International student exchange programmes give a global career perspective

by Thys de Beer, Vega’s Academic Projects and Collaborations Manager

An international student exchange programme is all about excitement. Yes, there’s a lot to study and learning, but there’s also new cultures and creative industries that perhaps you are not typically exposed to in South Africa. It’s the sense of personal growth, independence and opportunity that defines the programme in the minds of most participating students.

The types of comments we get from enthused returning students are along the lines of ‘It was insane!’ or ‘I’d never seen snow before!’ There’s also the knowledge that what you get out of the programme is what you put into it.

That’s why at Vega, an educational brand of The Independent Institute of Education (The IIE), we’re delighted to have established two strong international partnerships and exchange programmes with Fontys University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands and with Hochschule für Gestaltung (HfG)/University of Art and Design in Germany. These exchange programmes are designed to expose students to foreign cultures and ways of thinking. In addition, student work created during the curriculum is given exposure at an international exhibition level and unique work is created for personal portfolios.

Three Vega students participated in the programme earlier this year, spending the first semester of 2016 at Fontys Academy for Creative Industries. Our ecstatic Veganites – Thomas Berti and Viloshan Appasamy, both Strategic Brand Communication honours students, and Devon Solomon, a Brand Building and Management degree student – completed subjects at Fontys ranging from Concepting and Business Model Innovation to Service Marketing, Futures Research and Trend-watching with distinction.

Our trio agreed that their accumulated learnings came from both inside and outside the classroom. In terms of the latter, according to Berti their horizons were broadened substantially as a result of the unforgettable experience at Fortys, interacting with over 20 nationalities, making friends and connections from all around the world.

Obviously what most students go for is what happens inside the classroom. Appasamy and Solomon have both agreed that the assignments and modules they took as being an invaluable introduction to subjects and industries which they had not previously been exposed to in South Africa. They were also taught in a new format and way of learning, which was simultaneously challenging and exciting.

What is close to every Veganite’s heart is developing entrepreneurial skills and intellectual exploration. Combining this with international travel gives students a global perspective that builds independence, reflection and the curiosity to explore. All three Vega students agree that studying abroad has some really tough moments – but these also end up being huge growing moments. For instance, Appasamy relates that what struck him most forcefully in the Netherlands was the realisation that he already had the capability to start his own business. It was the time spent away from home and all its constant interruptions which offered the space to evaluate his career prospects as to where he could add the most value with the skills set he currently possessed.

Berti’s viewpoint simultaneously shifted as he realised he was capable of working with anyone from anywhere to produce great things.

Vega’s international exchange programme continues next year and our now wiser travellers have the following advice for the next cadre of exchange students: be big picture thinkers and connect. The people you will meet will open your mind and give you a global mind-set, but make sure you engage with people and actively make friends. Remember, everyone there is in the same position and will appreciate you reaching out to them.

I would encourage any Vega student who is interested to go ahead and apply, but to do so in the spirit that this could be the adventure of a lifetime; to do so without expectations, a readiness to learn, with an open mind and embracing every day on exchange as if it were your last.

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