From TOEFL and SAT Prep, through lengthy college search procedures and day to day follow up with documents beings submitted we were often the bearers of good news. Yet, sometimes we carried news that parents and students did not want to hear. When searching for universities we started by looking worldwide, and then narrowed the list down to specific locations. Most important it was our job to tactfully merge dreams and realities. In most instances, the university list the student brought to us included numerous big name, Ivy League institutions because this is what they know. We took this list and also began to highlight those institutions that are a best match academically, culturally, financially and socially for the student and parent. We encouraged learners to get off the beaten path and take a broader look at an array of institutions. Time after time, we discussed with students that there are many quiet gem institutions that may not be in the top 10 ranking, but have excellent academic programs and provide best support and services to international students. Throughout this process their parents were by their sides.
Our role evolved and changed on a day to day basis. We served as the mediator between a student that is open to various locations and a parent who wants them to remain in one specific city, state or country. We dispelled myths regarding community colleges, when dealing with students who because of financial or academic reasons needed to begin with a two year program. Financial Management 101 was at the core of our admissions counselling as we reconciled what was desired with the reality of best option for what was affordable. We pushed the limits of communication as we sent messages regularly via SMS, email, WhatsApp, Instagram and Skype. Communication with parents was also on a regular basis. Along the way we have made some great friends.
University and scholarship applications were organized in detailed tables as our heads were quickly consumed with deadlines. Throughout this process, our parents remained in the picture offering words of encouragement and support. In some instances, we encouraged students and their parents to look at the educational options in Senegal. Our focus has never been to send every student out of the country. If there is a good option for them in Senegal, we support this completely.
However awkward or perhaps unwanted, issues related to The Diaspora , race and class were often discussed. We heard the unspoken fears and concerns from our parents and attempted to address them. When one student shared with us that she had been contacted by the African Student Union of the university she was attending, she was quick to say she would not join this group. We suggested she respond in an open manner, and attend the first meeting to learn about the group. We were quick to remind her that in many ways this group can serve as a strong support system. For some students it would be a first experience to mix with other students from The Diaspora including the Caribbean, African Americans, students from East and South Africa or students of African descent raised in Europe, etc. They were encouraged to take their time in developing friendships and seek a common ground as differences are always so easily apparent.
We helped the students prepare a short list of items to take with them that would allow them to remain centered and connected to family, friends and home. For our males going abroad, we spoke frankly but sadly about the realities of color. It was important to make it clear that if they should ever have any incident with campus or city police, etc. then this would not be the moment to try to explain that they were from abroad. This would be the time to follow steps 1, 2 and 3 to assure their safety. As the visa appointment grew near, both parents and students became nervous. Discussing the visa interview, their dress, behavior and communication methods were openly discussed. While we did not enter the embassy with them, we were confident with all required documents in hand, a positive attitude and the ability to respond effectively to all questions answered that they would be successful. Indeed, they walked out knowing they had obtained the visa, and we received their enthusiastic calls from the car.
Most important, we openly discussed with the students their returning home. I shared with one student this quote from J . Nozipo Maraire's book Zenzele: A Letter for My Daughter. In this outstanding book, the mother is writing to her daughter who is studying abroad and tells her. "Foreign cash is not the answers to our problems (in Africa), my friend. Africa needs the hearts and minds of its sons and daughters to nurture it.”
Then with a quick hope and prayer they were gone. Today, it’s 7 AM Friday morning, and I am again following up with students saying. “Remember if you need to talk, your parents are always here for you and so am I.”