European Year for Development

European Year for Development


Overcoming culture shock to discover new ideas

Daniel Kibirige is a water engineer from Limpopo, South Africa. In 2011, he travelled to Europe on an Erasmus Mundus scholarship to study a Master's degree in Water Resources. Back in Johannesburg, he wants to apply these lessons and contribute to a more sustainable and ecologically-friendly water resource management system in his native South Africa.

Upon graduating in 2010 with a Bachelor's degree in Water and Sanitation (Cum Laude) from the University of Limpopo, Daniel faced a dilemma: "Although I was looking for a job, I really wanted to do a Master's degree… but this depended on obtaining funding. […] There was a poster outside the international student office at the University advertising the EUROSA programme [which offers scholarships to South African students to study in Europe]. Thereafter, the EUROSA team came to the University on a roadshow to promote the programme." Daniel applied and secured a two-year Erasmus Mundus scholarship to study for a Master's Degree at the Lund University, in Sweden, from 2011 to 2013.

Every measure had been taken to ensure Daniel's arrival would run as smoothly as possible. The Swedish embassy in South Africa had briefed the students beforehand about life in Sweden and provided Daniel with some useful practical advice. But this was the first time Daniel had ever travelled to Europe, and acclimatising to this new environment would take some getting used to: "I was a bit shell-shocked when I got to Lund. Life in Sweden was so different to my life at home. The first couple of days were very strange as I had to acclimatise to the different people and the new environment. […] Landing in Sweden on my first day, I had to take the subway... I had never taken the subway before in my life!" Luckily though, most people spoke English and it was no problem being understood.

The International Master's Programme at the Faculty of Engineering was specifically designed for international students, and it took Daniel no time at all to meet people and integrate on campus. "I met a well-rounded group of individuals from every part of the world, who I am still in contact with today", he claims. All of the courses on offer were mixed with Swedish students: "It was a really good experience; I got to learn a lot about the Swedish people and their culture." What struck Daniel the most was how different relations between students and professors were in Sweden, compared to what Daniel was used to in South Africa. "The student-professor relationship was far more social. Professors made it very easy for us to get on with them, and created an environment where we could discuss anything with them – from practical advice to more personal issues. It made life a lot easier, and made it easier to get used to life in Sweden and acclimatising to European culture."

On the International Master's in Water Resources, Daniel took a series of compulsory modules, but could also choose from 4 areas to specialise in. Specialising in hydrological modelling Daniel was given the opportunity to design a sustainable hydrological model for the small Swedish eco-city, Augustenborg, near Malmö. Assigned by a Danish company (DHI) with offices in Sweden, he was asked to test the efficiency of a storm water-based model on smaller cities. "It was an extremely interesting experience; I learnt a lot and also gained an insight into the working culture in Sweden."

Returning to South Africa, Daniel completed a year-long internship in Geographical Information Systems (GIS), where he worked on among many projects; Gauteng 2055 and State of the Gauteng City Region Review at the Gauteng City-Region Observatory. He then secured a permanent job at the environmental consultancy firm WSP Environment & Energy in Johannesburg, in June 2014. This was no coincidence, as Daniel had worked with WSP during his time in Sweden: "it was really nice that I had already collaborated with them in Sweden, and was now working for them in South Africa!" He is currently conducting research/field investigations in the Geoscience focussing on hydrology, hydrogeology as well as contaminated land assessments. One of these research areas may be the focus of a PhD, which Daniels hopes to complete in the near future.

Daniel's two years in Lund were an undeniably enriching experience. "I learnt so much from my Master's in Lund […] about my field, as well as meteorological conditions in colder climates, which I had never studied in South Africa. At work, I now find myself applying similar principles and models on a day to day basis and I can provide a positive input on international projects we are working on. The exposure I gained at Lund also helped me in producing academic output at work, and communicating my research findings with confidence."

"I am very grateful to the Commission and EUROSA for giving me the opportunity to develop as an individual, academically and socially. I am much more open-minded than I was before I left: in Africa, norms are often too rigid, new ideas seem difficult to implement. In Europe, I was able to discover new ideas and see how these were being implemented. Though in my current position I can only suggest them to colleagues, I hope to put them into effect when I get into more senior roles, and ultimately make South Africa a better place. I hope more students can benefit from the opportunity I was given!"

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European Union

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At work, I now find myself applying similar principles and models on a day to day basis and I can provide a positive input on international projects we are working on.

- Daniel Kibirige

Fact Box

  • From 2004-2013, the Erasmus Mundus programme financed scholarships for over 900 South African students.
  • The EUROSA project is an Erasmus Mundus Action 2 Partnerships scholarship programme funded by the European Commission. It brings together 9 European higher education institutions with 8 from South Africa, including a number of disadvantaged institutions.
  • EUROSA is coordinated by the University of Antwerp and offers mobility grants to South African master students, doctoral and post-doctoral researchers and staff to spend a period at one of the European partner institutions.
  • In the opportunities EUROSA offers, the partnership pays particular attention to historically disadvantaged groups and deprived individuals.
  • From 2014 onwards, scholarships for mobility for students from all over the world are offered by the Erasmus+ programme.
  • Students can apply for scholarships to follow an integrated Masters Course (Erasmus Mundus Joint Master Degrees).
  • From 2015 onwards, a number of universities from outside Europe will form part of a selected international credit mobility partnership. They will able to offer students EU-funded grants to follow part of their course at a partner university in Europe.