The hidden gem of the African continent – Namibia can be summed up in one word: vast. The word “Namibia” alone means “enormous” in the local Nama tongue. With such wide open spaces and beautiful landscapes, it isn't often that you'll bump into other tourists. If you're a student truly looking for a unique study abroad experience (off the beaten path, in the boonies, yada yada) then you'd be hard pressed to find a cooler country than beautiful Namibia.
While Windhoek, the centrally located capital, may not be the largest metropolitan city on the continent, it still boasts the lights and buzz of urban life. It serves as a great starting point to your explorations of this special country. A former German colony later ruled by South Africa/the British, the Republic of Namibia (lovingly dubbed "Namib'z") recently obtained independence in 1990 (that's right, in YOUR lifetime!) and is a perfect destination for students interested in development, African politics, or deconstruction colonial histories.
Many different factors will play into your final decision for study abroad. If you have your heart set on Namibia, you've already fought half the battle. Now's the time to discern elements outside of the location of your program. Here's a cheat sheet to get you started:
Language: Despite its scarce population, Namibia is home to a wide diversity of languages. During apartheid (which ended in 1990), Afrikaans, German and English were recognized as official languages. Today, Namibia's new government made English the sole official language in the constitution of Namibia. The most common tribal languages spoken are Oshiwambo dialects, and are a hoot to learn if you have the opportunity. It is amazing how much the culture comes to life when you look at it through the lens of the local tongue.
Academic Life: Unless you are a rockstar and fluent in Damara/Nama or Herero, it's likely you are going to seek a program that is taught in English. Another factor to consider is the experiential offerings of your study abroad organization. While it is important to read, hear lectures, and take exams, it is likewise important to experience the city you now call home. Find a program that introduces you to local projects, museums, or guest lecturers. Take your studies outside of your four-walled classroom.
Housing: Do you prefer to live with a homestay family, with other American students, or in an international student dorm? Would you be okay with staying in a hotel for the duration of your program, or is tent-camping an attractive living situation? Think about which type of environment would complement your studies best, and seek a program that caters to your goals and needs. Don't settle for a four-star hotel if you want to live in community with Namibians.
While planning for your semester abroad can be a fabulous experience (you want to pack just-the-right outfit, right!?), there are some logistical measures that should be attended to as well. Most importantly is organizing your passport (which can take a few weeks!) and then applying for and receiving your student visa.
Student visas are typically issued for up to 6 months by the Ministry of Home Affairs and Immigration in Windhoek. Your study abroad organization may help to facilitate this process: be sure to be up front and on the same page with your advisor to ensure this step is not overlooked.
Social Life and Student Culture
Students seeking adventure will feel most fulfilled while studying in Namibia. While you can opt to go shopping (for souvenir handicrafts or clothing) or head to a nightclub (El Cubano and Funky Lab are faves), you can also opt for more quirky activities.
Grab some friends, rent a kombi, and organize a couple weekend trips. Top spots: Swakopmund on the coast (to kayak with sea lions), Sossusvlei desert (to climb the world's tallest sand dunes), the Africat Foundation (to pet cheetahs!) or Etosha game park (to snap pictures of giraffes at sundown). If you're up for a longer excursion, hop on the bus to Victoria Falls. It'll take you about 20 hours to get there each way, but when you're hanging upside down at the Devil's Swimming Pool over the falls or careening down the rapids of the Zambezi, you'll know all the trouble was worth it.
Now let's chat briefly about local bites and drinks. As a former colony of Germany, it’s no wonder that the drink of choice in Namibia are lagers (Windhoek and Tafel are the local favorites!). I personally couldn't get enough of the cider Savannah Dry and would be lying if I didn't enjoy a Gemsbok and Springbok cocktail every now and then. These drinks taste especially good when having a braii, or barbecue, or while catching the Namibian rugby team’s match at your favorite watering hole (I recommend the Cardboard Box in Windhoek West!).
For those with brave stomachs, head to Joe's Beerhouse to sample oryx, zebra, crocodile, kudu, and more. Don't forget to try biltong (jerky) or Mopane (worms!!!) while you're having the time of your life studying in Namibia.
Don't let the price tag of study abroad scare you off. Here are some opportunities to explore to lessen the financial burden of study abroad.
- Center for Global Education offers an amazing South Africa/Namibia combo program focused on international development and globalization. Check out their scholarships for program participants.
- Round River Conservation Studies sponsors a program called Namibia Desert Conservation. A perfect opportunity for a student looking to develop their expertise in the environment and wildlife Namibia.
- Rutgers and Duke both offer small scholarships to students heading to Namibia for study abroad.
- More Study Abroad Grants and Scholarships
Given that Namibia is the second least densely populated country in the world (we're coming for you, Mongolia!), there are few cities catering to the international student. In fact, there are only 3 universities in the whole country, and they are all located in Windhoek.
Polytechnic of Namibia: The Polytechnic consists of two campuses and a number of scattered former residential buildings all located in the Windhoek West suburb close to the city centre. As a classic polytechnic the institution offers both higher-level vocational training and academic degrees in technical subjects and the applied sciences.
University of Namibia: Also known as UNAM, this university was established by an act of National Assembly in 1992. UNAM's course offerings revolve around Agriculture and Natural Resources, Economics & Management Sciences Education, Humanities and Social Sciences, Law, Medical & Health Science, and Science.
International University of Management: Great news! IUM offers management and business courses not only in Windhoek, but also on its campuses in Swakopmund, Walvis Bay, and Ongwediva. This is a private, state-owned university.
Truthfully, it is more than likely that your study abroad program will organize courses independent of the universities. Inquire with your program provider to see if you will be taking courses alongside local Namibian university students or solely with your peers from your program. You might also dive deeper to see if your classes will be conducted with international students, other American students, Namibian professors, or foreign professors.