Thursday, January 3, 2019

“UBUNTU”, by Obaid Ajoughlal

The 2018 Yale Young African Scholars program in Rwanda was an exciting, insightful, life-changing journey for me. Now, as an alumnus, I can absolutely say that my time at the program made me a better and stronger young leader.

I chose “Ubuntu”, which means “I am because we are” in Zulu, as the title of my YYAS experience, because I believe that each day of YYAS was a celebration of diversity—a celebration that made us more united, more concerned by the issues our continent faces, and more eager to solve them.

During the 10 days in Rwanda I was a Moroccan ambassador: not only did I present my cultural background but also, as an ambassador, I always looked for more ways to know about Northern, Southern, Eastern and Western African cultures, as well as Africa’s islands’ through my fellow participants.

Obaid (right) from Morocco with his new friends at YYAS 2018 from Kenya, Sudan, Ghana, and Ethiopia!
Thanks to the distinguished Yale faculty lecturers, I was exposed to Africa’s health problems, as well as their ongoing solutions and prospective solutions. Additionally, during meal times, my peers and I talked about our respective home countries. I told them how I feel when I see the Kingdom of Morocco, my beloved country, split into two territories: Morocco and Western Sahara. My peers told me about their countries’ histories, too, talking about the Rwandan genocide, the Somalia vs. Somaliland conflict, and the Zimbabwean crisis caused by former president Robert Mugabe, among other stories.

From the first meal we had to the very last moment of the program, I discovered a deep and big passion I have for our continent: Africa! In fact, I merged within a community of 29 nationalities so quickly and so easily that I felt home. Indeed, I forged lifelong friendships with peers from countries I considered with mystery, countries that I used to know only the name such as Zimbabwe, Zambia, South Sudan, or even Botswana! Furthermore, I was surprised at the development of my leadership skills during such a short time at YYAS, particularly during one fun activity called Afrotopia.

This newfound passion for Africa makes me think about a second answer to a question asked on the application form: “What makes you African in the 21st Century?” My previous answer was mainly being proud of our accomplishments as Africans and being hopeful for a better future. But now, after having completed YYAS, I am convinced that this definition is not enough, and I have tried to find an answer to this thought-provoking question ever since.

"In a nutshell, YYAS has absolutely influenced me and made me see the world with new eyes."
Thanks to the various range of subjects taught during seminars and lectures, and thanks to enrichment activities that built our leadership and teamwork skills, and thanks to our long, but interesting conversations with experts in Africa that made us aware of our role as Africa’s next generation of leaders, I think that being African in the 21st Century means to use the knowledge you gained in areas that attract you the most, combined with leadership and teamwork skills to improve your local community, your country, and your continent!

In a nutshell, YYAS has absolutely influenced me and made me see the world with new eyes. In fact, I have managed to use the knowledge and skills I gained during YYAS—specifically during university guidance workshops and admissions days—together with my great want to improve my local community in order to pursue higher education abroad an achieve attainable goals for many other Moroccan high school students. Thank you YYAS!

Obaid (second from left) with his workshop group at the certificate ceremony!

Obaid (right) with a fellow YYAS participant during the award ceremony.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Yale Young African Scholars Program: My Life’s Milestone! by Nkharo Kate Gondwe

I am Nkharo Kate Gondwe, age 17, from Malawi. I am in Form 6 at Kamuzu Academy, and I am proud alumna of the YYAS 2017 Program!

When my mother told me about the program two year ago, inspired by one of her friends, it didn’t mean anything to me and a far-fetched dream. However, with the small steps made by her inspiration and encouragement I found myself being one of the privileged 300 students among 2,000 applications selected to participate in the YYAS program in Rwanda! It was truly amazing, and I couldn’t believe my good fortune.

One thing I enjoyed during the week was being put into groups and participating in games and activities with my cohort. I identified most of the games we did with my personal life. Interacting with people from all over Africa with distinct skills and experiences helped me to start thinking outside the box! I discovered that they are great things and great minds out there.

It was my first time ever to hear of the SAT, College Board, and the existing opportunities for university studies around the world. I am truly grateful for the generosity of the Higherlife Foundation and the SAT materials provided by Ms. Esther!

