Located on the far southern edge of the African continent, South Africa is known for its stunning wildlife and ecology, complex and dynamic culture, and vibrant history. It’s home to captivating landscapes, a diverse mix of cities and townships, as well as a collection of increasingly reputable universities.
Whether you’re interested in learning about the complexities of post-Apartheid South Africa, contributing to wildlife conservation in the world’s largest national parks, or in taking advantage of the country’s adventurous and outdoorsy lifestyle -- South Africa offers a little bit of everything for prospective study abroad students.
Keep in mind that when it’s summer in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s winter down south, and vice versa. South African summers span December to February, with winters spanning from June to August. As a summer study abroad student in South Africa, you’ll have the opportunity to double up on seasons -- whether you’re chasing eternal sunshine, or enjoying winter all year long.
Perhaps the most popular study abroad destination in South Africa, Cape Town has near endless opportunities for international students. The city is home to several universities including the University of Cape Town and the University of the Western Cape. An afternoon or weekend walk down Long Street will take you to numerous bohemian bookstores and cafes where students and professors engage in a more casual exchange of ideas than in the lecture hall.
This small university-town nestled between the mountains is a short drive from Cape Town and the setting of Stellenbosch University, one of Sub-Saharan Africa’s oldest and highest regarded universities. This is a great location for students looking to study at a world-class institution in a small-town setting but with easy access to the big city. It’s also in the heart of South Africa’s wine country.
Known as the “friendly city”, Port Elizabeth is one of the country’s largest. Nelson Mandela University and the University of Port Elizabeth are both found in this late-Victorian period city. It’s a great destination for the active student. Its miles of golden beaches and nearby nature reserves mean there's no shortage of outdoor activities (like sandboarding!) to take advantage of after class.
The cultural capital and largest city of the Rainbow Nation, “Joburg” is the best place to experience the legacy of South Africa’s recent past of colonization and apartheid.
While studying in one of the city’s many universities you will have a front-row seat to the reconciliation and revitalization in progress as expressed through the arts and community programs. If ancient history interests you too, the nearby caves of Sterkfontein are the home to some of the oldest known hominid fossils and definitely worth a visit!
How to Choose a Study Abroad Program in South Africa
South Africa has one of the best regarded higher education programs on the continent. Review the classes in the course catalogs and make sure you get them approved by your home university. It’s a good idea to get more classes approved than you will actually take, so you'll have flexibility in building your schedule.
Many summer programs in South Africa have a particular focus, such as social justice, public health, and conservation. To help narrow it down, decide early what you want to focus on.
Most programs will set you up in student dorms as part of the program fee. This has the advantage of putting you a rugby ball’s throw from your classes while introducing you to other students and fully immersing you in student life. In student housing, you’ll meet South Africans as well as other international students from across the globe. This is a great chance to get to know people from many different backgrounds and walks of life.
Once you’re accepted by a registered South African school, you will receive an official letter of acceptance. This is your ticket for getting a student visa. With that, you will need to complete and submit a temporary residence permit application to a South African embassy or consulate in your home country, which will grant your student visa. It’s a pretty smooth process, but factor in up to two months for the wheels of bureaucracy to process your application.
Social Life & Student Culture
You’ll want to switch to South African time when you arrive. That doesn’t just mean changing the time on your watch. You should change your expectations of how fast things get done. Don’t lose your temper if the administration takes longer than you’re used to, to process things -- life moves at a different pace.
While South Africa is a polyglot nation with eleven official languages, you should expect your classes to be taught in English unless otherwise stated. Learning a few words and phrases in one of the local languages like Tswana, Zulu, Xhosa, or Afrikaans will surely impress many of your classmates.
You might want to pick up a vuvuzela because cheering on a local sports team is a major pastime here. Whether it’s soccer, cricket, or rugby, you can bet that your South African friends will be talking about it and going wild watching it. Join in too. Just don’t mention New Zealand!
Health & Safety
Even in the cooler southern winter, the sun's rays can be extremely intense. Cover up and use sunscreen when outside or you’ll likely find yourself with a wicked sunburn. If you’ll be spending time in the bush, particularly in the northeastern part of the country, you’ll want to consider anti-malaria medication and do your best protect yourself from attacks by mosquitos and other flying bloodsuckers. Otherwise, there are no required vaccinations for South Africa.
Most universities have a health center which should be able to handle any basic health issues that come up. South Africa has some excellent private hospitals, however public hospitals are best avoided if possible.
Like many cities around the world, South Africa's urban areas are no stranger to crime. Heed the advice of your South African classmates about where and when to go, especially at night. Don’t walk around with your valuables on display and practice common sense and safety, even when in popular tourist spots.
Typical Program Cost
A four to eight-week summer study abroad program in South Africa will probably cost between $4,500 and $6,000. This often includes tuition, housing, meals, and excursions. Outside of that, you’ll want to budget some extra rand for festivals, nightlife, and souvenirs.
South Africa is a relatively inexpensive place to live while studying abroad. However, program costs and that long flight do add up. Look for scholarships, loans, and grants through your home university or placement program. These will help offset tuition and possibly even the cost of your flights.
In addition to scholarships from your home university you should also look for third-party scholarship programs. Check out some of the popular scholarships that are available below. Just be sure to keep track of the application deadlines and requirements.
- The Boren Awards offer scholarships for U.S. undergrads focusing on STEM programs Their particular focus is for students with a special interest in national security. They offer a generous $8,000 scholarship for summer programs.
- If you have a decent GPA, apply to AIFS for one of their 50 $500 grants for summer study abroad.
- The non-profit USAC awards over $2 million in scholarships every year with the aim of helping many young scholars study internationally.