Last summer, I was doing a public lecture on scholarships at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, when I received one important question from the audience. The questions were: “Why should I use my money to take tests and all those tortures to apply for something I am not sure of getting?” Another asked, “How will I benefit by going to study overseas?” These questions are kind of related. But to make it easy for the audience to understand, I had to start explaining the benefits of getting scholarships. I am going to highlight some of the key points I shared with them. 

Scholarships are not student loans


    As I indicated earlier, education costs a lot. Many people fail to access higher education, some even drop out because of failure to have enough money to cover tuition and fees as well as associated costs. Let’s take my case as a very good example, the tuition and fees for graduate studies at the University of San Diego was $36,000. And because the university is in California especially the expensive city of San Diego, the cost of living is very high, which means apartment (rent) is so high than in many cities in America. So if you add rent, books, other personal living costs (food, toiletries, phone bill, utilities, etc.) per year goes up to $24,000. Therefore, the total cost of education per year was $60,000. In my case, I didn’t have any student loans rather I got two scholarships. I got $36,000 from the Joan B Kroc scholarship and $24,000 from the Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship, totaling $60,000. And remember, these were scholarships. 


     When you get scholarships, you don’t pay back student loans. That means, someone is funding your entire education, and once you graduate you are 100 percent debt-free. You are not going to have any payment plan. I don’t have any debt concerning my education costs. Isn’t that anyone would work hard for? Compete to get someone paying for your education? This is what makes many parents here in the United States prepare their children to be very competitive, also to create a profile along the way which will help their children get scholarships once they finish high schools. Assume someone is going for undergraduate studies for four years at the University of San Diego, or any other expensive private university will cost the families over $150,000 for the degree. How many families without scholarships can afford that? Can you afford that or you will also be like me or like millions of other people to compete everywhere to get scholarships? 

    The only payback after getting the scholarship is the expectation that you will be contributing something to your community and world at large. That’s why in the scholarship application requirements, you’re supposed to write a statement of purpose or rather a motivational statement. In that part, you’ll explain in detail what you’ll be doing after graduation. 

    The Quota Scheme Scholarships were offered by the Norwegian Government to students from Developing Countries. But it has been stopped recently, I think like three to four years ago. This particular scholarship paid for everything while you were in Norway studying be it Masters's or Doctorate studies. The condition of scholarship was after studies you had to go back to your home country. If you decide not to go, then all the money they gave you would be changed from being a scholarship (not paying back) to loans (expected to pay back) because the quota scheme scholarships intended to support developments in your country not for you to stay in Norway. 


Learning from the best

         It’s no brainer to know that the quality of education in Developed Countries is way higher compared to that of Developing Countries. That’s why you can’t get surprised when you see university rankings where the top 1000 universities in the world are from Developed Countries. The teacher-student ratio, infrastructures, and everything support students to be knowledgeable and perform well. In science and engineering subjects, there are advanced laboratories and technologies which support innovations. 

    Assume you did your bachelor’s degree and master’s degree from the same university in your country let’s say in Tanzania (University of Dar es Salaam). You plan to do doctorate studies, in my opinion, it will be great if you change and do your doctorate in another country not at the same university. Or if you have a bachelor's from your country with a very good GPA (Grade Point Average), and I get surprised someone is going to pay about $3,000 for tuition and fees for masters or those post-graduate studies. Why can’t you use that money to just take TOEFL or IELTS examinations which are about $200 and get scholarships to go to learn from the best? 



Expanding your horizons/culture of learning


    Traveling and living in other places away from your cultural norms is something very useful. There are so many we tend to learn once you travel to other places. You can’t learn and know everything from textbooks. Just assume you studied your bachelor's in architecture, and you go to study in Norway or England you will be in a good position to see different kinds of buildings and architectural designs, way different from what you have been used to see in your country. You can get some tips and tricks from other places and when you go to your home country, you can merge certain things for the efficiency and development of your country. 