The leadership skills gained during the week’s intensive training were never kept to myself. The week after I came back to Malawi, my mother encouraged me to inspire Primary School Girls ranging from 9-15 years of age during their three days at a Girls Review Meeting; most of these girls come from vulnerable families and some are orphans. By presenting to them about my YYAS experiences I hoped to inspire them—even now I am still in touch with some of the girls and I mentor them. The YYAS experience even helped to enhance my leadership skills in sports.

Something that changed my life was the hospitality experienced during the one week in Rwanda and the giving spirit, which can be seen now through my work with the Charity Club at my high school. One of the things I aim to do is raise funds for the poor and vulnerable. Recently we visited one of the Prisons in Kasungu. Having completed YYAS, I feel ready and empowered to give back to my community in some meaningful way.

I feel immensely privileged to have participated in YYAS and I believe the skills I learned during those days in Rwanda will last a lifetime. It is my prayer that God continue to bless YYAS and its sponsors who benefit African students, especially girls! Go, YYAS, go!

Monday, June 4, 2018

My Experience Attending the YYAS Program, by Victor Gunduor

Just as the saying goes, “The journey towards attaining success begins with little steps leading towards giant strides,” I believe attending the YYAS 2017 program at Tema International School (TIS) in Ghana was a giant stride for me. Aside from the fact that it was my first experience travelling on a plane, it was also my first time away from my parent and I really enjoyed every bit of the adventure.

Victor Gunduor (right) takes a selfie with a fellow participant at YYAS 2017 in Ghana.
Looking at my calendar, it’s really hard to believe that several months have rolled by since I returned from this prestigious program. The memories of the session are still very fresh in my mind. It seems like I was at TIS just yesterday! It will be very hard to forget the inspiring nature of YYAS program, the amazing friends, and the awesome instructors and Yale faculty members whom I encountered during the week-long program. Truly, if anything is worth reliving everything, it would be the YYAS program.

When I first learned about the program, I must admit that I was overwhelmed by the rigorous application, especially the fact that I had to write some essays and short responses about my background and my future aspirations. However, I figured that YYAS wanted the best from me and I must be able to express this belief in my own potential. It took me weeks to complete my essays, but I got great feedback thanks to my brother who was a mentor throughout the application process. I never believed I would be selected to attend the program considering my poor background and other limiting factors. Looking back, I was really lucky to have been selected and I am truly grateful to entire YYAS team to have received this opportunity.

YYAS is not just an inspiring academic program, but it is also a leadership capacity building program that has really enriched my life. The YYAS team of instructors made learning fun and I learned so many great things about how to write a good admission essay. Throughout the program, we also received SAT tutoring lessons and we were given detailed insights into the university application process by representatives of various universities.

One aspect of the YYAS that I enjoyed most were the seminars. They focused on various topics related to Africa and I gathered a lot of knowledge from them. Through these classes I discovered the need to serve my community.

Since returning home, I still feel overwhelmed by how much more needs to be done. I feel the burning desire to live up to the expectations of a YYAS Ambassador and with the support of my brother, we started the Young Gems Initiative which is committed towards helping young scholars like me in my community to discover their potentials and achieve their dreams in life. So far, I have been able to organise teenage seminars, skills acquisition programs, and YYAS information sessions. The whole idea is to make to make my community better by adding value to young people around us.

YYAS was a learning platform for me and I can’t forget the useful advice of Laura Kaub, Yaa Ampofo, Dagan Rossini, and so many other instructors at YYAS. It still feels like a dream to me even as I recount these experience, my mind is filled with hope that I can still achieve more greatness in life.

YYAS is truly a community—who would have thought that I would make so many great friends from across Africa in just one summer! This is an essential aspect of the program because it enables peers from all over the continent to interact and encourage one another all though the university application process. I have also been paired with a YYAS mentor, Anu Onemola, who is a Yale alumna now studying at Temple University, USA. Her advice and insights have been really encouraging. I am currently preparing to take my O-level exam and SAT this year, and though I miss YYAS I am inspired because I’m living the YYAS dream.

