Tshwanelo, a student in the Faculty of Theology and Religion, had the opportunity to interview Siyaphiwa Maphanga, who has just returned from Germany.
‘I was in Germany from April to August 2018 for the German Exchange Programme and what a life-changing, unforgettable experience it was,’ says a thrilled Siyaphiwa.
Born and raised in Durban, Siyaphiwa went to Northwood High School for Boys. He enrolled at UP in 2012 to study BEng (Chemical Engineering), but after having a major spiritual encounter with God, he decided to leave engineering after studying for two years and fulfil his calling by obtaining a Theology degree. Siyaphiwa would like to go into academia and teach here in Pretoria while serving in fellowship at a church.
How did you get involved in the programme and what was your motivation to go?
‘I was involved in the programme with Professor Willem Fourie who drafted the advert, which was sent out to all students. I’ve always wanted to study abroad so I waited for my schedule to be more flexible and decided to go.’
What were the most valuable lessons you learned while you were there?
‘Firstly, there’s a world out there beyond us. Secondly, cultural exchange programmes bring forth diversity. Finally, when you’re plucked out of your comfort zone, don’t be closed off but rather take full advantage of opportunities given to you.’
So how did you find the field of theological study in Germany?
‘With the elective modules I was able to take, I got to understand the rich theological history in Germany. These days, they’re a lot more liberal and they follow the northern theological trends’.
What were your greatest challenges on a personal level while away from home?
‘I cannot report a single thing that was bad from my stay, because people were that great to me. I think the only challenges were the cultural and linguistic differences that made it difficult to connect to people on a deeper level, but I felt well accommodated’.
Where would you like to see the local study of theology in the next five years?
‘I would like us to have more serious conversations which are relevant to what is happening in society. We cannot be an isolated body of thinkers out of sync with the rest of society’.
Would you ever go back to Germany, and what advice would you give to students who want to participate in the exchange programme?
‘I definitely plan on going back to Germany again. I would advise students who are interested in this Exchange Programme to learn German ahead of time. It makes communication so much easier. It is also advisable to consider this opportunity at postgraduate level, because you have more flexibility and the impact on your studies is less than at undergraduate level.’