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The best combination of career development and cultural immersion
Submitted by Mark Steelman - Duke University | August 22, 2017
When I got to Cape Town, I had never seen a picture of the city and did not know that Table mountain even existed. I had never been to Africa before, and it was my first time in the southern hemisphere where their winter was our summer. I decided to go to South Africa right before the summer started, and despite the lure of an otherworldly culture to explore, the real reason I came here was because of the conversation about education I had with the iXperience team when they came to talk at my school in April. We talked about how there seems to be a huge difference between what students are learning in typical lecture-with-textbook courses and the skills that are useful for succeeding in their field, especially when it comes to the integration of technology.
I started college as a mechanical engineer because I had always loved challenging design tasks and working with my hands, especially after a summer program I did where we had an eco-friendly refrigerator design project. I was excited to do more of that, like designing and building a drone or making my own solar panel, but after three semesters of mechanical engineering I only had one class that came close to this and spent the rest of my time memorizing textbook material. When I asked my friends who just graduated with mechanical engineering degrees how much they were using what they learned at school in their jobs, they hadn’t used much of it and what they did use was not anything they learned through a textbook.
Getting a good engineering job by flashing my engineering degree and a good GPA, without learning useful skills I would need to succeed at such a job, did not make any sense to me. I decided I needed to pivot, and while looking for another major I got very interested in virtual reality technology after buying a new high quality VR headset, the HTC Vive. At first I was using it to play zombie shooting and sword fighting video games, but there weren’t that many games out when I got it. I ended up discovering a bunch of non-gaming applications that blew my mind, especially various design tools like Tilt Brush (3D painting), Google Earth VR, and The VR Museum of Fine Art.
Once it dawned on me that there were so many useful applications for VR—performing chemistry lab experiments without the risk and cost of chemistry supplies, or entering a 3D model of a house you want to buy that you don’t have the time to go visit—I realized VR could be a great subject to switch my focus to. Sadly, there is no program for VR at my school, and it turns out there are hardly any schools that have a program for learning to develop VR applications.
Then out of nowhere, iXperience came to talk at my school in April about careers in AI and VR, and happened to be running a new VR program at their summer abroad school in Cape Town. After the talk, I had incredible conversation with Tyler Evans, the iX admissions director, and told him my story about how I got interested in VR and my frustration with the education system. When he told me about how the iX philosophy was based around making education more enjoyable and interactive, and that their courses were all geared towards building in-demand skills, it felt like a dream come true. But I still didn’t understand the extent to which iX had succeeded in creating a better learning environment until I got to South Africa.
I arrived on a Friday night, and in my first two days I felt like I was Harry Potter arriving at Hogwarts for the first time. The other students at the program were so friendly, outgoing, and incredibly smart, coming from all around the world. It was immediately clear to me that iX was building a truly phenomenal community. I lived right by the beach which faced the most beautiful sunset I’d ever seen, with towering mountains right behind me where clouds were flowing over the top like spilled milk. I went surfing, ate at a food market that seemingly had food from every culture, and went to a beer festival filled with many thriving local breweries. It had still only been two days.
On my first day of classes I arrived at Workshop17, the central hub of iX, and was blown away by the workspace that seemed like it could blend into the campus at Google. My classroom was a glass box above a central café where students were studying together, working together, and chatting to CEOs of the startup companies who had offices across the café. Below the café and our classrooms, the sound and smell of unique clothing stores and restaurants created a pleasant ambiance and made working in a glass box above it all feel important and enjoyable. I had never been in a work environment that made me so happy and motivated to work with full effort.
To top it all off, iX managed to find a VR teacher who may well be the most well versed VR developer in all of Africa. Gerard is an architect who created his own VR tool for exploring 3D models that architects create in their design process, and started his own VR studio after realizing how incredibly useful VR could be in the field of architecture and many other fields. In the middle of a very busy winter for his startup, he took the time to teach our course and tell us his story about how he got into VR, why it is one of the most important new technologies to be learning, and how fun it is to develop VR content. His vision for using VR to create a plethora of experiences that could potentially change the way people spend their lives was inspiring. In the second half of our program our class became interns for his startup and he showed us the specific pathways his company was trying to realize his vision, and the work we were given was valuable to the company and pushed us to learn and adapt our skillsets in many ways.
