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Studying in the Netherlands thanks to Nelson Mandela

In the summer of 2019, South African student Tarryn Abrahams was awarded a scholarship from the Mandela Scholarship Fund. She is now spending a semester in Leiden, and following four courses at Leiden Law School. ‘I’m learning to engage more in lectures.’

‘Studying in Leiden is quite intense,’ says Tarryn. Due to time constraints, there is limited time to get to grips with the content of the course and excel. Tarryn is following two courses per block, in the field of human rights and the EU. She has already taken her first exams. And...? ‘I studied hard, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed. ’

Different culture

The culture at the Faculty of Law is very different fromTarryn’s home university, the University of the Western Cape in Cape Town, so it’s a learning experience for her. ‘The students are well-informed and engaged, and they radiate self-confidence.’ It’s new for her that students are encouraged to express their own views so candidly, but she thinks it’s a good thing. ‘In the last few months, I’ve also learnt to be more confident in stating my opinions.’

The University of the Western Cape (UWC) was established in 1959 and was only open to people classified as ‘Coloured.’ This was in direct response to the Extension of University Education Act in 1959, which further segregated higher education in South Africa. UWC began as a university college without autonomy, under the auspices of the University of South Africa. In UWC’s first years, many of the teaching staff were white. Following the appointment of the first black Rector in 1975, a freer climate emerged. The students and staff helped make apartheid become untenable by 1994. Ever since, UWC has been an autonomous, multiracial institution. In recent decades, it has built up an international reputation for research and development of free/open source software solutions and open educational resources. UWC is the only African institution that is a member of the OpenCourseWare Consortium (OCWC). Human rights and societal challenges continue to be important research and teaching areas. Nelson Mandela is a source of inspiration: a quote from him can be found on the homepage of the University.

Mandela and Leiden

Applying for the Mandela Scholarship forced her to step outside her comfort zone. ‘It isn’t so common in South Africa to go and study abroad, and I didn’t have any plans to do so myself, so I didn’t usually check the mails from the University about bursaries and scholarships. But then I saw the name Mandela and Leiden University, the oldest university in the Netherlands, and I had to apply.’

Tarryn Abrahams

Best friends

Tarryn had already been to the Netherlands: in 2018, she spent seven months working as an au pair in The Hague. ‘It wasn’t always easy, but I learnt how to stand up for myself,’ she says. ‘Looking back, it was an important period in my life.’ She decided she wanted to return to the Netherlands, and her wish was granted when she was awarded the scholarship: at the start of August 2019 she again set foot on Dutch soil. Just in time for OWL or Orientation Week Leiden, for foreign students. She immediately struck up a friendship with a German-Ethiopian, a South African who lives in Australia and a Brit. ‘We’re stuck like glue. We had a bit of spare time after our exams, so we decided to spend a few days in Brussels and Antwerp.’ By chance, Tarryn is once again living in The Hague, this time in student accommodation.

Mandela’s legacy

Tarryn is a huge Mandela fan, ‘Like all South Africans.’ He gave people the hope of a better, fairer society. ‘Mandela said you should pursue your dreams, in spite of the climate,’ she says. ‘He wasn’t scared to stand up for what he believed in and encouraged others to do so too. And he thought that education was the most powerful weapon to change a country.’

Students who receive a Mandela Scholarship are expected to return to South Africa and contribute to society there. How does Tarryn plan to do this? ‘I want to stay in academia, to do my PhD and become a lecturer. During my studies, I volunteered for an NGO that visited underprivileged schools and informed the students of their constitutional rights. It was then that I discovered that I enjoy imparting knowledge and want to continue doing so.’

What Tarryn desperately wants to do is visit the Sweat Room. She wants to see Mandela’s signature on the wall from when he was awarded an honorary doctorate in 1999. But she has heard that the Sweat Room isn’t open very often. We give her a tip on how to arrange a visit. Because as a South African you have to have seen Mandela’s signature.

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Mandela Scholarship Fund

The Mandela Scholarship is for South African students who have been admitted to an exchange or Study Abroad programme at Leiden University. The scholarship is for a maximum of five months and consists of a living allowance of 1,000 euros per month and insurance sponsored by AON Student Insurance.

Nelson Mandela was awarded an honorary doctorate from Leiden University 1999, and the Mandela Scholarship Fund was founded in 2000 to mark this memorable event. Leiden University Fund (LUF) is the key sponsor of the Mandela Scholarship Fund.

To qualify for the Scholarship, students must be permanent residents of South Africa and after their time in Leiden must return to South Africa to make a contribution towards its further development. Dozens of students have already studied in Leiden with a Mandela Scholarship.

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