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The semester spent in Leiden by... Cara from South Africa

Law student Cara van der Westhuizen from South Africa (University of Pretoria) received good news this year: she could study in Leiden for a semester with the aid of the Mandela Scholarship Fund. This fund is supported by LUF student members. Cara started at Leiden Law School at the beginning of September. We spoke to her about her adventure at Leiden University.

Hi Cara. First of all, why did you choose this programme and what are your dreams and ambitions for the coming years?

‘I come from Pretoria, from a very close family of four, and have a younger brother. I’m studying law. The programme is called “Bcom Law” in South Africa. It’s a mix between the more corporate world and the legal system. The programme is both practical and theoretical and is fairly intense. I wanted to do it because it has a slightly more financial focus and it’s my ambition to take the corporate route. But what motivates me most is to study something that will enable me to help others. It might sound like a cliché, but I want to make an impact. With law, you learn the tools and skills for that.’

How did you hear about the Mandela Scholarship Fund and why did you apply?

‘In South Africa, I’m in the debating club and a friend there also spent a semester studying abroad with this fund. I always wanted to do an exchange and Leiden immediately piqued my interest. It’s a bit of a long story but I tried to apply for the scholarship three years in a row. After three years of trying I could finally sign up for the scholarship and... three times is a charm!

‘It’s such a privilege to receive the scholarship. That I get to experience an exchange in another country, at the oldest university in the Netherlands, is amazing. This experience has taught me that you have to keep on trying if you really want something. No matter how long it takes. I’m incredibly grateful.’

What will your semester in Leiden be like? What courses are you going to take?

‘I’m going to take four courses: International Tax, Children’s Rights, Trade and Finance in a Global Economy and Ancient Egyptian Law. It’s a good addition to my studies in South Africa. I find International Tax particularly interesting. It’s about big companies like Google and Facebook and how they are taxed at the international level. I’d never thought about that before. The Children’s Rights lecturer is also affiliated with the University of Pretoria, and she will supervise my thesis next year, which is really nice.

‘And my mother always told me to choose one course for the fun of it, so that is Ancient Egyptian Law. I really enjoy starting the week on Monday with the basic law of Ancient Egypt. How did they deal with marriages and divorces, for instance? It’s fascinating. And it has quite a few similarities with a course I’m taking at home, on the laws of the indigenous people of South Africa.’

What are your first impressions of Leiden and the university?

‘I arrived here at the end of August when it was still nice and sunny. Leiden is incredibly beautiful, so clean and relaxed. For me, it’s definitely not normal to see people enjoying a glass of champagne on a boat at four in the afternoon! There’s a really good work-life balance here. And the city is young and vibrant, for such a historical place. I’m pleased there’s a debating society here: the Leiden Debating Union. We’ve got a competition in Nijmegen on 25 November. And I also love sport. The Springboks won the Rugby World Cup, and it was so great to watch the matches in a small Leiden pub with fellow South Africans.

‘I did Google the university beforehand but it’s much nicer in real life. It exceeded all my expectations! It’s special to sit in the Kamerlingh Onnes building in the knowledge that Einstein taught here. The teaching style is a bit different from what I’m used to. At home, we do loads of exams per course but here you only have one exam at the end of your course. There you often have lectures with 500 people but here there’s sometimes only ten of us.’

And finally, what have you learned about yourself during this experience abroad? What has surprised you?

‘I obviously come from a place that is considered to be a third-world country and I’m now spending six months in a first-world country. That really is completely different and it’s taking some getting used to. It’s also surprising how you deal with things when you’re completely on your own. I had thought about that a bit beforehand but it’s really different in real life. You’re no longer in your safe bubble and there’s no one to hold your hand. Coming out of your shell like that and making your own decisions... I feel like I’m growing up fast. And I’m going to take that with me for the rest of my life.’

Want to know more?

We are grateful to all LUF student members who sponsor the Mandela Scholarship Fund for their support. It’s thanks to them that students like Cara can study in Leiden. In addition to receiving the scholarship, Cara is also sponsored by Aon with Aon insurance. Learn more about the Mandela Scholarship Fund here.

Header photo: Cara and the Debate Club in South Africa

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