IT WAS a fairy-tale ending for 27-year-old Nqobile Prisca Khumalo when she graduated with a bachelor's degree in social work at the University of Zululand.
The special moment was witnessed by her "extended family" from the Netherlands.
The story began in 2004 after Dutch tourists stopped at the Bayala Lodge, where they met Khumalo who then worked at the bar.
The connection between the newly met strangers led to their offering to help her with funding so she could further her studies at any institution.
Khumalo said the kindness shown by the Boelens should be seen as a lesson by people of different races.
She said her mother and brother were also happy for her since she is the first graduate in the family.
"My overseas friends treat me like their own flesh and blood. They have been very kind to me and my family," the excited Khumalo said.
She said she would start her new job next week helping communities in and around Mtubatuba with welfare cases.
She appealed to South Africans to welcome tourists with open hearts.
A jubilant Geert Boelen said: "Prisca served us at a bar and there was this immediate connection. We decided there and then to sponsor her to study for her degree."
Raised by a single parent, Khumalo was the family breadwinner at the time she met the Boelens.
The Boelens have visited South Africa twice since meeting Khumalo and contributed to the growth of international cross-cultural "families".