Many of my friends have gone abroad and came back raving about how amazing the foreign culture they experienced was, but hardly any of them came back talking about the progress they made towards their careers and the high level of productivity they reached that I have found to be a natural part of iXperience. The reason I’ve made so many close friends here is because the iX staff are some of the best human beings I’ve met and they have an impressive judge of character. Somehow less than 10 full time staff have managed to produce a collaborative learning environment where you get to work with your friends, become friends with your co-workers, and explore one of the most diverse and beautiful cities in the world all at the same time. At its core, the iX philosophy is really about how to live life and how to constantly improve your life by expanding your comfort zone and being motivated about everything you do.
iXperience -- one of the best decisions I've ever made
Submitted by Shane Taleisnik - UCLA | August 11, 2017
I didn’t want to be comfortable; I didn’t want to do what was easy. I wanted to get out of my comfort zone. This ultimately led me to one of the best decisions I have ever made: getting on a 26 hour plane ride to Cape Town, South Africa for 8 weeks to attend iXperience.
When my friends asked me what I was doing over the summer, it was always hard to explain. I would usually just tell them I was going to be attending an 8-week program in South Africa to learn about Product Management and gain real-world experience…
Little did I know that I was about to embark on a journey that would take me to my limits in the classroom, take me in a plane 15,000 feet up in the air, and take me into a cage surrounded by Great White sharks (pictures attached).
I learned more in those short 4 weeks under our Professor Johann Von Tonder (https://www.linkedin.com/in/jvtonder) and Teaching Assistant Trevor Hinkle (https://www.linkedin.com/in/trevorhinkle) than I could have ever imagined learning in a year of classes at University. I was invigorated by some of the brightest and most passionate classmates, who inspired me to unlock my true potential and achieve goals.
My journey throughout the course was intense, but extraordinarily interesting and worthwhile. Our class was assigned the ostensibly daunting task of thinking and developing a new product; the class would conclude with a final presentation outlining the process we experienced, as well as the components that determine the viability of the product. Johann’s teaching style epitomized action-based learning, which prepared us with various lessons and instructions that matched what stage of the process we were currently in. My teammates (Audrey Ou and Sami Mustapha) and I encountered many different experiences and emotions throughout the process of working on our final project that we truly believed could be used to revolutionize how people travel.
We were emotionally invested in the creation of an app named Layover, which would essentially help people around the world mitigate wasted, valuable time while traveling. We spent hours planning a goal-oriented roadmap, business modeling, validating core user assumptions through with qualitative and quantitative data, conducting competitor analysis and market sizing, and identifying value propositions — eventually creating an MVP (‘Minimum Viable Product’).
My team and I encountered a few competitors that offered similar features as the ones Layover provided, but we continued to put our heads down and develop our product. As each day passed, the more reluctant we became; we knew apps such as Google Trips could provide users with everything we had and more. Before we knew it, the realization that our efforts were centered around the final presentation instead of the feasibility of the product prompted us towards a significantly difficult decision. Less than 48 hours before the morning of our final presentation, we decided to swallow our pride, and pivot to a completely different product.
This process was stressful and challenging, but it threw me out of my comfort zone. I learned that it is crucial to make the moral decision, even if that means taking the more difficult path. My journey with the Product Management course taught me so much more than the catalog of skills I acquired throughout; it taught me that being uncomfortable can ultimately lead to the most impactful growth.
iXperience introduced me to a network with some of the most passionate and driven students from around the world; not only are some of them my co-founders, but also my friends for life.
iXperience allowed me explore one of the most vibrant, fascinating, and hospitable cities in the world.
iXperience changed my life.
The best decision of my life!