Conclusively, I’ll like to state that none of my best descriptions can come near to explain how fantastic the YYAS program is. I therefore recommend YYAS to anyone who has ever dreamed of being part of something noble and worthwhile. The YYAS is a platform for you to excel, so begin your application today!

Thursday, May 31, 2018

My Invaluable Experience at YYAS: Insight for Prospective Candidates, by Kcaliphate Dulleh

My YYAS experience was beyond invaluable to my work as a future leader! Now an alumnus of the program, I can confidently say that my time at YYAS helped me to become a stronger student. I am better equipped with the necessary skills and techniques for applying to universities online and tackling the SAT exam. I have also gained unique insight into global issues and connected with a wide range of peer networks across Africa.

Before my acceptance to YYAS, my ability to respond to critical questions was feeble. Whenever someone asked, “Why do you want to attend our program like this,” I gave vague responses. The moment I started writing the essays, however, I felt that I was about to enter a life changing journey to secure a promising future and education. I reached out to my friend Sekou who had attended YYAS the year prior. He helped me think more critically when responding to the application questions. This guidance and peer support was so appreciated. Where I’m from in Liberia, such online processes are never easy, and providing supporting documents is cumbersome and hard to come by. However, through perseverance and grit, I became empowered to succeed. I was soon ready to start preparing for future applications to universities. To all future applicants, even if you are not accepted to YYAS know that you are on the road to success just by trying!

Truthfully, I was thrilled when I got accepted. The thought of new experiences like sitting on a plane for the first time, meeting friends from around Africa, and living in another country for one week was awe inspiring. I developed confidence in myself and I am now a more optimistic person. I think such an opportunity is only guaranteed at YYAS.

Looking back, I recall with fond memory those funny games we played as a group. I only wish we could have stayed many more weeks! I met some great friends, too, including Yalekeme Edolor and Francis Koroma, who were very sociable and whom I consider to be my true brothers. We established a relationship in seven days which I had not experienced before the program, something that I imagined could only happen at a university.

YYAS has empowered me to pursue higher education. It has exposed me to both local and international perspectives and challenges and opportunities. It has introduced me to the demanding U.S. university admission procedures, while connecting me to other like-minded African students.

Hearing lectures from Yale faculty was also invaluable to my learning. The professors lectured on various topics including pediatric care, HIV/AIDS, democracy in Africa, and philosophy, among other things. This knowledge helped build my intellectual muscles. It was so mind-blowing! Honestly, I had never experienced such a long duration of learning over a short amount of time. It was academically intense unlike my usual schooling in Liberia, where I was pushed to debate and discuss opposing views in class. Whereas before I used to be a bit shy among large groups, this program led me to believe that there is no such thing as a wrong idea. I realized that we can all approach issues differently with our own perspectives, but we can all be right when treated with respect.

A big ‘thank you’ to the entire YYAS Team for facilitating a splendid program, and in particular to Ms. Laura who made YYAS a place that belongs to everyone. Thank you as well to my venerable and outgoing friend Sekou who inspired me to apply and take hold of this opportunity. A very big thanks to Brother Seleke A. Kromah for not only helping me with a letter of recommendation during the application process, but also for helping most Muslim Congress High School students succeed and who now have the chance to study abroad. My sincere appreciation to Brother Alieu Fuad Nyei. And, of course, a huge thanks to my family for their support.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

An Experience Worth Saying YYAS!, by Nancy Yunan Liu

Nancy Liu '17 (second from right) takes a selfie with her new friends at YYAS.
As I walked into Arundel school lugging my overstuffed suitcase, I was struck by the architecture and lush greenery of the campus. We were soon ushered into the auditorium where we collected our name tags and drawstring bags containing supplies we’d need throughout the week. This hall was where we’d spend the next few days doing SAT prep, being engrossed in lectures by accomplished Yale faculty, and learning about the college application process.

