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What's studying in Botswana really like?

August 12, 2015

Dying to know more about dorm life, travel advice or class schedules at the University of Botswana?

ISEP Program Officer Lindsay Moats spoke with alumni Claire and Amanda to find out what it’s really like to study abroad in Botswana with ISEP. To make the most of your time in Botswana, check out the highlights of Lindsay’s conversation below:

What was your favorite food on campus?

Phapata!! It's a magical bread that you will discover and it's amazing! It’s an over-sized, over-fluffed English muffin that you will want to eat all the time! Breakfast isn’t a big deal here, but you can usually find things like fat cakes, phapata, or yogurt from the campus “shoppers.“

There are two “refectories,” or dining places, on campus. Most of us preferred Curry Pot. Both offer main meals for lunch and dinner that consist of your choice of starch, meat, and vegetable. Across the street from campus there’s always food vendors that sell different things. Others learned how to become master electric kettle chefs! You can buy electric water kettles at the store and make pasta, oatmeal, soup, tea, and coffee. You can also rent a mini fridge for your dorm. There’s plenty of restaurants around and there is a mall within walking distance with some great restaurants. Coffee lovers will love “Mugg & Bean!“

What is the housing like? 

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A group of exchange students at the University of Botswana were taken on a trip to see some of Botswana’s natural heritage, including this huge Baobab tree!

They are your basic big college dorm. It’s kind of just a place to sleep and exist when you are not in class. Nothing fancy, but it works! Claire lived in “Vegas” which is where most international students live. The dorms here are partitioned – you have a wall between you and your roommate’s side which was appreciated. There is also Ethernet access and many students buy routers so they can have Wi-Fi. You share a bathroom with your hall which consists of 10 people.

Amanda lived in a dorm called “475” which had the rest of the international students. These rooms are similar, but there was no partition and no Ethernet. There is supposed to be Wi-Fi, but it didn’t always work well. Make a friend in “Vegas” with a router and go spend all your time in their room!

What is the orientation session like?

The first week was a whirlwind. Take notes, because it’s a lot to take in! I remember we registered for classes, took a city tour, and met with different campus officials to learn about resources available. We also got a tour of campus. I highly recommend you take a tour on your own with the campus map so you get to know the campus before class starts.

Do you get to choose your own roommates?

You do not get to choose your own roommates. Most of us had a local roommate, although a couple of us had mix-ups and lived with other international students. Your local roommate can be a great part of your experience. They can prove extremely helpful and a lot of us enjoyed late night chats with our roommates about things we wanted to know about Botswana and the culture.

What is the typical dress for college students?

Anything you wear at home is fine! Most of the local students dress up a little for class it seems, but we wore running shorts, yoga pants, etc. You will get looked at no matter what you wear, so be yourself!

What is the meal plan/stipend like?

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"This photo was taken outside the village of Tofo. I was heading back to my hostel from the beach, saw these boats fresh out of the water from catching fish, and snapped a shot.” - ISEP student Christy

As an ISEP student, you will get a debit card with a stipend on it. Your stipend is enough to cover meals at the price at the refectory and some meals out. Many students who cooked for themselves put their groceries on it and then threw in a little of their own money if needed. If you are cautious and don’t overspend, it’s plenty!

How involved are the ISEP Coordinators while abroad?

As involved as you want them to be! We loved Lindsay, and please make sure you know how amazing a resource she can be. We added her on Facebook which can be prove great for an emergency in and out of the office.

How is food and water safety? 

We can’t lie, there were moments were we got sick from the dining halls. Food guidelines aren’t as strict as they are in the States, and your bodies may not be use to the food in Botswana. It takes some adjusting. 98% of the time, the food is fine. Water is completely fine. We drank from the tap all the time. If you travel though, make sure you research water safety at your destination.

What is course registration like?

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“A trip to see Botswana’s natural heritage was organized by the International Office for the exchange students. On this trip we were lucky enough to see the famous wildlife of Africa including elephants playing in the mud, up close and personal.” - ISEP student Renee

We had an interesting experience with this one. U Botswana switched from a paper to an electronic system this year and it had its kinks for sure! It definitely caused some headaches. Have patience, and know it will be frustrating at times. The important thing to remember that is that will all work out! All of us got into classes. Be patient and know that the courses you send to ISEP may not be offered once you get to U Botswana. Classes aren’t competitive to get into, and there is usually wiggle room to let you in. There is also a two week add/drop period, so you can switch classes if you’d like.

What are assignments and tests like there?

Tests are more important than essays here. You will probably have two or three per class – including the final. They’re usually short answer or essay form, although that is completely dependent on the professor. Many of them will want you to write exactly what was in your notes, which might challenge the way you learn. It’s more about memorization than the “big picture”. It shows you a new way to learn! Students typically have 3 – 4 assignments per semester. You definitely don’t have a heavy workload. From what we understood though, the STEM students had a much heavier workload.

Are classes taught by TA’s or professors?

