In my final year of UWC, I signed up for a class trip to Ho Chi Minh city in Vietnam. The official reason for the trip was to conduct some comparative research on the business/ economic environment in Vietnam and Singapore but that didn’t stop us from being the tourists that we were. Since I was on full scholarship, I didn’t have to worry about paying for the trip which was scheduled for the Chinese New Year break in February. We spent about a week and a half in the city and made many tourist stops including the Cuchi tunnels (a network of connecting tunnels used by the Viet Congs during the Vietnam war) and the War Remnants museum. It was there in Vietnam that I had my first taste of okadas – motorcycles used for transportation. I had never seen so many motorbikes in one place! Whole families of up to 4 people would fit on a bike and crossing the street was an ordeal in itself. It was indeed a sight to behold.! I loved (and still rave about) the food and Vietnamese culture. I particularly loved that trip because it was my first trip to a communist country and it by all means revolutionized my worldview. Not knowing what to expect, I found out that the people were friendly, polite and happy.
As a final year student, it was also time to apply to colleges. But I cannot talk about college and not mention Shelby Davis. Mr. Davis – an American philanthropist, supporter of the UWCs and a total stranger to me – was instrumental in making my dream of studying in the U.S a reality. Mr Davis has an established scholarship program that provides grants to UWC graduates looking to forward their studies in the United States. About 91 schools are part of this scheme (and the number keeps growing) with partial or full funding depending on the school. Skidmore is one of such schools. I’ve met Mr. Davis on one or two occasions and I was touched by his humility, generosity and kindness. Through his generosity, I was able to get a quality education at a prestigious liberal arts college in the United States. I thank God for his life and his investment in my life. I know God always has more ways than one to meet our needs but I am glad Mr Davis availed himself as a means through which God met my academic desires (check out Yours Truly on the Davis United World College Scholars Program website).
In any case, applying to U.S colleges is a process but I wouldn’t bore you with the details. Let’s just say from my personal list of 10 schools, I decided to apply early decision to Skidmore College,Saratoga Springs New York. (Early decision simply means that once you apply, if accepted the decision to attend is binding). My primary reason for applying to Skidmore College can be summed up in this line from one of my essays then….I do not want to be just another face in the crowd. I want to attend a school where my professors know my name. Needless to say that my professors knew me not just as the African girl from Sierra Leone but by name. Besides, I was often times the only black student in my class so it was easy for professors to notice if I was absent or too quiet in class. Other considerations for me were location and climate. Skidmore’s located in the state of New York. It didn’t matter at the time that Skidmore’s 3 hours away from New York City. I just wanted to be in New York! I’d watched movies set in New York, listened to rap music about New York and I wanted to be able to say I went to school in New York. Besides, i wanted to go somewhere cold and Skidmore offered that possibility. Saratoga is known for its cold winters and i was excited about the possibility of experiencing winters and white Christmases just like in the movies on TV. BUT I had no clue what awaited me!
I applied and was accepted to Skidmore College on full academic scholarship with provision to visit home every year. I was ecstatic! The annual visit home was the icing on the cake for me – i couldn’t stand the thought of being away from home for x number of years, not knowing when or how i would return. But with my scholarship package I didn’t have to worry about that anymore. Thanks Skidmore!
That year – 2006 – I was the proud owner of an HP laptop. It stored all my pictures, essays and coursework from UWC and I carried it with pride. At the time, flying regulations were that laptops should be stored in luggages and not carry ons. I obliged. I transited through one African country (name withheld to avoid stereotyping) where I had to go through security with my bags before final check in. My laptop was one of the items that was “examined” before i closed my suitcase. We journeyed on to New York. Long story short, i got to campus and discovered there was free wi-fi. Excited, i fumbled through my stuff searching for my laptop only to discover my laptop was missing. No way, I thought. After much searching, I had to accept that the laptop was gone. I was hysterical. I must have cried a river. How could they do this to me? That was my only material asset! I was angry and sad at the same time.
But life goes on. And it did.
I settled into college life pretty well. My time at UWC had prepared me well – academically and emotionally – for the realities of college. As a first year student, I served as secretary in the International Student Union and as a senator in the Student Government Association. I was busy, engaged and loving my time as a freshman. I became fast friends with a Swazi girl who remains one of my closet friends to this day. Nomvula is her Swazi name. I would often tease her about how Swazis employed the use of all the letters in the alphabet in their names. This girl was cool, God-fearing, smart, a fellow UWC alum and a Christian! What more could I ask for? On those days when I freaked out about some paper I had to write, Kipsy played the therapist and would often talk through the paper with me. Looking back, our meeting must have been strategically orchestrated by God. I was also blessed with a big brother in the person of Joseph Kaifala. Joseph was instrumental in my decision to attend UWC and to apply to Skidmore College. He was my senior and would check on me as often as possible. His easy-going personality and can do attitude helped me understand that I could weather the storms of college and handle whatever came my way.
The semester went by fast and before I knew it, it was December and time for winter break. The college had bought a round trip ticket which expired that December. But this sister was not ready to go home. I WANTED A WHITE CHRISTMAS! Years of watching Home Alone at Christmas had fully shaped my idea of what Christmas in the United States was supposed to look like. I wanted that experience! My Nigerian friend, Sonate, shared the same viewpoint. She didn’t want to go home either and wanted a white Christmas as well. Our International Student Advisor, Barbara Opitz, was gentle but firm. You have to go home or you will not be able to use these tickets again. Reluctantly, we agreed and spent a not-so-white Christmas in the scorching heat of the West African sun!
Daughter of the King