Study tips and self-guided learning techniques by praxis

What do your moods, behaviours, motivation, memories, and emotions have in common?

These are processed in the same brain region called the limbic system! The word limbic means on the border, here describing the border of the cerebral cortex; the characteristically ‘iconic’ portion of the brain.

Part of the limbic system which is specifically important for learning and memory is called the hippocampus.

On the topic of learning and memory…

I took two gap years after matric. By the time I began my undergraduate degree (after being situated in the role of an active worker and a passive student) I had completely lost touch with how I preferred to consume knowledge. If I travelled back in time (and I absolutely can time-travel, of course. I simply choose not to), I would begin by prompting my younger self with three reflective questions:

  • What kind of learner am I?

I now know that I learn best through a multi-modal approach – combining note taking; watching videos; listening to lectures; reading books; drawing images; touching structures; practicing techniques; using colourful pens… Understanding the mode in which you best absorb specific information is a very important first step.

  • Where do my interests lie?

Interest-based learning is a tactic that appreciates how easily our minds take in information that feels relevant to us, and relatable to our lives. Studying is about more than simply remembering information for a test. It’s about gaining understanding and feeling excited about what you can learn! Curiosity and intrigue will encourage you to get through your coursework effortlessly.

  • How do I want to engage with what I learn?

Perhaps it’s a consequence of studying the microscopic world of proteins and ion exchange and cellular interaction, but keeping the bigger picture in mind can be a flaw in my learning process. I combat this using mind-maps. The brain often harnesses association and imagery to improve memory retention and recall. By drawing a mind-map, I connect specific concepts to areas on an A3 page and can emphasize this with drawings or bold mnemonics that remind me of the central theme.

The RSVP to active learnership promises a perpetual feast on an intellectual snack platter; a byte-size buffet of your selection.

However, if the intention is not only to absorb and regurgitate knowledge, but to take a bite; taste it; experience the textures… flavours… and say “I don’t like this” or “Oooh, yummy, I would eat that again”, then the takeaway tips to all students everywhere are these:

  1. Become that ‘first row’ student.

Dissolve the idea that you need to maintain a coolness factor by not participating in your own acquisition of knowledge. There is no shame in asking questions. It’s cool to pay attention.

2. Learn by both listening and teaching.

Good learning techniques start with acute listening skills. By explaining to someone what you have learned, and allowing them the chance to ask questions, you will see knowledge gaps in your description or think about how you could better understand the information you are sharing. Do not harbour knowledge for yourself.

3. Think critically about the source of your information.

There are both implicit and explicit bias in every bit of knowledge you gain and share. Are you learning about the history of South Africa through a book written by a privileged, older man with high socio-economic status? Are you being told that homosexuality is a sin by a theology lecturer? Are you checking multiple sources before you decide “Yes! This is objectively true!”?

4. Have a plan and plan to take breaks!

Consistency is my key to maximizing memorability and motivation, while avoiding overwhelm and burnout. Detailing a study plan helps me hold myself accountable to realistic daily targets. My plan often includes studying across topics, like a study trifle, so that I can keep my interest up and my “information-saturation” down. I cannot emphasize enough how necessary it is to plan for rest, too.

5. Repeat steps one to four.

Repetition helps to consolidate short term memory to long term memory.

Since you’ve come to the end of this blog, I wonder if you could teach someone else the answers to these questions:

  • What is the role of the hippocampus?
  • Where in the brain is it situated?
  • What do your moods, behaviours, motivation, memories and emotions have in common?

Goodbye America. Hi South Africa!

As I scroll through my camera roll, I find it crazy to believe that nine months ago this week, I spent time with my parents in the Eastern Cape before heading to Johannesburg for the last week in South Africa. My siblings and nephew joined us in Johannesburg before I departed for the U.S.A. Those final days were spent bonding with my family, running errands such as picking up my passport at the U.S. Embassy, stocking up on medication, going to the bank, visiting the dentist, and ensuring all the necessary documents were organised. I wouldn’t describe how I felt as excitement, but rather as a strange sense of wondering who I would return to South Africa as. This question has now been answered, although it will probably take years to unpack and understand the new vs old me entirely.

