Samuel Mensah is a junior at Stanford University, where he is pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematical and Computational Science. An alum from Opoku Ware School, Samuel became an internet sensation for a brief time in Ghana, when he got admitted into 8 top universities in the USA, including 3 Ivy Leagues on full scholarship in 2018. Since arriving in the USA, Samuel has interned at Twitter and is currently associated with Afribbean Tech Collective, an organization committed to building multi – generational communities of African and Caribbean women pursuing creative and tech – based careers. In this post, Samuel shares his experience as an international student, studying and living in the USA.
Describe yourself in 3 words.
Gritty. Funny. Ambitious.
How would you describe your experience these past 2 years at Stanford?
It’s mostly been a net positive experience and I have grown tremendously in a lot of ways. I have met people who I’ve become good friends with and people who have really helped me on my journey of finding out what I want to do. I love that there’s a strong Ghanaian community here and that was one of the things that attracted me to the school. Prior to Stanford, I was actually looking into Princeton, but after a Stanford and Ghanaian student, Brian Fleischer, reached out to me about how great the school was, I was completely sold. I’m convinced I made the right decision with Stanford as my college experience has been great so far with just a few challenges here and there. Academically, some classes have been enjoyable and socially, I thoroughly enjoyed my freshman year dorm.
What type of challenges have you experienced with regards to studying and living in the USA an international student?
The first hurdle I had to overcome was the academics. The academics is very different from what I was used to and classes are hard. I had to figure out how to study well, take advantage of office hours, and ask for help when I needed it. My first quarter was really tough and I couldn’t figure out my left from right. Honestly, I felt I had failed everyone who was cheering me on, but after a while I managed to find my groove and can handle the academic side much better now, although it’s still not easy (lol). Outside of academics, I find the dining hall food to be very bland! I love spicy food so I’ve had a difficult time adjusting with the food. Also, I feel making friends it’s a bit difficult, which I feel may be due to the cultural differences.
I can definitely agree with your sentiments on the food and friendship aspects (lol), but with regards to academics, will you agree that Stanford is exceptionally hard?
I feel the academics at Stanford may be a bit more difficult than other US institutions, but generally, based on what I've heard from friends, I believe education in US institutions tends to be quiet rigorous.
What will you say are some of the fun parts about being a Stanford Student?
In my opinion, I feel that Stanford has a very supportive community and the campus is very nice. Additionally, the Center for African Studies, where other African students convene and hang around is one of my precious moments at Stanford. The people at Stanford, and the “name” of the institution alone has great respect and prestige, I feel it tends to help with job applications. I got a full ride scholarship, so it really does help with things.
Had you ever visited the United States prior to your arrival at Stanford?
What were you mostly looking forward to prior to your arrival at Stanford?
I had heard so much about the people at Stanford from Brian, who I previously made mention of, so I was mostly looking forward to meeting them. I was also looking forward to taking classes and learning, although that’s not so much of the case now (lol).
Have your expectations about living and studying in the USA been met?
All I imagined and more has been met beyond what I thought of and exceeded my expectations. I’ve made good friends and lifelong friends. Aside of a few academic challenges, I’ve learnt so much more than I knew. Pre- covid, I managed to explore some of the different states in the USA which was fun.
Has there been any moment where you wondered what it would be like if you opted for Princeton or any of the schools which extended you an offer of admission?
Actually, there have been sometimes I do wonder what my life in Princeton would have been like. I remember not feeling well a while back, and my friend, Brian, arranged for food to be sent to me. There’s this “bougie aura” about Princeton which I feel is attractive, but I’ve found a very supportive community at Stanford that I won’t be able to tell if I would have gotten that same type of support at Princeton. During the winter season, when the weather is a bit brutal in the east coast, I’m thankful I don’t get to live in such chilling temperatures. Whenever I do get nostalgic and think about what my experience in the other schools may have been like, I’m reminded about everything I’ve been able to enjoy at Stanford.
That's a great perspective you have! Do you feel living in the USA these past 2 years has influenced your way of life in anyways?
Living alone without any parental supervision has made me grow up quickly and more matured as I am now responsible for the decisions I take. I have been exposed to more different perspectives and opinions, which has made me more critical about how I approach and think about certain things. Also, there have been some classes that I have taken, which has left me very informed and shaped my worldview.
What are some of the differences you have observed between Ghana and the USA?
Apart from the magnificent infrastructure which is the first thing you observe once you arrive in the USA, the educational system in the US is indeed top – notch. Also, you will realize that the thought process of people in the USA and Ghana is different.
How did you land an internship position at Twitter?
I began applying for internship positions during my freshman year but didn’t get into any. As a result, I went to Ghana during my first summer vacation in 2019 and interned with a Tech Company. When I returned from Ghana, I resumed applications and was eventually offered a position at Twitter after successfully going through the interview process.
Did your school assist you in securing an interview with Twitter or did you utilize any of the school’s resources such as the Career Center during the application process?
I could have used the Career Center in polishing my resume, but for the most part, I utilized the assistance of friends in the Computer Science field, one of who interned at Facebook in the past to help with my application.
What was the interview process like?
The interview process is in stages. The first was a coding challenge online, after which I visited the Twitter headquarters in California. I interviewed with 3 different people. The first 2 interviews focused on technical questions with regards to the position, and the third interview was with the Hiring Manager where a general assessment was made on how I would fit the team. I sent my application ~ August 2019 and got offered a position late October of the same year.
How was your experience interning at Twitter?
It was an awesome experience and I learned so much. Communication was a bit challenging as the internship was carried out of the office because of Covid – 19. However, I felt welcomed and there was a daily check in with my mentor. It was my first real working experience so I cannot compare it with any other, but I had a good time, felt proud of the work I did and will be going back to intern this Summer.
How has Covid - 19 disrupted your education?
The learning experience is definitely different now as most of the teaching and other activities has been shifted online. Also, I feel the rigor of courses has somewhat declined due to the complexities of this Covid – 19 situation. Currently, I’m doing online learning from my home in Ghana.
What efforts were put in place to ensure international students were accommodated for during the pandemic?
Housing was offered for international students to continue staying on campus during the Spring, but a fee was required for students who wanted to maintain their on – campus accommodation in the summer.
It does make sense that a fee will be charged during the summer for students who wanted to continue staying on campus! Since you are in Ghana now, what have you missed about being on campus?
I miss biking to class, the gym, my friends, the Center for African Studies and my favorite Ramen place in Palo Alto.
How about being in the USA? What are some of the things you miss?
I miss the little things such as constant internet and a good network, availability of hot water in the bath (lol) and just the convenience that comes with living life in the USA that you do not always get in Ghana.
I can relate with you on that (lol)! Before we wrap up, what advice do you have for High School students interested in applying to schools in the USA?
If you're a High School student, outside of academic work, try doing as much as you can like engaging in extracurricular activities, participating in competitions like the National Science & Mathematics Quiz, and taking up leadership responsibilities.
We wish Samuel the best of success in all his endeavors and look forward to hearing and sharing on his future accomplishments!
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