I left Tunbridge Wells yesterday before dawn broke, a clear sky with a full moon shining between the trees as I drove through the countryside to the airport – an auspicious start to my day. It was the first time I would be meeting up with Quincy and Janet since they arrived in Edinburgh last September. We had been in touch regularly and they seemed to have settled in well, but I was keen to meet them face to face. There are many challenges that students encounter when they go abroad to study and often they feel ungrateful if they have negative thoughts – sometimes they need to be able to talk about them to someone familiar to them.
We met, together with Geoff (pronounced Joff), a fellow Zambian and alumnus of Pestalozzi. It was so good to see their smiling faces – I could tell immediately that they felt at home in this beautiful city. I had organised for us to be joined for lunch by a researcher from the university, an anthropologist with a specialism in the Pentacostal church in the Copperbelt Province of Zambia. The students were amazed that she is completely fluent in Bemba, their own language! It was a gloriously sunny afternoon and we thought we would take a walk to the Scottish Parliament. Janet, as a civil engineer, was very taken by the construction of the building and was keen to pose for photos. Quincy was also in luck – as a budding economist, she was able to sit in the gallery to hear the finance minister reading out the budget statement. Then we finally had time to talk. Quincy and Janet have settled in very well. The MasterCard Foundation and international admissions teams at University of Edinburgh look after them and make sure they are progressing well academically, joining in a variety of activities and programmes and make sure they are well supported emotionally. There are now four years of students at the university including Master’s students, so there are a good number of Africans and in total about eight Zambian students – it all helps to make it seem like home from home. Their accommodation is pristine and Quincy’s family often asks her what she does all day if she doesn’t have to sweep, wash her clothes by hand, make her own meals and clean her room each day!Educationally, both are doing well and holding their own against strong competition. Janet loves her civil engineering group which she says is surprisingly small – only about 30-40 students in total. Quincy’s course has been interesting because of the variety of new subjects that she has encountered. She says her essays are improving as she has had a number to write.
They said that they found the cold challenging to begin with – I have seen Quincy huddled in a coat and scarf in Zambia in 25 degrees! But they have got used to it very quickly. A pressure that many students feel is to do with money. They have both sent money home to help with school fees for their siblings, but they still need to be careful. As another student said, “MasterCard is generous, but doesn’t spoil us. We can make ends meet with careful planning, but we don’t have much spare cash as some of our allowances are meal plans and books where we don’t see the money.” They both agreed that it can be hard when they know families are struggling back home and could feel pressured to help more, but they try to look longer term. Quincy has already helped her aunt and mother buy items to sell at a profit in the market which has boosted their income and removed their dependency on Quincy. It was great to meet the staff that look after our scholars – those who’ll be arriving in the UK in September and our existing ones. The small but very committed team looks after our students well. Janet said that they have a great way of making her feel very special and individual, something that is hard to find within the Zambian system.
Saying good bye was easy as I am seeing them both again in April when they will come to London for a short visit and attend our AGM. I went away feeling happy that they were both making the most of their opportunities as well as studying hard – Quincy was just off to a classical music concert. It was a long day – I arrived back in Tunbridge Wells just before midnight, our moon still lighting up the sky!