Throughout YYAS my critical thinking, creativity, and communication skills were put to the test. The rigorous seminars such as The International Criminal Court (for Africa?) and Campaign Speeches: How and Why They Work (or Don’t), as well as workshops such as the NSEW-Leadership Compass, explored multiple perspectives on issues that dared me to think “outside the box”. Fresh opinions were met with respect rather than judgement which made everyone in the group feel at ease.

Eloquent guest speakers from various professions inspired me to “be the genius of my cycle,” instilling the belief that a single voice—my voice—has the power to effect change. It was humbling to listen to others speak so passionately about their ideas for reversing the damaging effects of colonialism, corruption, and patriarchal societies. During heated debates, I would look around the room and notice how, despite our unique appearances, backgrounds, and views, we all carried the same responsibility. We are Africa’s future. I left each discussion filled with a deep sense of satisfaction as well as the thought that I have so much yet to learn.

The Yale mentors were approachable and easy-going. I really appreciated how they made an effort to get to know you and answered honestly about their experiences in university. They were real people who had overcome numerous challenges to be where they are today—which made me think that maybe I could too. Although the tight schedule kept us busy all day, meal times, breaks, and enrichment activities were fantastic times to socialize. My workshop group which consisted of six wonderful human beings including our leader, Jake, will always have a special place in my heart. We were given valuable feedback which was tailored to our personal statements, got to know each other on a deeper level, and played intense card games!

I had gone to YYAS in search of a feeling warmth and I had found it amidst an auditorium filled with hardworking students, a cafeteria erupting with laughter, and exhausted teens sprawled across the lawn. The friends I made came from wildly different cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds, and yet we had similar tastes in music, books, and movies! We shared stories and snacks from all corners of the continent, becoming something I can only describe as family. We ate meals together, endured the grueling diagnostic SAT, debated fervently, and laughed uncontrollably. This for me was the real magic of YYAS.

When the final night rolled around to the infamous talent show, my friends who I had known as goofy intellectuals transformed into musicians, slam poets, and magicians! It was a superb way to wrap up the week. The morning we said goodbye also happened to be my birthday. As I walked out of Arundel School, I left with not only the leadership skills I acquired and the precious friends I had made, but also a firm belief that my dreams were attainable. It was the perfect gift.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

My Exciting YYAS Experience in Ghana, by Jeff Kayombo

“It always seems impossible not until it’s done”
-Nelson Mandela

Jeff Kayombo '17 (left) with his new friends at YYAS 2017 in Ghana.
My name is Jeff Kayombo and I am from Lusaka, Zambia. I took part in the Yale Young African Scholars Program in Ghana at Tema International School last year!

I learned about YYAS through a poster that was stuck on the notice boards at school. At that time I was writing my end-of-year exams and I thought it would be wise if I gave it a try as I was going to be free that upcoming holiday. As I curiously started my application and got to learn more about the program, I was so driven and amazed by the academic content and the way it’s conducted. I had always had a huge interest in connecting to a wider network and community of young people across the continent, but I never pictured myself to be part of that until YYAS. Because of my determination and my parents’ support and confidence in me, I was so fortunate that I got accepted into the YYAS 2017 program.

Meeting new people and making incredible friends meant so much as I was able to share my perspective and ideas with peers from all over Africa. I also had the opportunity to learn from my friends about their different educational systems, cultures, and languages. YYAS provided a very safe, sustainable, and conducive leaning environment for all.

One thing I love about the Yale Young African Scholars program is that, as much as it is designed for African secondary school students, it is actually taught by Yale student instructors! The interaction that I had with Yalies themselves was so exciting. As a workshop group we would take short breaks and play awesome games that required a lot of thinking and were very enjoyable, ones that I will never forget. My favorite game was “Buzz-Buzz”.

While at YYAS I also learned how to be responsible and a team player through various activities that I took part in, such as the Lily Pads game. Personal responsibility was a constant theme during YYAS because it’s what is expected of everyone while at university or college. During free time I could often be found at the basketball court with friends playing basketball or football; there my friends and I would swap stories about growing up in our home countries. Being among this wide and diverse community of young people from all over Africa with different beliefs, cultures, and views made me think critically and outside the box. The way I used to approach one-on-one conversations and group discussions before and after YYAS has been quite a development. And as much as it was a very busy academic week, I also enjoyed the food: our first meal upon arrival was accompanied by some Ghanaian local yam!