Treat scholarship as an “employment”


    It’s very obvious now, having a degree is not a slam dunk to get a good job. In Africa, for instance, many governments don’t open industries or projects which can create many jobs. And each year more than 50,000 students graduate from universities but the new jobs are very few. So you find out someone has a bachelor’s degree but can’t get a job even for two or three years. And those who get good jobs after graduating, their salaries are very low. In many countries in Developing Countries, when you just graduate, you are not going to be paid more than $500 per month.

     This is where I advise people, even if you don’t “believe” in scholarships, just apply and treat it as employment. You’re going to be paid to study. Someone is paying you for your development, and not because you have worked in the industry to receive a salary. That’s why when I was in my final year of my bachelor’s degree studies in Tanzania, I devoted my energy to looking and applying for scholarships. You want to know why? If I were to apply for jobs I would end up getting paid let’s say $450 per month to start, but with scholarships, the minimum I could get was $1,300 per month. This was during my Fulbright year in West Virginia.

    When I was doing my masters, I was receiving $2,000 per month. This covered everything I wanted and able to save at least $500 in a month. So the amount of money I was saving was still higher than the amount I could receive as salary per month if I had stayed in Tanzania and get employment. 

    A friend of mine was an assistant lecturer at one university in Tanzania. And if you are a government employee and go to study, your job will still be there and most importantly you will continue receiving your salary. He wanted to study for his doctorate in Tanzania. I explained to him, if you study in Tanzania it means you will continue using your salary for your normal life. The only advantage you will ever have is to study leave until you finish your Ph.D., let’s say three years. But if you go let’s say in the United States, you will continue receiving your salary as an assistant lecturer, for the matter of math, let’s assume he gets paid $1,000 per month for his position. In addition to that, you will be paid under your scholarship, let’s say $1,600 per month. That means you have increased your monthly income from $1,000 per month to $2,600 per month for the period, you are studying Ph.D. 

     He listened to my advice and did exactly as I suggested to him. He came to the USA and studied for four years to complete his doctorate. He made a very smart move, he decided not to even touch his salary in Tanzania. He only used his scholarship money for the cost of living and still had to save a small amount. Since he was receiving $1,000 per month, therefore in four years (48 months), he was able to save all his salary total of $48,000, which is huge, and for Tanzanian shillings is about Tsh. 108,000,000/- (with exchange rate of $1 = Tsh 2,250). 


Work Experience / Professional


    When you get a scholarship to study in Developed Countries, you’re having an opportunity to professionally develop yourself. In the United States, for instance, they have what is the so-called Assistantship program. This means, the department or university pays for your tuition and fees for your graduate studies 100 percent, and they are also going to give you a stipend to cover your living expenses, but you will be assisting certain assignments in the department. You might be helping with teaching, seminars, research, department work, etc. and that’s what is called Graduate Assistantship. This is a little bit quite different from most European universities where you are given full scholarships without the expectation of assisting any departmental work. But all in all, you get your professional experience to another level, working in another country, getting professional networks in other places apart from your own country. This is very huge especially in this world of globalization where you can apply for jobs or other opportunities anywhere in this world. And having people to recommend, trust, and endorse you from other countries add some weight to your resume. 

    There are also so many opportunities to volunteer or do an internship. Depending on your field, you can get such experience from very reputable companies and organizations. I remember when I was brand new in the United States, as Fulbright Scholar apart from my duties of teaching Swahili language and African culture at Marshall University in West Virginia, I devoted my life to professionally network and gain more experience. I volunteered for almost a year to teach Global Connections class to an elementary school in Huntington, West Virginia. I was volunteering at a local museum in the African section where I was explaining some of the arts but most importantly answering questions and doing presentations whenever I get an opportunity. I donated plasma to a local facility twice per week for one year. I met many good people, I learned the culture, I helped others to learn about my culture, I got a good connection and whenever I wanted recommendations, I had so many people to support me. My resume had so many good things from different organizations through Columba’s internship beyond the paying jobs I was doing. I was a very busy guy in my first year in the United States, and I wish anyone coming to these countries to even go beyond what I did. 


