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Interview with Priscilla Baafi: 2019 Mo Ibrahim Scholar

Priscilla is an International Development student and practitioner with a keen interest in promoting good governance, democracy and gender equality in Africa. She is currently pursuing a Masters program in Governance and State-building at the University of Birmingham and graduated with first class honors in Economics with Geography from the University of Ghana.

How did you first learn about the Mo Ibrahim Scholarship?

I follow a couple of Facebook pages which highlight scholarship opportunities for African students interested in advancing their education abroad. I was actually at work one day, when I came across the Mo Ibrahim Scholarship opportunity and decided to further explore it.

Were you always set on studying in the UK?

I definitely wanted to advance my education abroad after my first degree. As such, I applied to various institutions and although I always received an offer of admission, I never got a scholarship until recently. The UK has always been my preferred destination for graduate school mostly because of the duration of their Master’s program, which is usually 1 year. In addition, I felt the UK had more options for my course of study.

How will you describe the scholarship application process?

The scholarship application was a part of the program’s application. Aside from the general application requirements for the program such as the statement of purpose, certified copies of transcript and recommendation letters that I had to submit, there was also a section which required me to write a scholarship statement on why I deserve the Mo Ibrahim Scholarship and how my future aspirations ties to the goals of the scholarship program. An applicant has to be unconditionally offered an admission into the school, upon which they then may be shortlisted as a candidate for consideration for the Mo Ibrahim Scholarship.

How was the interview?

It was great! The interview was conducted on skype by one interviewee. Due to the criteria surrounding the scholarship program, the goal of the interviewee is to find the best applicant who portrays the ideals of the scholarship. Throughout the interview, I consistently tied my work experience, as well as my future career plans to the ideals of the scholarship program in order to demonstrate why I was the best candidate for the scholarship.

Would you say your past experience aided your application?

I’m of the strong belief that if you fail once, you need to go back to the “drawing board” and analyze what may have gone wrong. I improved my statement of purpose every time I was denied a scholarship and also reached out to a few people who reviewed my statement of purpose before submitting it. There were people who discouraged me after several failed attempts of securing a scholarship, but the will - power to succeed was what kept me going. I continued to apply for new scholarships and connected with other scholarship recipients, until I was finally awarded one.

How did you find out you were the 2019 Mo Ibrahim Scholar?

I was in a vehicle when I received the long awaited email. It was really embarrassing because my initial response was a scream which drew all eyes on me. I had only 48 hours to respond to the offer, so it was a good thing I had checked my email before the time elapsed.

What is the timeline of the scholarship application?

The scholarship usually opens in early April and closes in early May of the year the individual is suppose to commence the programme. I was notified that I had been shortlisted on 30th July and interviewed the 1st week of August for the scholarship. The academic year begins 30th September so there was very limited time to get everything together before departing to the UK.

What are some of the terms of the scholarship?

After coursework, you begin a 1-year internship, after which you come back to write your thesis. Instead of graduating in a year like my cohorts, I graduate in 2 years.

Did you encounter any difficulties pre-departure given the limited time you had?

The Foundation pays for express visa, so I was able to interview on time. Once I got my visa, I had it uploaded to a portal and sent a copy to the Scholarship Administrator, who then purchased my airline ticket. The major hurdle was obtaining my health records from the approved office. Apparently, you need to have a valid health record with all the required immunizations taken before you can secure a visa appointment. Interestingly, there is only 1 clinic in Ghana that the British Embassy approves to conduct these health examinations, so that was really a tough one considering how slow the system in Ghana can be.

What were some of the preparations you made towards your arrival and stay in the UK?

I reached out to past Mo Ibrahim Scholars after I obtained the scholarship as part of preparations for starting school in the UK to get advice. I also worked on securing housing before arrival.

Did you opt for on-campus housing or off-campus housing?

I opted to live off-campus because the cost was less expensive as compared to the accommodation the university offers.

What preparations did you make in securing housing before your arrival?

I knew someone in the UK who offered their space, up until the time I was able to find my own place, so that was really helpful. I arrived in the UK on the day of orientation and honestly, I cannot imagine how I would have sorted out my housing situation on my own.

What do you wish you had known prior to studying in the UK?

I wish I had developed my writing skills and learned how to be more analytical. It was a bit of a struggle during the first few months, especially with writing assignments. However, the good thing is that, there’s a thing called formative assignments, which provides the opportunity for students to have professors read and provide remarks on their drafts before turning in the final work.

How has your experience in the UK been these past couple of months?

It’s been fantastic! Within a short time, I’ve been able to learn a lot of things and have greatly improved my writing skills. About 70% of my cohorts are also international students, so I’ve had the opportunity to experience different cultures these past couple of months. Most recently, I have had the opportunity to co-author my first publication, and I am currently doing the first of a 6-month internship with the International Development Department, after which I will move to London to complete another 6-month internship at the Mo Ibrahim Foundation. I am really grateful for this opportunity!

Did you witness any difference between the learning culture in Ghana and the UK?

In Ghana, there tends to be a lot of rote learning, but in the UK, heavy emphasis is placed on analytical thinking.

How has Covid-19 impacted your education and experience?

Well, socializing has been limited and I miss that experience, especially the opportunity to be in the classroom. The Welfare Office has been very supportive; communicating with international students regularly and updating us on what is going.

How would you describe your experience with online learning?

Due to a more stable internet I’ve had, online learning has been ok for the most part. However, nothing beats the classroom experience!

What advice do you have for someone who is considering applying for the Mo Ibrahim Scholarship?

I highly recommend you work hard in school and get good grades, as well as participate and engage in extra - curricular activities or internships in your field of interest. It is extremely competitive out there, as there are many students applying for the same scholarship. If the outcome of your application is not positive during the first try, go back and make amends before trying again or dedicate time to gaining relevant experience in your field of interest. Also, reach out to people who have been where you hope to be and learn from their experience. There’s LinkedIn, Facebook and a vast array of social media sites where you can connect with people!

Since 2012, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation has provided a scholarship opportunity to an outstanding African student each year to pursue a MSc in Governance and State-Building at the University of Birmingham, UK. This two-year scholarship programme includes a six-month internship at the Foundation Secretariat. Full tuition fees, a living allowance and airfare to the UK are covered. Scholarship application for the academic year starting in September 2021 can be found here.

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