It was at YYAS that I gained so much knowledge on different topics such as ethics of leadership and the importance of working together to embrace diversity, as well as other interesting topics and discussions that were covered during the seminars. One particularly enlightening moment was during a seminar titled “The Little Rhino that Couldn’t: Poaching and Conservation in Southern and Eastern Africa” when I learned how rhinos are one of the world’s critically endangered species. We also talked about possible measures that can be put in place to try and rehabilitate our natural resources. I found these conversations to be so interesting because I consider myself to be an environmentalist. The fact that the YYAS program covers a wide range of topics including leadership, culture, technology, human rights, wildlife and environmental protection, to mention a few, was so inspiring – the program truly encapsulated the meaning of diversity!

I would personally recommend the Yale Young African Scholars Program to all African high school students who are driven and would like to explore the many aspects of university life!

Thursday, May 3, 2018

YYAS: A Life-Transforming Experience, by Yeabsira Degefu

Yeabsira Degefu '17 (right) with a Yale student instructor (middle) and fellow participant (left) during YYAS 2017 in Rwanda.
My experience at the Yale Young African Scholars Program (YYAS) has helped to shape me in ways I didn’t even think were possible. Besides the expected academic coursework, it taught me a lot about teamwork, independence, responsibility, leadership, and diversity. With over thirty African countries represented in my Rwanda cohort, I met students from all across the continent. Not only did I experience being away from my family for the first time, but I was exposed to different cultures, traditions, and values—it was phenomenal! 

YYAS provided me with a unique experience of travelling and spending a week independent of my family. I have learned to function on my own and make myself comfortable in a crowd of people I’m not familiar with. The people who were strangers to me at the beginning of the program were like family at the end. It really felt like I had built lifelong friendships through my shared experience with the wonderful students there. It was very fascinating to be in a room filled with future leaders not only of Africa, but also the world. 

Each day of the program was filled with thrilling activities and events. Every evening we were asked to share something that we learned during the day that we didn’t know the previous day. This helped us learn from one another and gave us the opportunity to see things from different perspectives. I had the opportunity to talk to most of the students during our free time and learn about different cultures in Africa. It was so intriguing how everyone had different backgrounds and stories to share!

Throughout the week we received guidance on the university application process, heard lectures delivered by Yale professors and local speakers, and met admissions officers and representatives from many reputable universities. In addition we had free SAT tutorials in both small and large group settings, and had enrichment activities (fancy name for games!) with lessons about leadership and the importance of teamwork. And let me not forget to mention the fun talent show on the last evening! At the end of the program, we were given mentors to help us for the next year with our university applications. 

Looking back, I see that YYAS made a positive impact on me in many ways. After attending the program, I gained a new perspective—not only of myself, but also of the world around me. I never thought of myself as a leader before attending. During the application process, after reading that the program was designed for leaders, I didn’t think that I would make it. But now, after the whole experience, I learned what it really means to be a leader and that everyone has the capacity to develop into one. I also realized that every person has something very unique to share with others, and joining hands is the key to solving major world problems.  

My YYAS experience helped me greatly develop a lot of important life skills. The program has had a lasting impact on me and helped me see my future path more clearly. Every moment of the YYAS program was enjoyable. I’m very grateful that I had this opportunity and I strongly encourage others to apply!

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

My Amazing YYAS Experience, by Ruth Mekonnen

Ruth Mekonnen '17 (right) shares a smile with her friend and fellow participant at YYAS 2017 in Zimbabwe.
If you had asked me two years ago whether I could see myself boarding a flight on my own to attend a high intensity summer program all the way in the southern hemisphere, I would have replied with an automatic ‘no’. But believe it or not, I, Ruth Alemu Mekonnen, had actually managed to snag a spot at YYAS and I will forever be indebted to the YYAS team for giving me this wonderful opportunity.

