What an outstanding, eye-opening piece on The Yale Young African Scholars Programme from Thando. Thomas and Thando recently attended the programme in Rwanda. Be sure to read this blog for an insight into their experience. 

A Bemba proverb says that a man who can only eat what his mother cooks will never know how much better other food can be. Up until my trip to Rwanda, I only knew Zambia. I thought all the world had to offer was this land-abundant country – Zambia. I remember flying over the city Kigali; although the plane made my ear drums feel like they were going to burst to tiny pieces, the lights of Kigali city made me feel like I was is another dimension. Looking at the lights, I begun to picture how the Yale Young African Scholars (YYAS) host school, Gashora Girls Academy of Science and Technology would look like. I could hear my heart pounding when I thought of the immigration offices at the Rwandan airport. What I did not know at that moment was how welcoming the Rwandese were. When Thomas and I finally landed, we walked to the immigration officer, bought our visas and before we knew it, we were on our way to Gashora with one of the YYAS instructors.

There it was, the first day of YYAS. The dorms were comparable to a king’s castle. With about ninety bunk beds spread in white sheets and arranged in straight lines on both sides of the wide corridor, all I could do was smile when I woke up. The other scholars and I walked to the dining hall for breakfast. The walls were painted cream white and attached to the ceiling were fans. The forty dining tables were all made of wood and each had breakfast waiting to be eaten. By noon, most of the scholars had arrived and it was time for us to check-in. The YYAS staff provided us with the programme time-table, a t-shirt, a water bottle and a note book. During the checking in process, I started a conversation with one of the scholars. She was from Tunisia – never did I think I would meet someone from Tunisia – and her accent made it so difficult for me to understand what she was saying. Little did I know I was yet to meet more people with all sorts of accents and cultures. With 150 people, representing 29 countries all over the continent, learning that Ethiopians have over 73 languages is just one of the numerous things I learnt.   

The privilege of receiving lectures from Yale faculty members not only prompted me to compare the Zambian teaching system to America’s teaching system, but they also challenged me mentally. The YYAS programme was heavily based on ‘our opinions’. Whenever we had a lecture, we would split to small groups and each small group would have a discussion session. These sessions were spear-headed by the Yale instructors and made it possible for the scholars to voice their views on the lecture.

Another eye-opening activity for me was attending the YYAS seminars. During the ten day programme, I attended four seminars; my favourite being ‘Why do we sleep at night?’ Whenever the Yale instructors taught, I not only felt like many other people deserved to learn what I was learning but I felt like a student at a liberal arts college. The YYAS experience, to a great extent, has inspired me to work towards getting admitted to a liberal arts college. At the YYAS programme, I realised that an open curriculum would be ideal for me. I will get the chance to explore different academic avenues before finally deciding what I want to major in.

“My experience of the YYAS programme has indeed made me feel like I am the Zambian to break the norm.”

One of the many highlights of the YYAS programme was getting to meet admissions officers from six universities. Getting first-hand information, I believe will better equip me for the application process. The admissions officers explained to us, the YYAS scholars, what each of their universities look for in prospective students. Hearing this information has boosted my confidence and I feel ready to begin the university application process.

The only negative thing I discovered was that there are few or no Zambians applying to university abroad. I realised that many Zambians do not really know about the opportunities available out there. My experience of the YYAS programme has indeed made me feel like I am the Zambian to break the norm; I will be one of the very few individuals to represent Zambia at one of the globally recognised universities.

The experience was so much more than just learning. Being away from my home country, I feel has made me more independent and has also given me a glimpse of how life would be at university. I am honoured to be a YYAS alumni and I will surely do my best to emulate everything I learnt in whichever way possible. 

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