Masethabela Maphatsoe is a PhD student in Molecular and Cell Biology from Witswatersrand University in South Africa. She stayed at Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona for 3 months in 2017 to engage in research for her thesis.  Masethabela joined the research team in Yeast Molecular Biology Laboratory and the Genomics and Bioinformatics Facility at the Institute of Biotechnology and Biomedicine. She says:

Taking part in Erasmus+ ICM has helped me a lot, both in my personal and professional development. I am now confident in my work and research. I’ve gained networking skills and have built friendships. I learnt about different cultures and languages (though I still can’t differentiate Catalan from Spanish 🙂). I learnt to be independent. I am no more afraid of challenges and I have improved my self-esteem. I also improved my presentation skills.

I actually have a lot of stand-out memories, the first one being that my first airplane experience was that to Barcelona and that my first day of school in UAB was on my birthday 🙂.  The second one was the warm welcome from the UAB international welcome point and from the school and the facility I was placed in. The research team was so helpful, they assisted me with almost everything from experiments to non-academic activities (administrative/tours etc.). I also attended faculty of sciences seminars and observed where I need to improve in terms of presentations skills and scientific knowledge. I also presented my exit seminar before my departure and some of the comments I got there were fruitful. I also learnt how to swim and got to visit Girona and saw where the Game of Thrones was made, thanks to my supervisors. I also climbed the Montserrat Mountain (up to St. Jerone) alone and experienced spending the night at the beach in celebration of St. Joan’s night, which was spiritual fulfilling.

Some of the challenges experienced while in UAB and Spain in general was the language barrier. Some of the presentations and courses I attended were taught in Spanish, but fortunately I had a friend/labmate who explained where I got lost. Another thing I wasn’t aware of was that there were some free language courses for exchange students only realized them towards the end of the program and would have loved to attend. 

In terms of the unexpected, my experience at school’s residence wasn’t pleasing for the first two months, I was placed in a local block and with all housemates/roommates being Spanish/Catalan so most of the time I felt a bit left out. On the last month luckily I moved to block of international students, here I learnt a lot about different cultures, lifestyles, and food and study ethics and so on. Despite the backdrops, I enjoyed being at UAB and would love to come back again and/or for my postdoctoral studies one day. I would recommend Alliance4Universities/ Erasmus+ International Credit Mobility (ICM) to all university staff and students who have never been abroad for their best first time experience in a foreign country.”