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01 March 2019 | Story Valentino Ndaba
Student from the Umoja Buddy programme
Students from all corners of the globe forge lasting bonds through the Umoja Buddy Programme.

Let’s say you find yourself attending a university in a different country where you need to adjust to a new language, culture, environment, friends, lecturers, curriculum, and lifestyle. Sounds like a challenging leap of faith, right? However, the Umoja Buddy Programme (UBP) makes this transition a whole lot easier for international students.

If you were an international student at the University of the Free State’s (UFS) Bloemfontein Campus, you would be assigned a buddy who is familiar with student life and community. The Office for International Affairs in collaboration with Student Affairs designed this programme for all incoming exchange students to feel welcome and at home.

The UBP is part of the university’s endeavours to advance internationalisation at home, which was entrenched in the 2018-2022 UFS Internationalisation Strategy. Underlying is the idea to provide UFS students with international experiences on their home campus.

Integration at the heart of internationalisation

At the Bloemfontein Campus launch of the UBP on 14 February 2019, UFS Rector and Vice-Chancellor, Prof Francis Petersen, welcomed this year’s cohort of first-time international students and highlighted the importance of the UBP. “In essence, it aims to connect international and local students through meaningful lifelong friendships and to foster their academic, social and cultural integration at the UFS,” he said.

Prof Petersen strongly believes in the programme’s ability to facilitate “cross-fertilisation of ideas and intercultural exposure and learning”, which further enhances the quality of graduates produced by the institution.

A student is a student through other students

Lesotho-born Precious Lesupi volunteered as one of the 48 ambassadors to prevent others from experiencing the difficulties she did when she arrived at UFS. “I have been in a situation where you get to a place and you know nothing about the people there, especially the culture, and the way everything is done because you come from a totally different place, so it’s really hard to adjust.”

Lebohang Lesenyeho, who hails from Botshabelo in the Free State, expressed similar sentiments with fellow ambassador,Kweku Gavor. He said he “looks forward to “building a meaningful relationship.” Kweku who has Ghanaian origins believes that, “you cannot put a price on learning about another person and ways you react to certain situations.”

Umoja is a verb

True to the word umoja, which means “unity and the spirit of togetherness”, the programme has proved to bring together students from diverse backgrounds in the pursuit of academic excellence. The goal can be best achieved when complemented by a holistic social and cultural experience.

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