Bridging the culture gap
Report from a visit to three universities, partners under the Building Stronger Universities (BSU) initiative in Kenya and Tanzania.
By Lene Christina Mosegaard
“How do I keep in contact with my mother who is 61and does not know how to operate a computer? Two years’ study is a long time!”
“Is there racism in Denmark? What will they think about me having such dark skin?”
These were some of the questions addressed by four coming master students from Maseno University in Kisumu, Kenya.
Simon, Barack, Selina and Bernard have just obtained a scholarship under the new pilot scholarship programme financed by DANIDA and administered by Danida Fellowship Centre.
The four students were bringing up these questions at an informal meeting in the garden of Maseno University. One by one, they presented themselves and their aspirations for the future.
All of them wish to contribute to the development of their country. Simon wants to be a human rights activist, Barack a lecturer at the university, Selina a development consultant, and Bernard wants to work in the field of international development.
Programme for the visits
As the DFC programme coordinator for the new BSU scholarship programme, I travelled to East Africa to visit Maseno University in Kenya and Dar es Salaam and Sokoine University in Tanzania. My colleague, project coordinator Eva Thaulow, accompanied me to Maseno University after visiting the Danish Embassy in Nairobi.
The purpose of the visits was to obtain knowledge of the various universities’ learning environment and talk to former and future fellows about their experiences, needs and expectations coming to Denmark to study.
At Maseno University, former DFC fellow and BSU coordinator, Catherine Muhoma, met with the coming four BSU master students in order to share their experiences.
It was emphasized that IT technology is very much used in Denmark, and that it is important to get familiar with it from the beginning.
At Sokoine University in Morogoro, Professor Kajembe was very direct when explaining the coming PhD fellows the important differences between studying in Tanzania and in Scandinavia:
“The studies in Europe are student- driven. You have to take the responsibility to find the information yourself,” he said.
At Dar es Salaam University, BSU coordinator Oscar Sawuka and PhD fellows stated that an introduction to Denmark is very important in order to avoid home sickness or cultural problems. They also stressed the importance of being met at the airport in order to feel welcome in Denmark from the very beginning.
Cold and expensive Denmark
Issues that came up at all three universities were:
• The cold climate. This could be a upsetting experience and it is important to bring warm cloth
• Food was another issue – how to get use to the different food, and especially for the male students, how to do the cooking
• The high price level and how to administrate the allowance for the full month
• The transport system – and the many bikes.
One pointed out that it was important to interact with other fellows or students in order not to sit in the room and study the whole time, which could make you depressed.
A city in the city
Being at an East African university feels like being in a self-sufficient city within a city. You simply find everything there, thus students do not need to move outside campus.
Unlike in Denmark, where facilities such as medical services, food shops, and churches are found outside of campus, campuses in Kenya or Tanzania will cater for all. Student accommodation is generally close by.
This means that many new fellows wonder why they need to take public transport from their accommodation to the place of study and how it is possible to stay at the same hall of residence with someone studying at another university.
Different types of accommodation
Common to the three universities visited is that the rooms in the halls of residence accommodate two to four students.
Master and PhD students usually have their own room, as is the case in Sokoine in Morogoro. Despite the space constraints, I saw an astonishing order and cleanliness in the rooms and in the common areas in both the halls I visited in Dar es Salaam and Sokoine.
In Denmark, most halls of residence are equipped with single self-contained rooms and often they are fitted with a small kitchen or the residents have access to a larger communal kitchen. Also, quite a few students find private accommodation that they share with fellow students.
Student welfare services
All universities visited in Kenya and Tanzania have student welfare services including a counseling unit. They have their own private clinics with doctors, dentists and psychologists who offer free consultations if the student is covered by an insurance, which most students are. There is no advance booking; You simply just show up. In addition, HIV drugs are free in both countries.
In Denmark, all citizens have a General Practitioner and consultations are covered by a national insurance. Appointments have to be booked in advance. Outside working hours and during weekends, you have to go to hospital to see a doctor, in case of acute illness.
The different systems sometimes confuse the new fellows who expect to see a doctor the same day and without an appointment, and then might be told to wait several days in none acute matters.
It was very inspiring to meet both the university staff members and the coming fellows. It was also important to see the surroundings and the facilities at the universities in order for me to understand what backgrounds the fellows come from and what kind of challenges they may meet in Denmark.
I believe that it could be very fruitful in the future to arrange meetings between former and coming fellows at the universities in order to exchange ideas before going to Denmark.
Thank you to the BSU coordinators Catherine Muhoma, Oscar Sawuka and Anthony Sageda, and the staff at the three universities for arranging the visits.
For more background information on the Building Stronger Master Programme, read newsletter article from March 2013.
You find more information about the universities here:
Besides being the new BSU coordinator, Lene Christina Mosegaard is also the counsellor at DFC arranging introduction courses for new fellows and counseling fellows in private or study related matters.
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