• State failure to cover airfare and language barrier make for a difficult start to life
It all started shortly after completing my form 4 from Marmanet Secondary School in Laikipia county. I received a call from the headteacher of my former high school, who informed me that I had been awarded a government scholarship to Morocco and that I was required to travel within two weeks or else the opportunity would be lost.
There was an initiative by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to empower rural schools in my village by offering fully-funded international scholarships to top students. This project ran for several years and was sponsored by Thuita Mwangi, who was then the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I was the lucky beneficiary that year.
I went home that evening and informed my parents about the news. They didn’t say much. They just said, “We thank God” and encouraged me to pursue the opportunity. With the support of MFA, I obtained a passport and visa in three days and was ready to fly to Morocco. After a few days, I was surprisingly informed that the government was unable to purchase me the air ticket. They advised me to borrow money and promised to refund my parents later after I had travelled. That was the last time I heard from them.
Luckily, well-wishers came to my rescue. My next stop was the airport. We boarded and were advised to switch off our gadgets for take-off. That’s the moment when reality came hitting. I paused for a minute and asked myself: And by the way, where am I going? I had not taken time before to find out more about the scholarship details. I had received some papers from the Ministry of Education as well as from the Moroccan Embassy in Kenya, but I couldn’t tell which is which because they were written in a foreign language, which I came to realise later was French.
I had boarded Qatar Airways and our first destination was Dubai, a second stop-over in Tripoli and final destination was Casablanca. Naive as I was, I thought everyone onboard was going to Morocco. Little did I know that I was probably the only one.
At Mohammed V Airport in Casablanca, I went asking everyone, “Do you speak English?” The first 10 people I asked just shook their heads in decline.
Suddenly, I saw a black guy from a distance. I waved at him and he came to where I was sitting. I explained to him where I was coming from. I gave him all the documents, including my passport. When he started reading, I could see him nodding his head. He fully understood my story. My university and the students’ residence where I was supposed to go were in Rabat. He said he would help me book a train from Casablanca to Rabat.
In addition, he wrote a note in French and told me to show it to the person sitting next to me in the train. He told me that the note was reading, “I am a foreigner and I do not speak French. I am going to AMCI in Rabat. Kindly alert me when we get to Rabat and assist me to board a taxi to the said location. Thank you.”
Upon arrival in Rabat, I showed the note to a taxi driver, who drove me to AMCI . The first person I talked to was Ghanaian. He immediately connected me to a Kenyan student, who was also in the queue. AMCI (Agence Nationale de Cooperation Internationale) is the Moroccan government agency under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that coordinates international students on government scholarship.
The following day, the fellow Kenyan took me to Hassan II University in Rabat and ensured I enrolled as a student. I was set to start French classes in two days’ time.
In Morocco, if you are not from a French-speaking country, you must study French language for one year before pursuing the main course in any university.
French lessons started early December 2008 and were supposed to end around June the following year. My class had 26 students from 16 countries, mostly from Africa and Asia. Our French lecturer only spoke in French. This is because there was no uniting language among the 16 nationalities.
The six months passed very quickly. I passed my French exams with flying colours, which booked me space at the National School of Agriculture in a town called Meknes. Here, I pursued Agronomy and later specialised in Rural Development. First year was full of science subjects and mathematics. My life had never been this hard. I could read and write French quite comfortably, but listening was quite a big challenge. I could not listen and understand a good part of what the lecturers were saying in class.
Everyone was wondering how I could make it in my studies. I felt low. I chose a group of friends and formed study groups. Today, I can confidently say I am a product of group work. For every subject, I made a friendship with students who were strong at it. To the surprise of everyone, I passed all my first year’s exams without resitting.
Second year was tough, too. But to me, it was 50 per cent easier than first year because my French had improved tremendously. The following years were becoming a walk in the park. I had become an assimilated francophone. I continued that way and on July 19, 2014, I defended my Master’s theses, which I successfully passed. I spent the remaining months of 2014 touring Morocco. In January 2015, I returned to Kenya and I am very proud to be an active youth in agribusiness.
To finalise, I can say the Moroccan education system is world-class. However, given the same scholarship again today, I would think twice. Have you ever been chased by a dog and you jump a tall fence and later start wondering how you managed to jump it?
That’s what it means to be a Kenyan student on GOK scholarship to Morocco!
Luckily, the Association of Kenyan Alumni from Morocco (Akam) was founded in 2016 to prepare and advise scholarship beneficiaries before they depart to Morocco.
Joseph is an agribusiness consultant and president of the Association of Kenyan Alumni from Morocco (Akam)
Edited by T Jalio