Kuils River law student heading to the Netherlands on prestigious Mandela Scholarship

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Tarryn Abrahams

Following in the footsteps of late president Nelson Mandela, law student Tarryn Abrahams will soon head to the Netherlands to study at the Leiden University.

The 23-year-old Tarryn, a master’s law student from the University of the Western Cape, recently received the prestigious Mandela Scholarship, and will thus soon be trading her hometown, Kuils River, for Leiden.

Receiving the scholarship is an honour, and Tarryn says it is Nelson Mandela’s values of hard work and unwavering perseverance that inspire her to follow her passions and do her best. She encourages other young people to find their own passion, and to “work hard to consistently realise every dream that you envision for yourself”.

Tarryn’s thesis looks at the legal framework around the au pair industry, having herself au paired abroad for a while in 2018.

She tells more about her love for her studies.

Tarryn, you recently received the prestigious Mandela Scholarship to study abroad in the Netherlands for a semester exchange. What does this opportunity mean to you?

Being the recipient of the Mandela Scholarship and receiving the opportunity to study at Leiden University makes me feel immensely proud, privileged and honoured to be guided by the steps of the father of our young democracy, the late and great Mr Nelson Mandela.

The scholarship affords me the most wonderful opportunity to represent the University of the Western Cape, and to interact with students from all walks of life. Through this programme, I will have a great opportunity to expand my frame of reference and experiences in my chosen field of study.

Tarryn receiving her LLB degree from the University of the Western Cape

You are currently studying your master’s in law at the University of the Western Cape. What inspired you to study law? Where does your love for law come from?

As funny as it may sound, the movie Legally blonde sparked my initial interest in legal studies and a career in law. I can’t say anything in particular about the movie inspired me to pursue my legal studies – the movie simply ignited the spark.

It might’ve been the way Elle Woods used logic to win her first case, or the way she exceeded everyone’s expectations in law school, or perhaps the way she was never quite what everyone around her expected her to be – but all I knew was this: I was going to study law when I grew up. And, when I grew up, that’s exactly what I did.

Despite the fact that the movie obviously glamorises studying law and what that is meant to look like, the movie really struck a chord in me, because its message was simple, and one that I live by: you go for what you want, and you work hard for it!

Why did you decide to pursue a master’s degree?

Although I enjoyed studying and learning, upon completion of my undergrad year in 2017, I was convinced that I wouldn’t further my studies for years to come; however, my interest in pursuing my master’s was piqued for a very specific reason.

During my stint as an au pair in the Netherlands during 2018, I realised that the life of an au pair was not a year-long vacation, as I’d imagined.

Despite my intense research of the programme before I decided to embark on my au pair journey, and my preconceived view that au pair life is all sunshine and roses, the experience taught me that not all au pairs are fortunate enough to have a wonderful experience abroad; and, because they live in the same environment in which they are expected to undertake certain duties, the role of the au pair is a precarious one.

This knowledge prompted me to research the underlying vulnerabilities and abuses experienced by young girls in this exchange programme. I believed that the issues surrounding the programme deserved and required more research.

Tarryn with her parents alongside her

Why did you apply for the scholarship?

Initially, I had wanted to centre my research on the au pair programme in the Netherlands, as this was where I drew from my personal experience.

So, when I received the UWC communication regarding the scholarship and exchange opportunity, it was without hesitation that I decided to apply, as it afforded me the possibility of delving into the programme and the regulations governing it, on a personal level, as opposed to doing so on a computer.

I also believe that any time you receive an opportunity to study abroad, you should take it – more than expanding your frame of reference in your field of study, it gives you life experience and teaches valuable lessons that cannot be learnt while in your comfort zone.

What are your expectations for the exchange?

Of course, I am expectant and excited not only to learn in the lecture halls, but also to gain insight from my fellow students, who all come from different walks of life.

I also look forward to exploring the Netherlands and taking on new experiences during my semester abroad.

This is not your first time in the Netherlands. Please elaborate on your previous endeavours in the Netherlands.

My previous experience in the Netherlands as an au pair during 2018 was quite the journey of growing through discomfort and evolving into the Tarryn that I am today.

Although it provided a great opportunity for me to grow, it is not an experience that I’d wish for any other young person who is looking to go to a foreign country and have what it’s meant to be – the experience of a lifetime. Nevertheless, the experience was a catalyst that has led me to where I am today.

As the recipient of the Mandela Scholarship Fund, she will be going on exchange for a semester to Leiden University

You will be walking in the footsteps of the late president Nelson Mandela at Leiden University in the Netherlands. What about Madiba and his legacy inspires you?

The late president Nelson Mandela espoused values of hard work and unwavering perseverance. Mr Mandela’s legacy has forever been imprinted in the hearts and minds not only of my fellow South Africans, but the world over.

Throughout his life, he acted as the voice for the voiceless, and through his words and his actions, he has inspired me to stand firm in my beliefs and take action to create change in the spaces where change is necessary.

Who are your role models in life that you look up to?

I have always admired the hard-working and tenacious nature of my parents. They have taught me the value of hard work and dedication – two values which I wholeheartedly believe in.

Tarryn intends to pursue her PhD and a career in academia.

What advice do you have for the youth of South Africa to inspire them to reach for their dreams?

I encourage every young person to discover their passion, and then to step into the power that it fuels.

Do not let anybody undermine your dreams and goals – work hard, consistently, to realise every dream that you envision for yourself.

The youth of South Africa, although burdened by difficulty, are resilient and have within themselves the power to succeed; and, in the powerful words of the late Mr Nelson Mandela: “The youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow.” Let these words be your guiding light on your journey towards your dreams.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

On my return, I intend to complete my master’s degree and, God-willing, pursue my PhD and a career in academia.

I hope that in the next five years, I am happy, excelling in my studies and continuing to voice my opinion on issues which are overlooked.


According to the University of Leiden’s website, the Mandela Scholarship is intended for South African students who want to study at Leiden University for one semester, in order to extend their knowledge and contribute to the development of South Africa.

On 12 March 1999, the late president Nelson Mandela received an honorary doctorate from Leiden University, and, to mark this memorable event, Leiden University founded the Mandela Scholarship Fund.

On receiving the award, President Mandela stated that it brought him not only great honour, but also great responsibility:

“South Africans will, in the coming years, have to solve problems that you have faced before us. We have to build many new houses and schools, extend health care still further, and deal with crime and corruption.

“These challenges are even greater than those we have already overcome, and we will need all the strength that we have, and that of our friends. As much as anything, that is true also of South Africa’s universities and the scientific work we are doing.

“A greater exchange of students will be enriching for both of our nations. On the one hand, it will contribute to the development of our country and the rebirth of our continent.

And, on the other, we believe contact with the young people of my country will enrich and enlarge the insight that your youth has of your history and, I dare say, the multicultural character of your society.”

  • Photos: provided


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