Attending the Yale Young African Scholars has got to be one of the highlights of my high school years. Having never flown alone, nor been immersed in such a diverse mixture of cultures and personalities, YYAS rightfully claims its position as one of the most unique, enriching opportunities I’ve had the fortune to be a part of, and it definitely justifies the tedious application process I had to endure. With bright, inspiring instructors – mainly constituting of Yale students/faculty – open to questions and generous in answers, a huge body of peers – of variegated, rich backgrounds representing a variety of refined, fresh, young ideas – and staff who welcomed us with open arms, I am effusively thankful for this program, and hold no regrets at all.
Upon arrival at the airport, me and a handful of participants who shared my flight were buzzing with nervousness and excitement. We made our way towards the exit gates, filling out our immigration forms, and filing all necessary documents. When exiting the arrivals zone, we met a large group of peers, accompanied by one of the instructors, whom arrived before us, and we instantly bonded. 3 minutes into the program, we have already introduced one another pushing aside all formalities as we traded jokes, and formed full scale debates. Our group further grew upon entering the bus, where we merged with another group of attendees. There we buckled up, and made our way to the Arundel School where the long awaited adventure lay.
Now I won’t delve too deep in details, but will provide an overview of the different aspects of the program that I believe were the most impactful and worth mentioning.
The first of these elements is the lectures. Every morning, following breakfast, a guest lecturer – either a Yale instructor or a prominent African figure – would come up and give a presentation. The lecturers, I must say, not only were articulate in their presentations, but were very engaging, earning our full focus and attention. My personal favorite has to be Fadzayi Mahere’s lecture regarding her humble origins, her growth and her eventual success as a lawyer. Furthermore, I loved her perspective regarding the prospect of an African Union, and the means she believes such a concept can be achieved , not only was it inspiring, but also very insightful, being that it’s from a fresh standpoint . Unfortunately, due to complications many of the lecturers who were originally supposed to come couldn’t make it. Regardless, I’ll definitely say all lectures (and the 1 movie) were extremely informative, inspiring and engaging, and their impact was further amplified by the discussion groups that followed. It was here that a lot of the debates occurred, where we managed to hear ideas and opinions from different African perspectives, giving us a deeper more dynamic understanding of the topic in question.
The next session I’d like to discuss is the SAT prep classes, where Esther, our SAT prep tutor would provide us with a thorough run down through the SATs material. Now without a doubt, it was a shock to all when we were confronted with a diagnostic SAT practice test on the first day of the program. Traumatizing indeed….. Nevertheless, it relieved a lot of the stress and lifted the mist that surrounds the so feared SATs. Following the ordeal, I must admit, the exposure served more good than bad, and regardless of what we scored, it is without a doubt we all left that hall with a confidence boost that will fuel us for a long period.
Every night, we had a 2 hour workshop session, led by a workshop tutor – a Yale student – who would guide us through the American university application process. I won’t dive deep into details, however I’d be lying if I said that’s what solely constituted it. True, we did learn a lot about the common application, essay writing and the different aspects of applying, but a considerable portion of the time was spent playing group games, relating stories as well as suffering long unbearable awkward silences. Consequently, I’d say, to a large extent, the workshop sessions served as an ice breaker, along with being informative.
If I were asked ‘What aspect of the program did you favor most?’ my answer would definitely be the meals. The food was exquisite, the staff were welcoming, the place was neat and most of all, the discussions held were very enriching. Food aside, some of the most heated debates I’ve ever witnessed happened in the dining hall, ironically, over plates of ice cream. Furthermore, many of the people I met, and got close to all were ones I talked to during meal times. It’s a great opportunity to take a break from the rigorous academia and get to know people personally, forming bonds that transcend the debates and discussions held in classes. If you come to such a program, get social and open up to those around you, you won’t regret it.
The final element I believe if not mentioned, will leave this article incomplete, is the talent show that marked the great finale of the program, with performances by us, the students. The performances ranged from dancing and singing to poetry and standup comedy. It was evident that our group exhibited a wide array of talents, and the show was a huge success, a great way to end such an amazing week.
In my transition from a YYAS attendee to a YYAS alumnus, I’ve built such a large diverse network of friends and mentors, and I’ve been through such amazing invaluable experiences in such a short interval. On top of that, I learnt a lot about the continent, its politics, geography and cultures, and gained a lot of insight from a variety of perspectives, something neither books nor research will provide. Definitely a life changing experience I’ll share back in my home country of Libya.