Monday, February 6, 2012

From Frank: For TZ Students Seeking Scholarships

Dear all -

It is a pleasure to meet you.

I had promised [...] that I would send him a 1 page biosketch to share with Tz students seeking scholarship opportunities in the US. Days are fast becoming weeks, and soon will be months .. the more I think about it, the more the task seems more daunting! And so, with your permission, I will free-style a few paragraphs here, and welcome any comments you may have. I think all of us have experiences that would immensely help others, we just never get around to sharing them ...


IST 1992-95
I read about the IST scholarships in the Daily News newspaper, there was a full page advertisement of the scholarships with exam dates at the Masaki campus. I had just completed the O-level exams at Azania Sec School, and was waiting for my results. I also had the good fortune of knowing at least two Tanzanian students who had won the IST scholarships, they were sister's of my former classmate from Mlimani Primary School. I say good fortune because it is very important to see what it is possible, so as to believe what it is possible. The exams went well, and I was selected for a panel interview which I remember included the CEO of IST. My only other interview up to that time had been at Mzizima Sec School, where I had categorically told their Headmaster that if I got placed at Azania or Tambaza, from Muhimbili Primary School, I would never bother going to a private school - sadly those were the last glorious days of public education in Tanzania! By the time I had spent four years struggling with haphazard teaching and random school schedule at Azania, I had wised up just enough to know how good an opportunity IST would be - and this insight served me well at the IST panel interview! It still bothered me that IST didn't offer PCB (Physics, Chemistry, and Biology) which could hamper my chances of getting into Muhimbili, as a medical student. But the opportunity and sheer excitement of the scholarship seemed to vastly outweigh this concern. This is how one knows the risk is probably worth it. My struggles at Azania had taught me good study habits, which when combined with the
excellent resources at IST, made the time at IST very enjoyable and fruitful. There was a disconnect with me going to school on a daladala or pickup ride from my fellow students, when many arrived in posh cars, but that was the least of my concerns. The scholarship after all was for education, not better school transport!

Harvard 1995-2004Applying to Harvard was serendipitous in the sense that most of my classmates applied to college - and everyone listed some very competitive schools, average schools and 'safety' schools. Those seeking scholarships were told to apply to at least 30-40 schools at the minimum, you can imagine the number of essays and secondary applications one has to fill. Fortunately, using the common application, many of the schools waived the fees which cost $40USD per application at the time, not counting the SAT and TOEFL exam fees. I mention this to emphasize that good grades, while essential, are not enough to make one competitive. We applied early and to many many schools, and we were also constantly reminded that we were competing with International students world wide not just from IST - because IST administers the International Baccalaureate (IB) exam which is a global exam. This was an important lesson because many good Tanzanian students are very comfortable competing against Tanzanian students, but not against students from let's say Kenya! I am afraid this is increasingly becoming the reality, especially as we move towards the East African Federation. At Harvard, the same themes continued, only more intensified because most students there tend to be competitive and ambitious - which is a great environment for growth. But again, going to Harvard and getting good grades is not enough, one still has to apply early and to many many opportunities, like everyone else competing for the same opportunities. Surrounding oneself with like minded people, especially those with a similar background, allowed me to see what was possible, and have an immediate source for bouncing off ideas and strategies.

I would be remiss not to mention one of my worst grades at Harvard, where I got a B- in Physics 11A. This will resonate with the premed types who by necessity have to obsess over their GPAs. I remember thinking that the dream of medical school was now over, but my premed Advisor was kind enough to teach me two important lessons: Never let a bad grade hurt you twice and always over prepare for the next test or task. While I was busy making a few dollars here and there for 10-15 hrs/week, my fellow students were using that precious time to read 4-5 chapters ahead of the class and visit Professors during office hours and after class. I also learned that books for the semester were bought weeks before the semester began, not 2-3 weeks into it! You can only imagine the shock of actually learning what your competitors have been doing all along, while I depended on studying habits I had learned at Azania! Many times we are competing in the dark, without even knowing what the competition is. Know thy enemy. When I put my advisor's lessons to work, surely enough it paid off with an A+ in Physics 11B the following semester. My only regret is that I was a second semester Junior by that time.

Yale 2004-present
I am now an Assistant Professor in Neuroradiology, which means that I both teach and interpret medical images of the brain and spine. The only constant has been learning and competing. But I believe this is true of whatever profession one chooses. It used to be that one needs to learn in order to compete, now one has to learn in order to simply survive and remain relevant. These are challenging but incredibly exciting times. I am hoping we will embrace the challenge of learning and competing in our own lives, and freely share with others our own lessons.


Thanks for reading.


Baraka Mfunguo February 10, 2012 at 2:27 PM  

What an ispirational achievement. Congratulations Frank you made us to believe in our dreams and work hard to achieve them.

Karibu kwenye ulingo wa kutafakari kuhusu tunapotoka,tulipo,tuendako na namna ambavyo tutafika huko tuendako/Welcome to a platform for reflecting on where we are coming from, where we are, where we are going and how we will get there

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