Submitted by christopher carvalho - Pennsylvania State University | August 01, 2017
I attended the iXperience 2017 session 1 program in Cape Town. When I arrived on May 28, I was greeted with a warm welcome from the team members at the airport and a shuttle ride from the airport to the iX student village where I met some incredible people that became my close friends in the program. I signed up for the Product Management course and had Johann Van Tonder and Trevor Hinkle as my teacher and TA. The classes are super engaging and will push you to work at the best of your abilities. Johann our teacher had 20 plus years working in product management and had a wealth of knowledge to share with the students. Trevor was the best TA because he worked flawlessly with Johann to cultivate an effective learning environment for all of us. The program also offers excursions for students every weekend to make your experience in South Africa even more incredible. We have gone shark cage diving, surfing, zip lining, hiking, cultural exploring, and more. The limit is only as far as you want to set it. The best part is meeting all the amazing people who are just as excited to be in Cape Town as you and being able to make some incredible memories that you will never forget.
iXperience is more than just an amazing summer abroad program that allows students to travel to a foreign country, study a topic, and work in an internship. It is an opportunity of a lifetime to meet some of the brightest young minds around the world that will remain in your career network for the rest of your life, become immersed into a completely unique culture that does not exist anywhere else in the world, learn from the best teachers who are all experts in their respective fields, and collaborate with some of the most innovative companies in the entire country. iXperience has so much more to offer than it describes on their website but they cannot include all the little details that make this program so innovative and successful for anyone looking to jump start their career. You have to come to iXperience and see it for yourself. This review does not do justice for how incredible this program has impacted my personal and professional life. If you want to gain skills that will benefit your future career goals, work with elite companies from around the world, meet some of the brightest young minds from all across the world, and make some incredible memories that you will never forget, come to Cape Town and find out for yourself.
Submitted by Joe Salter - Princeton University | July 19, 2016
iXperience offered the most epic summer I could have asked for! To learn a real-world, extremely hire-able skill that I greatly enjoyed in only four weeks was just the beginning. It was topped off with a meaningful internship where I did real work every day and presented a rewarding final prototype to my entire company (and they loved it!). Days were full of learning, working, exploring a beautiful city, immersing myself in a foreign culture, and more. I jumped off a bridge, jumped out of an airplane, played with elephants, swam with sharks, ate incredible food -- the list goes on and on. Despite some very minor issues that I naturally expected to arise from a new start-up, iXperience is a rapidly growing program that I would highly recommend to anyone.
An ideal program
Submitted by Cameron Cross - University of Virginia | March 08, 2016
I attended iXperience’s Web Development course in the summer of 2014, and completed the subsequent internship as a software engineer with Platform45. My time in Cape Town with iX turned out to be the most beneficial and impactful experience of my life. Specifically, I want to highlight three major benefits of the program: Academic, professional, and social.
The courses at iX ‐ covering a wide range of business and technical skills ‐ are incredibly intense. As a Finance major, I was amazed to see iX Finance students learn more in a month than I would in an entire semester. The vibe is professional yet relaxed, engendering a uniquely intrinsic motivation in its students. Everyone is there to learn from each other, and the program’s ability to attract top students and lecturers creates a magical learning environment.
Following the classroom component, students intern with a local South African company to put their newfound skills to use in a professional environment. This experience was pivotal, as I realized that a career in web development was not the right fit for me. Though this was a bittersweet realization, it led me to make a more informed post‐graduate career decision. In recruiting for consulting positions, I am confident that my internship work in Cape Town was essential to my success in landing a position with Bain & Company.
Finally, there are countless social benefits to attending iX. I built a network of highly aspirational friends, many of whom I still keep in touch with. Our friendship was founded not just on our classroom experiences, but on the epic adventures we had in Cape Town. I underwent rapid personal growth at iX and had the greatest summer of my life, all while gaining crucial academic and professional experience. This program is ideal for any college student looking to study abroad, intern, and explore the world all in a single summer.