A warm return to the Mother City… by Nienke Pannekoek

After spending 4 weeks in Cape Town in January as a EUSARNAD-exchangee, followed by another 2.5 weeks of traveling, I had completely fallen in love with South Africa and, in particular, with the Mother City (that’s Cape Town!).


In the course of my 4 week stay at the Department of Psychiatry of the Groote Schuur hospital it became clear that the project I had been working on with Jean-Paul Fouché for over a year (starting with his visit to Leiden a year earlier), was not progressing as quickly as we would like. Setting up an international database of Social Anxiety Disorder MRI data comes with politics, logistics, analysis plans, quite a few renowned research centres worldwide, and requires a fair amount of patience. I soon realised that this ‘mega-analysis’ project would benefit from fulltime attention. Fortunately, the supervisors agreed and I left Cape Town feeling hopeful to return some time. Mind you, I had to come back, since I had not even been to Robben Island yet!

And I was lucky… A mere day after setting foot on Dutch soil, I got the green light to continue working on the mega-analysis in Cape Town, where all Social Anxiety Disorder MRI data was transferred. Fast-forward 4 months including a visit from Ben Ainsworth to Leiden, and here I am again, in one of the most exquisite cities in the world, feeling like the luckiest girl in the world. True, Europe is currently in a massive heat wave and after a cold and wet spring, my timing of leaving The Netherlands could have been better. Especially since it is winter in South Africa, which means I have gone straight back to the cold and rain… But who can say that when they walk out their door en look left they see the ocean, look right see Table Mountain and the Twelve Apostles, and look ahead to see Lion’s Head?! And, rather importantly, I am thrilled to work on the social anxiety mega-analysis because to me, it is simply one the most interesting projects on the planet.


I was very excited to see my colleagues at the Groote Schuur again, with whom I got along very well during my previous visit. These included some other EUSARNAD researchers such as Sonja Pasche, Jean-Paul Fouché, Anne Uhlmann, Sarah Heany, and Coenie Hattingh. All of the colleagues were very welcoming and it was almost as if I had never left. Meetings with the department allowed me to get an idea of the exciting studies that the groups are doing here – many of which involve anxiety, and I can’t wait to learn more. But most importantly, JP and I are about to sink our teeth in the social anxiety mega-analysis, which will undoubtedly prove to be challenging as well as interesting.


Although I am only a few weeks into my 6-month stay in Cape Town it felt like home from the very beginning. The experience so far is already wonderful, and I can only look forward to what is yet to come!

– Nienke