Eye-opening experience as an African studying at a German University

by Lisa Tichagwa

Jacobs University Photo: Jacobs University

As an African studying at a German university I must admit that I still find the experience to date eye-opening. I commenced my studies a little over a year ago and, even after all this time, I am still astonished by the different approaches to education between Germany and my home country of Zimbabwe.

An educated individual is held in high regard in Zimbabwe and most people believe that acquiring an education is essential if one wants to lead a successful life. Although education is highly valued, I had never, prior to coming to Germany, connected it to industry.

Of course, I knew that the education system trained people would eventually end up in industries, but I always imagined the two as non-related entities. I saw each level of education as just that – a level that had to be completed before moving onto the next one and, after completing a reasonable number of levels, the next step would be securing employment. Primary and secondary school education is heavily textbook based and may have largely contributed to my failure to realize that material learned in class is to be applied to real world scenarios.

When I came to Germany I was surprised when professors, after giving their lectures, would encourage students to get involved in research and look for internships. Students are continually encouraged to and assisted in locating opportunities that utilize all their theoretical knowledge to solve real world problems. While this is also the case in Zimbabwean universities, I do not believe that it is prioritized nearly as much as it is in Germany.

I got to know about ESSA in May of 2017 when the university notified students of a summer internship opportunity working on a research project for ESSA. My application was successful, and I began my internship in July as part of the team that mapped philanthropic/foundation scholarship programmes in sub-Saharan Africa. I enjoyed working on the project as I found out about different programmes available for African students to pursue higher education. While I was in Zimbabwe, I only knew of a handful of these programmes and I realized that many students may miss out on opportunities simply because they do not know that these programmes exist.

The two-month internship led on to working as a social media intern for ESSA since October 2017. Since then I have had insight into the challenges facing higher education in sub-Saharan Africa such as quality, accessibility, inclusiveness and equality, as well as the numerous efforts by various parties to solve these issues.

Recently, I contributed to a design thinking workshop with SAP for ESSA’s knowledge hub. My initial focus had been how the hub could be useful mainly for students and teachers but as the workshop progressed I learned that there were many more stakeholders such as administrators, governments and education foundations who all were committed to improving education and were potential users of the knowledge hub.

As I continue my education and internship with ESSA I have come to appreciate all that I have learned and benefited, since I realize it probably would have taken me longer to gain knowledge and awareness of some of the issues in education.


Lisa is currently studying Chemistry at Jacobs University, Bremen