Those seven action-packed days at Arundel School in Harare, Zimbabwe, changed me tremendously. Each day at the program I heard a thought-provoking lecture delivered by renowned Yale faculty followed by an intense discussion session section with my fellow participants, which is when I really get to know my peers. The atmosphere was similar during our assigned seminars, which covered a wide range of topics and themes. I thoroughly enjoyed the heated debates and enlightening conversations we had during these times of day. Being surrounded by people with many different perspectives was the highlight of the program. They made me think of things I would never even consider before. Moreover, I feel much more aware of what is happening in other parts of Africa now more than ever.

Prior to YYAS I was left in the dark about what is needed to apply college. Other than the rare university workshops that I attended once in a while in my community, I pretty much knew little to nothing about college and university applications. However, the daily university guidance sessions at YYAS held by Ms. Laura and the individualized assistance I received during the nightly workshops with my Yale student instructor changed this. Now I know who to ask for letters of recommendation, what I need to improve about my personal essay, and, overall, how to present myself as best I can to a university of my choice.

Although it was a shock at first, the diagnostic practice SAT test that we took in the beginning of the week helped me pinpoint exactly what I needed to work on to improve my test-taking skills. I also found the daily SAT preparation classes taught by Ms. Esther to be immensely helpful. With much needed tips and tricks up my sleeve, I now feel better prepared!

Most importantly, before YYAS I had never considered myself as leadership material. I used to be more the type of student that was quietly involved in executing plans, and never thought I would be the ones calling the shots. But now I can say that my definition of a leader has broadened and I am more confident in myself. Although I might not fit the criteria of a stereotypical leader, I do not need to. I am a proud alumna of the YYAS Program!

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

"This is Just the Beginning": The Story of a Lifetime with YYAS, by Josh Nyoni

The early morning sun threw my shadow westwards as I hurried for my first lecturer. I was still gripped by euphoria and could not believe my luck. I had made it for the 2016 Yale Young African Scholars Program at Arundel School in Zimbabwe.

I was surrounded by intelligent and rather talented individuals: My fellow Africans. As we sat in the hall, everyone’s eyes beamed with joy and excitement. That is the day I realized that I had not just made it into the program, but I’d taken part in a life changing opportunity that most people long for. It was more like a blessing.

The program had more of a university feel in the way things were done. It was exciting and unique to be in such an environment. It felt like learning at an actual university! Lectures were delivered by leading Yale University professors, followed by discussion groups.

During the day I took seminars and at night I met with my workshop group, where I learned more tips and strategies for applying to university. I admit, between the SAT and ACT it was quite difficult to choose which standardized test to take when I returned home. Regardless, I got really great advice from the tutors and learned effective test-taking strategies. It was amazing!

Throughout the program, YYAS emphasized diversity and equality for everyone, despite students’ cultural differences. I made lifelong friendships, and even managed to learn brief sentences in a foreign language. At YYAS I explored academic interests that I never thought I would ever pursue. All program members, from instructional staff to lecturers, and from students to university admissions officers, were motivating and supported me from the beginning to the end.

The best part of the program was the talent show, which followed the awards ceremony and marked the end of the YYAS session. During the show there were unique performances put on by students from different cultural backgrounds. These acts showcased the real beauty of Africa! I even got to be Master of Ceremony which was a real treat.

Every day I think about my past experience at the YYAS program. Not only did I learn to be a better communicator, but I also learned how to be a better team player and a more responsible person. The staff and students became my brothers and sisters. I was so inspired by their efforts. Thanks to YYAS, I have obtained a cross-cultural understanding of my beautiful continent and developed new leadership skills that will last me a lifetime.

Thanks to YYAS, the opportunities ahead of me are endless. This is just the beginning.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Too Good of an Experience to be True, by Roy Ndebvudzemene

Being around 100 students from different African nations and backgrounds is one of the best wonders life has offered me so far. The Yale Young African Scholars Program (YYAS) was an action-packed week with mind-blowing activities. Although I felt a bit overwhelmed on the first day, I vividly remember every detail about my week in Rwanda. I will cherish every moment I had with my peers and the YYAS team.

