Stellenbosch University
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Matie Buddy programme helps international students settle in at SU
Author: Ameera Crew
Published: 11/06/2024

Studying abroad is an unforgettable experience. However, adjusting to a foreign country with unfamiliar faces and diverse cultures also presents some challenges. That is where the Matie Buddy programme, offered by Stellenbosch University (SU) International's Centre for Global Engagement, comes in. The cross-cultural buddy programme helps international students settle into life at SU, while affording local students valuable interaction with their peers from abroad.

“The Matie Buddy programme is for students who are interested in cultural exchange and making connections with students from across the world," explains Kauthar Jardine, a third-year International Studies student in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, who has been a Matie Buddy since January 2023. “Through these connections, one can build lasting friendships and help new students find a sense of comfort and community in Stellenbosch," she adds.

The Matie Buddy programme is one of the ways in which SU practises internationalisation at home. The aim is to help local students develop intercultural awareness and skills, value diversity, and enhance their global understanding. These outcomes are clearly being achieved, judging from Kauthar's experience to date: “Not only do I meet amazing and diverse people from all over the world, but being part of the programme has also been impactful in my personal development," she says. “Many of the international students are French-speaking, and since I take French as a foreign language, this has also given me the opportunity to practise and improve my French language skills."

Nestled between breathtaking mountains in South Africa's Western Cape province, Stellenbosch captivates many visitors with its scenic natural beauty. This is one of the reasons why Alaskan Rachel Erben, a Political Science student at the College of Saint Benedict in Minnesota, United States, chose to enrol as a semester student at SU. “I chose a university in Southern Africa because I wanted a different Study Abroad experience," Rachel says. “When I saw images of SU, I immediately fell in love with its natural beauty, and it's a bonus that I get to be close to a vibrant city like Cape Town."

Rachel was paired up with Kauthar after signing up for the Matie Buddy programme in response to an email invitation from SU International. Since her arrival in February 2024, Rachel has found the programme to be extremely useful in helping her settle in at SU and integrate with the student community. “I'm so glad I signed up for the programme because it's a great resource for international students coming to SU for the first time," she says. “One of my favourite parts about it is that your Matie Buddy contacts you before you even arrive in South Africa. Having Kauthar to answer any questions I had, made me feel like I was already part of the SU community."

Not all international students sign up to be paired with a local student during their time at SU. Rachel is quick to acknowledge that her experience would have been much different had she not met Kauthar. “Having a Matie Buddy immediately makes you feel welcome and at ease, since you have someone you can turn to whenever you need information or help. Had I not signed up and met Kauthar, I would have been unaware of so many things, and I wouldn't have made so many special connections with students from South Africa and the rest of the world," Rachel says. The Buddy experience has also helped Rachel manage her expectations about life at SU. “Although I did not have any negative expectations, having a Matie Buddy certainly reassured me and helped me to have realistic expectations about the semester ahead."

SU is expecting its next cohort of international students to arrive in mid-July. Until then, SU International will use the #myvirtualmatiebuddy campaign to share the resources and services on offer to make settling in at SU easier. Stay tuned!