Permanent immigration


    One of the questions, I always get from many people be from my YouTube channel, e-mail, Facebook or WhatsApp is, “how will I relocate and stay in the United States or Europe permanently?” 

    Let me start with a very important disclaimer. No matter how much you want to stay in the country of your dream, on the scholarship application, or during a visa interview at the embassy, never express your obsession. If you show interest in staying permanently in the country you want to go to, I guarantee you that you will not be given a scholarship and/or visa from that country. All scholarships are given to people from Developing Countries so that you would go back to your home country and continent and make some positive impact there, and not intending for you to relocate to United Kingdom, United States, Australia, Germany, and so forth. 

    Again, in your motivational statement, never say that it is your dream to go to Sweden or America. Just explain how much you will gain studying in those countries, how much you can contribute to the department you will be studying and most importantly after your studies, you will go back to your home country and explain how you can bring positive changes and support development of your country. 

    Truth to be told, when I was applying for scholarships, deep down I knew what I wanted. But I never declared to anyone - to the scholarship funding institution or the U.S Embassy that if I get a visa I will never come back. In all interviews and essays, I explained how I would contribute to this world. I got the visa, but one thing leads to another, and today I have been in the United States for over 10 years, and I am a United States Citizen as well as United States Navy Veteran. Just think, if I expressed myself at the U.S Embassy or showed any kind of interest in possibly staying in the United States, I could not get the visa. So sometimes certain things in your life need to stay in your heart without expressing to anyone until you have reached that milestone. Just like it is in Swahili saying, “Usitukane Mamba kabla hujavuka mto” translating to, Don’t insult the crocodile before crossing the river. 

    My advice to you and many people who have dreams to go to other countries and possibly staying there for the rest of their lives, going through scholarships is the best option. Through scholarships, you have first and foremost taken out the burden and stress of how you can pay for your education and survive in general. Let’s say you are doing two years master’s degree, you will have an opportunity to learn the culture and most things while you are studying. I call it orientation to the country because you can’t just arrive today in the United States and excel right away. You need to learn the tradecraft of the area. 

     When it comes to getting jobs in these countries, it’s not easy for immigrants. Your education from your country does not necessarily give you a good job here. Your work experience from your country does not translate here and you become a manager of something. So coming through education especially scholarships, you have an opportunity to get high-quality education from accredited universities that are also famous in the country. You will also have the opportunity to get work experience in that particular country. That makes a smooth transition after your graduation to find other opportunities. But if you try to come here through other ways, it sometimes becomes extremely difficult to transition. 

    With this dream of immigrating to another country, you are not the only one thinking of that. Millions of people have some reason. So don’t go to the U.S Embassy or Irish Embassy and tell them you are so patriotic to your country and you will come back. Don’t give simple reasons if you are asked to prove to me you will come back to your country after studies and you start saying you like your job. The answer you are giving, thousands of people have been there and answered the same way and didn’t go back. But if you have a full scholarship, it makes a lot of sense because someone paid for your education. But it will be difficult let’s say you are going to pay on your own (self-financing student), the cost of education from fees and living is more than $25,000 and you say you are going to study a bachelor’s degree in political science. If the consular asks you, the cost of studying a bachelor’s degree in political science in your country is less than $2,000, why are you going to spend over $25,000 per year (total of $100,000 in a four-year degree program) while degree content is the same? At that point, it sounds fishy, that you’re only looking for a way out of Africa. But if you have a scholarship, nothing fishy at all because you are not the one spending all this money. 


Ernest Boniface Makulilo


Missouri, USA

www.youtube.com/ebmscholars (for English Videos)

www.youtube.com/ebmswahili (for Swahili Videos)


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