During my week in Rwanda, I spent a lot of time with my YYAS "family”, whom I met every night after the days’ main activities and lessons. Little did I know they were going to become my family for life. I was enlightened about other cultures and amazed by how well we all got along despite being from completely different parts of the continent. It was then that I realized the demarcations that are on the map of Africa dividing us country by country don’t actually exist, especially not when it comes to attaining our same goal which is to make Africa prosper. I came to understand that we are all under one banner that defines us: we are all Africans!

Every Yale student instructor was amazing in his or her own unique way. I got to interact with all of them during seminars, discussion sessions, test prep, workshops, and meal times. My friends and I also had the pleasure of meeting some of the best lecturers the world has to offer. Overall, this university-focused program was a real eye opener for what to look forward to at university. Not only did we get introduced to SAT but we also had the best tutor to take us step by step through the whole thing. And, not only did we receive direct university guidance, but we also had the honor of meeting the deans of admission from several universities around the world, including Stanford University, Columbia University, and Macalester College, just to name a few.

In this tightly-scheduled program, I learned so much about other countries. I experienced the Rwandan culture through drumming and dance. I saw people showcase their talents during the talent show. The only painful memory I have was the day I had to say goodbye to my new friends and return home, but I embraced it with the courage that we all learned from one another. To me, this week was the beginning to something great, and I will treasure it for the rest of my life!

Thursday, January 18, 2018

YYAS: An Amazing Journey, by Demilade Sanusi

Demilade Sanusi (second from right) and other participants from YYAS 2017 in Ghana pose for a photo with YYAS Mentorship Coordinator Yaa Ampofo.
Before I got to the YYAS program in Ghana, I never expected that I would make so many friends or like it as much as I did! I wasn't sure what was going to happen that week, and I was prepared for the worst: but the worst never came.

After check-in and the welcome keynote, the first thing we did on Day 1 was play a game. Not the normal kind of game most people play when they first meet each other. No, this game involved running around in a circle, jumping, yelling, and basically making a fool of yourself in front of people that you had never met. At first I was shy and not a fan, but as we progressed I realized something: no one cared how you looked as you ran around barefoot yelling “Balance the ball, balance the ball!” People were too engrossed in the game, having too much fun to actually judge someone they hardly knew. And through that game, many of us began to connect. It didn't matter where you were from or who you knew there: once you ran around and came back to your spot, people just started approaching you and everyone laughed, creating a sense of friendship and connection.

From that day on, things just sort of clicked. We ate meals together in big groups; we sat next to each other in seminars and talked about big world issues and ideas. People respected others’ opinions and created a fun learning environment. Life seemed so normal, as if we had all been attending the same school for months.

But, like all good things in life, the program came to an end. I wasn't surprised to see people crying as they left their new friends. It seemed oddly appropriate. YYAS was a wonderful program and I am so glad to have attended. It is something I would definitely recommend for any African high school student—and not only because of the beautiful friendships that would be made. The idea of an academic summer program for only one week might seem ridiculous at first to some people, but what we learned academically and socially in that week has undoubtedly gone a long way toward shaping our future. I couldn't imagine it to be any other way.

My Experience as a Yale Young African Scholar, by Celine Kichwen

Celine Kichwen (left), a YYAS 2017 alumna from Kenya, shares a smile with another participant, Kene, from Nigeria.
July 29th, 2017: I remember that first morning so clearly. As I made my way to the airport I was overjoyed since it was my first time leaving Kenya. Standing in the queue and checking in felt like eternity, but soon I was on the plane and headed for Ghana. I had so many expectations and I can proudly say that YYAS met all of them!

I, along with two others from Kenya—Yvonne and Amos—arrived in Accra around noon. We were picked up by a member of the YYAS team and then taken to Tema International School. The hot weather was a real struggle but I easily coped. I entered the dining hall and I was shocked: I didn't expect to see so many students. They all looked so jovial and full of knowledge just waiting to be passed to the rest. The first friend I made in Ghana was Faith. She guided me to the various rooms showing me where I was meant to be and at what time. Even though we had just met, we talked so much that it seemed like we had known each other for a long time.

