It was once said by Leo Tzu that “the journey of a thousand mile begins with one step.” As I arrived at the Tema International School in Ghana, I was excited not only because it was my first official trip out of my home country, but my life was also about to make the greatest turn. The turn, full of amazing and wonderful people, gave me a life-changing experience that was yet to stay. Interestingly, every single day brought an amazing life lesson, gained either from the faculties and peers. Being in a mixture of about 100 students from about 28 different countries was beyond fascinating to explore. YYAS was not just an ordinary academic and leadership program, but a program that vividly exposes Africa's next breed of change leaders to opportunities around the globe. Participating in YYAS challenges a person to grow in almost all sectors of leadership, personal and academic experiences.
Sometimes we think we are the best among our peers until we happen to be placed among others who are as brilliant as we are, or sometimes more than we anticipate of them. Then, we become compelled to leave our comfort zone in order to have our ideas challenged so we can learn and grow. It felt amazing attending different workshops and discussion sessions with my fellow young Africans, who brought different experiences even beyond my imagination.
Academically, YYAS was very impactful. I had to do more research and watch my arguments as my surroundings were filled with brilliant minds who were always willing to challenge my ideas. Interestingly, every time a faculty or staff member asked a question, I always saw more than 50 confident hands who were as eager as I was to share their knowledge and experience. Many days, I ended dropping my hands because the speaker could not afford to recognize all the hands being raised.
YYAS has different aspects, like University guidance (learning how to apply to schools abroad), seminars, workshops, SAT Preparation, and meeting with different admission officers from top ranking universities around the world.
Some of those activities were not as ordinary as they may sound. These were activities that gave us insight into real-world lessons, and one of the most fascinating activities were the enrichment activities, which was done mostly in the forms of games. These activities taught me important lessons that I have always referenced, no matter the time or place. These activities sent different valuable messages that impacted my life by changing my mindset about my own continent, Africa.
One of the enrichment activities that stuck out for me was a game that required us to be divided into a team of two in order to cross an imaginary river full of alligators. In order to cross this river, a team has to use a limited number of paper plates. At first, when we heard the words team and game, we did not consider the idea of teamwork as our first instinct was all about winning the other team. Unfortunately for the first time, we (especially my team) started losing even before beginning as we were already shouting and jumping into the game without a plan, no team organization, strategy, and mostly no cooperation. The first game was discarded and we were told to play and forget the idea of winning, cooperate as a team and see what changing the mindset would help us to progress in the game. Changing the mindset from just winning to cooperation and not competition enhanced the beauty of the game for us all; it felt like a miracle. Even though my team lost the game, but we went further than we did for the first time and could have done more if we mastered the skills of teamwork. Through this game, I learn the importance of teamwork and accepting feedback. I understood that for a team to be successful, everyone needs to cooperate; it is not all about winning; sometimes it is more about togetherness. Through the games, I realized that for Africa to move forward, Africans need to corporate and not compete. Over the past times, all we have ever done is see our fellow African/African countries as competitors and not brothers/sisters who are supposed to care for each other. We might have differences, but it is our diversity that makes us unique and distinguishes us from the rest of the world. I also understood that no matter how different we are, we should always find common ground and focus on our goal as a team.
Lastly, one of the most beautiful parts of YYAS was that it was full of brilliant minds who are as passionate as I am for change. The program was full of students who are determined to serve as Africa’s next breed of change leaders. The fun was not just about meeting different people from different African countries, but the amazing experience involved sharing and learning from their own unique experiences. Every time I sat on the dining table, I was faced with someone from a country I have heard little or nothing about. There, I would learn new things from them and it was always exciting to share my experience with them. I interacted and learned about counties I barely hear about in Africa and their distinct cultures. More importantly, I got to make lifetime friends who I still interact with as though YYAS 2017 ended yesterday. Through YYAS, I got to embrace the diversity among Africans in Africa and I know that we would have to make the difference in Africa. I love YYAS for what it has done and continues to do for us as young leaders.