in the mid-1990s approximately 12,000 international students were enrolled in South African Universities, almost 73,000 international students were studying in South Africa by 2015 (Study of South Africa an annual report by the IEASA).  With scale, South Africa has also maintained the quality of education it provides. In 2018 – 19, the Universities of Cape Town, Witwatersrand, KwaZulu-Natal, Pretoria, and Stellebosch all ranked among the top 500 universities in the world according to CWUR World University Rankings.

In 2013, an American writer and researcher from Fairfax, Virigina, Dr. Elizabeth Ferguson, chose to study in South Africa. BrainGain Magazine asked her about her own journey. Here is what she had to say!

Please share with our readers why you chose to study abroad, specifically, how you decided on South Africa as your study abroad destination?

My interest in travel and studying abroad goes back as far as I can remember. But no one in my family [had] ever traveled abroad.  I think that’s why I didn’t study abroad until my master’s program. I didn’t have anyone to tell me how it worked when I was younger.

I first went abroad [in 2013] during my Master’s program at St. Cloud State University in St. Cloud, Minnesota. The program was a spring break program to visit places of social activism and change in South Africa. The program took us to Port Elizabeth and Cape Town, South Africa. We toured Port Elizabeth and spent time at the university there.

It was this trip that sparked my interest in returning to South Africa for a longer duration.

On the short trip to South Africa, I was able to make contacts at the university in Port Elizabeth and arrange an internship for my final semester during my master’s program. So, I returned to Port Elizabeth in January 2014 to work in the Writing center and English Skills Center for the semester. The semester allowed me to more fully experience the culture of South Africa, both the daily and the university life.

You started your own exchange program for students at George Mason University to study abroad in SA. What was the goal of the program? What was the most important thing about the US-SA exchange that you wanted your students to experience themselves?

When I got back to George Mason University, as a Ph.D. student, I was afforded the opportunity to start my own study abroad program. I developed the program - Social Movements in South Africa from the ground up. It was a great experience to create, teach, and lead that program for three years.

South Africa has a rich and complicated past and present. The program that I developed and lead at George Mason University was focused around social movements in South Africa. This included the anti-apartheid social movements and the current decolonizing social movements that have been active at all levels of South African society since 2013, especially on universities campuses. The study abroad experience was structured as a field study that complimented the work that students did prior to their time in South Africa.

South Africa offers students a unique experience because the country is truly multi-cultural and has been wrestling, quite publicly, with the vestiges of its racially segregated past. What adds the most value to the overall student experience are the South African people we encounter through the program. Generally speaking, South Africans are excited to talk about their country and share their experience with you, if you just ask. These conversations are always provocative, and my students continued to talk about them throughout the program.  

Why is studying abroad an important experience?

Through study abroad students learn flexibility. They are immersed in another culture and have to adjust to a different way of life. Flexibility and [the ability to handle] pressure - these programs can be intense because they're not a vacation - are qualities that employers are looking for in new graduates. Study abroad enriches any academic program and allows for students to grow as individuals through this distinctive experience.

Any words of wisdom for students interested in South Africa?

My biggest recommendation to students who want to travel to South Africa is: GO!

Any time you travel to a new country you have to be concerned for your safety and security - South Africa is no exception. I think that students have to be even more careful than regular tourists because students are more open-minded. Students have spent a lot of money and set aside a lot of time to participate in these programs and are traveling to this new place to experience new things. Therefore, you have to educate yourself on precautions to take as you travel to mitigate your exposure.

Before you go, do some research on the culture, history, and current political climate. Follow interesting people on Twitter to get a glimpse of how dynamic South African culture is on a daily basis. Don’t just spend your time in Cape Town - get out and see the Garden Route, Johannesburg, Durban, and so many other places that you can visit within the country.


Julia Regul Singh has a master’s degree in urban planning and urban design from the Technical University Hamburg-Harburg (Germany) and a bachelor’s degree in geography from the University of Bayreuth (Germany). Julia attended Columbia University as part of her masters on a scholarship from the German government. After graduating, she worked as an Urban Planner and Urban Designer in Germany and New York City before turning her hand to writing.

In 2010, the Urban Crayon Press published her first book - Boris the Bench. In 2015, her novel Leap of Faith was published by Rupa Publications. Julia currently splits her time between New York City, New Delhi and Bielefeld.



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