Mainly professors. Some classes have sections called “tutorials” which are a section of class time dedicated to learning outside lectures. Tutorials are usually taught by TAs. Typically in tutorials you work on projects or discuss the class material/readings.

Do women feel like they are treated differently in Botswana?

Yes. There’s definitely a mentality that men are better and women are submissive. This isn’t to say that all men and women think and act like this. We definitely met people who don’t, but it is something to expect while you’re here. A guy might skip you in line because he doesn’t think you will say anything. It’s guaranteed you will be “cat-called” or something along those lines as well. It’s just something you have to ignore and continue to hold your head up high!

Is homosexuality accepted in Botswana?

A very contested issue… The dominate culture is that it isn’t okay. This isn’t to say you won’t hear about it and that there aren’t people who fully support it. What you do behind closed doors is your business, but it isn’t recommended to be completely out in public.  LGBT students interested in studying abroad in Botswana or Ghana should contact Program Officer Lindsay Moats, she will be happy to answer any of your questions or concerns.

What are student-professor relationships like?

Student-professor relationships are mainly impersonal. They differ in Botswana than in the States. There is usually a barrier between students and professors stemming from a “respect your elders” mindset. That being said, we had an amazing Setswana teacher who was wonderful! We had a friendly relationship with her. She took us to a wedding and to a cattle post. She calls herself our Botswana mother!

How much money should be budgeted per month?

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“Post exchange travels took me to the mighty Serengeti in Tanzania. This beautiful lioness was found relaxing alongside the road to the Serengeti National Park, posing beautifully for our photos!” - ISEP student Renee

Very person dependent. If you’re in Gaborone, not buying weekly groceries, and not eating out, you can get by on $10 a week (not including your ISEP meal stipend). If you like to eat out, maybe more like $50 per week. Travel is hard to predict and that will be your biggest expense. We could do a weekend in Johannesburg for about $250, week long trips to Namibia or Cape Town for about $400…it really depends on how fancy you want to travel and what you want to do. Most of us had a pretty loose idea of a budget when we got there and it turned out fine.

What is the best bus company to take when traveling to Johannesburg, South Africa?

The one I recommend is Intercape. During orientation, they will give you a list of transport companies that will include these two. Intercape is a bit nicer, but the biggest decision factor is the time table. Intercape leaves Gaborone in the early morning.

What is public transportation like in Gaborone?

Mainly taxis and kombis (mini bus taxis). Taxis are cheap here (only about US$3 – US$4). There is this guy, Samson, who is passed down as a contact for international students every semester. He is a super nice guy who will be there whenever you need him – almost always within five minutes! Kombis are an interesting experience. They are these vans that take 12 – 15 people at a time and have designated routes. They only cost about 30 cents and can get you just about anywhere. You will learn the routes during orientation. Many places are walkable too!

Do you recommend opening a bank account?

None of us found it necessary. The food stipend card is with a local bank and it can work for any emergencies you might have. You can draw money from an ATM as needed. You can also use credit cards in many places. Be sure you have a Visa card as that is the card that is most widely used.

What activities did you do most on the weekends? What recreational activities are there?

TRAVEL! When in Gaborone, we spent a lot of time at the malls. We indulged in “Mugg & Bean” quite a bit. There is also a movie theater there as well. Sometimes we had movie days in my room. We climbed Kgale Hill twice which is an adventure for sure. You can also join sports teams! There’s theater groups, religious organizations, environmental groups…many clubs on campus! You will have to look to find them though. Talk to local students, read posters, and do some searching because they won’t be right in your face.

Is it safe to stay out late at bars and clubs? What is the drinking culture like in Botswana?

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“When I chose a host institution for my semester abroad, the University of Botswana was an easy choice. I wanted to get out of my element and into the heart of one the most beautiful continents on earth.” - ISEP student Tracy

Neither of us are into bars and clubs, so we didn’t experience it, but many international students went out and were fine. You’ll make local friends that are good guides, but please use caution with who you trust and where you go. Have a local phone, have an international buddy, and always know where you are. Drinking culture is pretty big here. Many people drink and it is uncommon if you do not. For those of us who didn’t drink, there were definitely moments where we felt people were fascinated with the idea that there are people who don’t drink!

How are the volunteer opportunities?

The OIEP will help you organize a volunteer opportunity to a certain extent – giving you a list of opportunities. (I also have a list, so contact me for more into – Lindsay) You’ll really have to make sure you follow up though in terms of getting in contact with them. Neither of us found opportunities that we have hoped for, unfortunately, but admittedly we didn’t find ourselves willing to put much effort into searching. Most took kombis to their international sites. Students will need to be very independent when it comes to finding, organizing, and participating in volunteer opportunities.


If studying at the University of Botswana sounds like your ideal place to study abroad, check out our website or contact ISEP Program Officer Lindsay directly at lmoats@isep.org. If you prefer social media, tweet her @ISEPLindsay or follow her personal blog, Africa Abroad, for tips and updates on experiential travel in Africa.

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