My seminars were “The Art and Science of Engineering Design,” “The International Criminal Court (for Africa?),” and “Gender in Africa.” In each seminar I had a chance to learn both from the Yale student instructors and my fellow participants, too. We also had debates within the seminars; each person contributed their ideas and opinion, thus offering different points of view. The lectures, taught both by Yale University professors and local scholars and practitioners, were also highly informative.

In the evening workshop, I met my “family” for the week. We were eight students altogether, plus our workshop leader, Naima, who is also from Kenya. During the subsequent sessions I came to better understand how to write essays—the concept of “telling” and “showing,” as explained by Naima. During the test preparation course with Ms. Esther, I took a mock SAT exam. It was difficult to finish everything in the time allotted, but after the first few sessions I was confident that I could tackle any SAT exam with ease. 

Throughout the week the university guidance presentations made by Ms. Laura, the YYAS Program Manager, and the admissions fair with university representatives from North America and Africa, taught me what to look out for as I prepare my university applications.

The talent show was the last major session at YYAS following the certificate ceremony. I enjoyed watching my friends showcase their talents and different cultures through poetry, song, and dance. I also participated by dancing with my fellow Kenyans on stage!

Attending YYAS has so far been my most exciting experience. I can confidently say that YYAS was a major milestone in my life. I learned so much about the whole process of applying for universities and the different opportunities for financial aid and scholarship. I had a chance to meet and interact with students from all over Africa and learn about various cultures firsthand. And finally, at YYAS, I was given a family; I believe that the bonds we created will go a long way.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

My Awesome Experience at YYAS, by Francis Koroma

My name is Francis Koroma and I am from Sierra Leone. I was fortunate to participate in the Yale Young African Scholars 2017 Program that took place at Tema International School in Tema, Ghana. It's a great honor for me to share my unforgettable memories and experience of a lifetime here on this blog.

I first heard about YYAS in early 2017 when I was searching for education opportunities online through Google and African Youth Opportunities. I went through the application criteria and saw that I was eligible to apply as a secondary school student in Africa. I was so curious and intrigued by this opportunity that I began my application right away. 

I nervously waited for the results; I had never applied to something like this before! When I found out I had been selected I was beyond ecstatic—I was one of 300 students chosen among an applicant pool of 2,000 individuals from across the continent!

Me and my workshop 'family' group during the awards ceremony on the last evening.

Not only did this program help me to develop academic and leadership skills outside my classroom in Sierra Leone, but it also made me more self-confident in many ways. For example, before coming to YYAS I was not familiar with the SAT, or what university life is like, especially in the United States. However, throughout the week I received individual and group tutoring lessons that covered the writing, math, and reading comprehension sections of the SAT. And, thanks to a generous gift from the Higherlife Foundation, all participants received a brand-new Huawei tablet which was equipped with additional study material to practice at home.

The Program also exposed me to many different opportunities for tertiary level education and how best to prepare my university applications. I got to meet university representatives from schools in the United States, as well as Africa, and learn about the liberal arts curriculum and various financial aid options.

Moreover, YYAS helped to broaden my thinking and stretched my curiosity. During the week, I heard lectures delivered by both highly regarded local practitioners and Yale faculty. I even had a chance to interact with Yale undergraduate students who taught workshops and seminars, which was one of my favorite parts of the program. For example, one seminar was titled “Moving Bodies and Inspiring Movements: Music and Dance from Expression to Resistance”. I really enjoyed being part of this seminar because it's taught me a lot about music and dance and how to reflect our memories back to the past.

Here I am speaking with Prof. Ian Shapiro, Sterling Professor of Political Science and the Director of the Whitney and Betty MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies at Yale University.

And how can I forget about the talent show?! I saw such a range of talents and skills from my peers. For my own act, I designed a specific shirt and danced in front of everyone on stage.

A photo of me performing an original dance during the talent show in Ghana.

Above all, YYAS gave me the first opportunity outside of Sierra Leone to get in touch with other African students from across the continent. Through this shared experience together we got to learn so much from one another. I had so much fun with my new African brothers and sisters, and I will never forget the memories we shared. If you are reading this and thinking of applying, don’t think twice—it is worth every second!