My experience in the United Kingdom as a Chevening scholar
I must say from the outset that the Chevening Scholarship programme continues to provide the opportunity for developing countries, and Africa in particular, to close the educational gaps and remove the enormous disparities in educational access, inclusion, and achievement. And it is more relevant for a country like Rwanda that twenty two years ago experienced one of twentieth century’s greatest tragedies, the genocide of 1994, and has happily become humanity’s symbol of triumph of the human spirit against evil. Thanks to the leadership of this country and the resilience of the people, Rwanda has overcome arguably one of twentieth century’s mammoth tasks of forging a new beginning from the ashes of our history.
The importance of education lies in the fact that it makes the world more secure and fair. As H.G Wells once put it, and I am convinced he was not exaggerating, ‘human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.’
In the second week of September 1999, I flew to the United Kingdom to pursue postgraduate studies at the University of Manchester. My scant knowledge of Manchester then was through my reading of the industrial revolution, and the fact that this part of north-west England had played a leading role in the British industrial revolution during the 19th century. In more recent times, I know it as a centre of excellence in research and academia, and of course sports through famous teams like Manchester United, who I happily support.
My understanding and appreciation of the United Kingdom had before then been through my reading of British history, literature, and economics. I had read the works of great playwrights like William Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde, novelists like Charles Dickens, and poets like William Wordsworth, Keats, Yeats and Rudyard Kipling, just to mention a few. I had read works of Adam Smith, the famous British economist who influenced the world with his seminal book, the Wealth of Nations. I had come to appreciate the fact that modern capitalism was born and bred in the United Kingdom. The lessons of the Thatcher years transformed the world’s view on private enterprise and the current benefits that we derive from globalisation.
My stay in Manchester during the 1999/2000 academic year provided me with the opportunity to experience at first hand life in the UK as well as meet and exchange ideas with other Chevening scholars from all over the world. I lived off Hyde Road in a flat with a Bolivian and a Kenyan, both of whom have remained close friends nine years after the completion of my studies.
The academic teaching in the UK is second to none and student life is immensely rewarding. I found the British cultural life rich, modern, and historic. Through the International Society, I was able to visit parts of the UK, including Blackpool, Leeds, Liverpool, Bolton, and on some occasions, London. I joined a non-profit student organisation known as the Southern Voices, and participated on a regular basis in discussions on debt cancellation and the well-organised Jubilee 2000 Campaign.
At the University of Manchester, the resources we had access to were incredible to say the least. John Rylands University of Manchester Library is one of the largest libraries in the United Kingdom. I still access this great library through the internet just as I access my favourite paper, the Guardian, which I read throughout my stay in the United Kingdom.
The lecturers and professors were always friendly, supportive, stimulating, and enthusiastic, but quite often demanding when it came to deadlines for submitting coursework assignments. I learnt important lessons from this.
Britain is indeed a multicultural society. Close to where I lived off Hyde Road were several corner shops that belonged to Britons of Asian origin. There were shops owned by Ghanaians that were stocked with what we needed. From bananas to maize flour, to beans and cassava from Africa, we had a rich variety to choose from for our meals. I prepared most of my meals and this gave me further opportunity of honing my cooking skills. We never felt alienated as students, except at times for the weather, which I must confess I never quite got used to. But I learnt lessons of carrying an umbrella at all times, even in warm times, and making sure I followed the weather forecast religiously on television, never taking the weather for granted.
It would be presumptuous for me to claim that I could possibly share with my fellow alumni the experience of twelve months in the space provided. But let me say this: that one year of postgraduate studies in the UK was a gruelling but rewarding and exciting experience, especially when at the end of completing my dissertation and subsequent graduation, I had the opportunity to reflect on what I had gone through with a sense of satisfaction
Education has been described as the ‘the golden thread that binds the Commonwealth.’ Through the prestigious Chevening Scholarship programme, more Rwandans will acquire higher degrees and qualifications that will enable them to effectively contribute to the socio-economic transformation of this country.
As a recipient of a Chevening Scholarship, I feel proud and honoured to have been part of those chosen to pursue further studies in one of the best destinations on this planet.