Following a very emotional goodbye at the airport, I went on my way, embarking on an almost sixteen-hour flight from Johannesburg to Atlanta, shortly followed by a one-hour flight to Nashville. Immediately after entering that long, drawn-out flight, it sunk in that I was moving abroad. The Delta air hostesses’ accents quickly made me realise I would be in the U.S. in about sixteen hours and would only be returning to South Africa nine months later. I knew then, and still know now, that this research visit to the U.S. through the Fulbright was a valid rite of passage and that I was to seize the moment; though I didn’t know what awaited me, I needed to trust the process.

All the same, from the moment I set foot in the U.S., the entire experience was much more than what I had bargained for. Long-term travel is tricky, and the heightened ebb and flow of your emotions is something you are confronted with throughout the period, perhaps that’s where a significant amount of the growth lies. The culture shock was immediate, and the inception of mine was when I saw people taking their shoes off at the airport; ‘wow!’ I thought. Homesickness was another hurdle I faced, one which I never fully reconciled. Loneliness would also creep up at times, though one might argue that pursuing a doctorate and loneliness are inseparable. So, while a life of travel sounds tempting and pleasurable, it isn’t for everyone!

Be that as it may, and in the spirit of carpe diem, I had many memorable experiences which I would implore you to consciously seek out during an opportunity abroad.


I had the opportunity to travel around America in a culturally enriching way, but did not compromise any of my research time. Noteworthy moments were my visit to New York, where I climbed 162 steps up to the Crown of the Statue of Liberty, a very sombre yet eye-opening visit to the 9/11 memorial, a long walk across Brooklyn Bridge, and an immersive experience at the summit one Vanderbilt, to name a few. Another one for the books was my visit to Chicago, where I spent precious time thrifting with friends, visited ‘the Bean’, went on a private tour of the archives at the Art Institute of Chicago, and went up to the observation deck of John Hancock Centre.

Host Family

This might have been my favourite part. The genuine connections made. I had an exceptional, lifelong host family that began this journey with me when I was picked up from the airport. Because of them, my apartment was beautifully ready for me when I arrived, I got to experience an American Thanksgiving and Easter, I had a family to watch my choir concert, and most meaningfully, I had people I could rely on during the more challenging moments of living abroad.

Thanksgiving with my Host Family

Meaningful Friendships

I’ve never quite been one for many friends but deciding to step outside my comfort zone has left me with a diverse group of friends worldwide. I’ve experienced many cultures, eaten various delicious cuisines, and learned much from the connections. The international students and scholars, particularly those from Africa, made me feel immensely understood in my experiences.



Shortly after I settled in, I created a reward system for myself, whereby every time I reached a particular milestone with my research, I would indulge and get a ticket to some or other show. These could be music or sport; I was in Nashville after all. To name a few, I went to Kevin Hart, Lil Nas X, Pentatonix, Ice hockey, Basketball, Banksy Art Exhibition, the county fair, and multiple socials on campus. All these experiences were unlike anything I have ever experienced before.


I had a phenomenal academic advisor that guided my writing process and exposed me to scholars whom I never imagined I would be working alongside today. I got to observe several classes my mentor and other faculty members conducted. I had a regular spot in the library next to the fireplace where I would work and romanticize my life as a researcher.


As I reflect on the past nine months, leaving behind a comfortable environment where I had the support of my family and moving into an unfamiliar territory where I faced daunting situations. I sometimes felt I would be much better off at home, mainly when homesickness gradually started sinking in. However, the more you overcome, the more you realise you can take on. You begin to learn more about yourself and the resilience you hold within, your perspective on many things begins to shift and expand, and at the end of it, all the amount you now know about yourself, life, and the world makes it all worth it.

Ultimately, studying abroad afforded me opportunities I had never imagined for myself. Veni, vidi, vici. With that, I say Hello, South Africa!