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Interview with Deborah Ofori: 2017 Master of Science in Foreign Service (MSFS) Africa Scholar

Deborah is an experienced financial analyst, business strategist and researcher with a demonstrated history and proven track record of working in a fast-paced multinational and international business environment. She is well-versed in Business-to-Business (B2B), financial analysis, business development and economic research, and passionate about helping corporations solve complex business challenges.

How did you hear about the MSFS Africa Scholarship?

When I began the graduate school search, I was looking primarily into MBA programs, as well as those related to global business and finance. As such, my initial search was primarily on schools which offered business programs with scholarships. It was during one of those searches that I came across the MSFS Africa Scholarship and decided to further explore it as a Plan B.

Was Georgetown University one of the schools you had considered prior to finding out about the MSFS Africa Scholarship?

I actually had never heard of Georgetown prior to finding out about the scholarship. However, it was through speaking with people that I learned it was one of the top and prestigious universities in the USA. I was initially looking into Harvard, Stanford, Leeds, but came across this scholarship at Georgetown and decided to give it a shot upon realizing I met the scholarship application requirements.

Was the MSFS Africa Scholarship application a different application from that of the university’s application?

I submitted only one application. In the graduate school application portal, there was a question which asked applicants about their interest in being considered for the MSFS Africa Scholarship. Responding in the affirmative made me an automatic candidate for consideration for the scholarship.

How did you find out you were the 2018 recipient of the MSFS Africa Scholarship?

I first received an email which stated I had been offered admission at Georgetown University, and a few days later, another email came in, where I learned I was the 2017 scholarship recipient.

Did you have to interview for the scholarship at any point?

There was no interview. The decision is made based on the strength of a candidate's application and the individual had to be from a sub-Saharan African country to be considered.

I read the scholarship covers just tuition. Can you confirm it?

That’s right! I initially thought the scholarship covered everything, but later learned that it was just for tuition. As such, I still had to chip in money for other expenses such as student related fees outside of tuition.

Did you have any expectations about the USA prior to arriving for school?

I knew I was going to encounter some challenges so I didn’t really have much expectations. I just sort of braced myself for the new “life”.

How would you describe your adjustment phase?

I was a bit apprehensive about living in the USA at the beginning. I had never been far away from my family for a very long time and also didn’t know anyone in the USA so the feeling was a bit nerve - wracking. Thankfully, the previous MSFS Africa scholar was also Ghanaian, so it really did help to have someone around who could help me find my feet. Also, one of my high school colleagues who was also attending Georgetown that fall reached out to me upon learning I was in the same cohort with her. She really eased the process of what could have been a stressful accommodation search and soon became my “family”. The first year was a bit rough, especially with regards to feeling homesick, but by my second year, I had quickly adjusted.

How did you find campus life in Legon to be different from Georgetown?

I will say what’s fun in Legon is not fun in Georgetown, and also because I entered at different phases, that could contribute to the different campus experience I had. I found Legon to be more relaxed and I also had a lot free time. Georgetown on the other hand has a bit more of an organized campus and everything seems to be in place, with a lot more to do.

How would you describe the classroom culture in Legon and Georgetown?

In Legon, “chew and pour” works, but the same cannot be said of America. The higher educational system in America is more dialogue based and heavily encourages student participation and group projects in the classroom. In Legon, you could end the semester without speaking up or making any significant contribution in the classroom, while in the USA, you have to be prepared to speak up more than usual in at least one class.

Since the MSFS program includes a required internship, how did you go about finding an internship site?

With the internship, the student is mainly responsible for finding the site. The school does not match you with an organization, but opportunities such as career fairs are provided, where representatives from various organizations come to the campus. I interned at the Intergovernmental Group of Twenty-Four (G-24) and I got there through the help of one of my professors who linked me after submitting my application.

I’m aware you moved from an intern at G-24 to a full time employee. Is there any advice you will give to student interns hoping to find employment once their internship is over?

Give off your best and ask questions if you do not understand anything. Have an open-mind and be willing to learn! Importantly, let your presence be felt within the organization!

Was it stressful doing an internship while schooling?

Actually, I started the internship during the summer when classes were not in session. As such, it was not so much stressful. However, I continued my internship during the fall when school had resumed and that’s when the stress began. Prior to that, I had a part - time campus job working in the Admissions Office, and it was stressful sometimes. I learned to manage my time and prioritize certain things over others.

Speaking of Admissions, is there anything you want students applying to schools to be aware of based on the experience you had working in the field?

Based on my experience at Georgetown Admissions, a holistic process is used to evaluate applicants so you should not be too worried if you feel one side of your application is weak. Yes, scores tend to matter, especially if you are seeking a merit - based scholarship. However, you need to ensure the other portions of your application is at least strong, and make a compelling statement on why you should be admitted. I personally didn’t think I had the best GRE score i.e. 298/340, but still went ahead to apply and ended up with a scholarship at the end of the day.

How would you describe the work culture in the USA?

The work culture in the USA I’ve experienced so far tends to be flexible, human time is valued, there’s utmost concern about employees well-being, and you will be paid properly, more especially if you are a good negotiator.

Was the work culture you experienced in the USA different/similar to that of Ghana?

I worked with a foreign government agency in Ghana, Enterprise Singapore, and my experience was comparable to what I’ve experienced in the USA.

What were some of the fun aspects you recall during your time at Georgetown?

Participating in intra-mural sports was definitely fun! Being the chairperson for Georgetown’s African Business Conference, and an executive member of the AfricaForum, as well as all the get - together parties are some of the fun things I reminisce fondly.

What advice will you give to someone interested in applying for the MSFS Africa Scholarship?

Make sure you meet all the application requirements and make sure all your application materials positions you as a strong candidate. Most importantly, have a strong statement of purpose. In my time, there were no interviews, so the best place to sell yourself was in your statement of purpose. Although there are still no interviews, a new option to submit a video of yourself has been introduced, and so, it is best to still have a strong statement of purpose in addition to the video.

As of Fall 2014, MSFS began offering a full-tuition scholarship for a talented graduate student from sub-Saharan Africa. Special consideration is usually given to applicants from Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, and South Africa. Deborah Ofori is the fourth recipient of the said scholarship. We wish her continued success in all her endeavors.

The 2021 MSFS application is currently opened with a deadline of January 15 for priority scholarship consideration. Click here to begin your application.

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