First Impressions of Oxford by an African Student– By Kojo Botsio (DPhil Education, Green Templeton College
“This is one of those places… where once you get here, you surely won’t want to leave. Ever” – is a phrase that has been repeatedly said to me by some African students here in Oxford. And while these words are said of many places, I have come to feel strongly that they do indeed define the reality here, masking their cliché overtones.
When I visited Oxford earlier in the summer, I met two or three African students on their way out, and now that I have arrived to start my studies, I find them still here, taking in the brilliant and inspiring atmosphere that this place is. Perhaps they remain here for fear of missing out, or perhaps they are just biding their time as they settle on their next steps in life.
Before I even get to delve into my research work fully as a DPhil student, I am planning my fieldwork which will take between 6 months to 1 year out of the total 4 years I have to complete my course of study. I will have to spend this time away from Oxford doing interviews and collecting data in the field usually after the first year. Within the first few days here, however, I felt so drawn to this place that I already found myself seriously pondering whether to postpone the start of my fieldwork by a term or two. I won’t be surprised that more than a few people reading this may chuckle or laugh uncontrollably at this sentiment and this immediate feeling of attachment I describe.
Perhaps contrary to what I’ve heard from the optimists – whom I’ve solely encountered so far per chance, the truth may be that the real work starts and then you begin to device your exit strategy right in the margins of your notebook.
Oxford has impressed upon me so tangibly. This place is special. You hear of it, you read about it, watch it via various media, and then you actually get to live it, and realize even after just the first few days that various elements – the history, the ancient buildings, the people, their incredible achievements closed firmly behind the curtain of humility; all these strongly confirm and magnify your perceptions of how special this place is.
THE “AFRICAN UNION”
I risk sounding biased as I truthfully declare this as paramount on my list of positive impressions of Oxford. On the student side there is a strong African Union or at least the strong potential to institutionalize one. On the faculty side – well I am yet to meet any African faculty here, and it is quite worrying. Nevertheless, as a Pan-Africanist and an untamable optimist, I am delighted at the African student presence on this campus, and the promise that each new conversation with a new African connection holds.
It is popular perception and arguably the reality that the African who has traversed these grounds, and has been privileged to receive from the knowledge, intellectualism, networks, multiculturalism, the endless inspiration, and the community shared between the Africans herein, has often gone on to be impactful in his/her community and nation, offering to serve beyond what is averagely expected, and doing so very well.
Many other institutions are also replete with Africans with bold ideas, visions, and the aplomb to make change on the continent, but we have unique legacies to focus on and follow, one left to us by Oxford Africans preceding us here today; ensuring that we maintain a status quo of high minimum standards for service to our communities, nations and continent.
These legacies continue to be evidenced and recently even more clearly by the beautiful historical portraits curated by the Africa Oxford Initiative (AfOx), in their October – Black History Month series. These legacies inspire, empower, and delineate our roles now at Oxford and our minimum contributions to Africa for the future. We often speak of and ponder “what the future holds for Africa,” but worth pondering even more, really, is “what WE hold for Africa”, and seek to nurture by our Oxford education. What we hold for Africa is what the future awaits to hold – what the future holds for Africa is in our hands today.
It has been absolutely delightful to meet at least seven other Ghanaians so far, three Congolese, a Zambian, a Senegalese, Nigerians in their usual droves, Kenyans, Liberians, a Malawian, Zimbabweans; and I am bound to count many more different African cultures and great African minds with contagious visions for the continent. Meeting such a wide and exciting spectrum of Africans here so far has felt like a convening of old friends and extended family at Christmas, and the help and advice being offered freely even before asking foretells a supportive and fruitful African Union at Oxford and beyond completion of our studies here.
From our different corners of the continent we bring bold new ideas, and sometimes opposing viewpoints, all to advance environmental change and management in Ghana, business and entrepreneurship in Nigeria, Social Protection in Zambia, Education policy, medicine, our continent’s rich History, African Studies, and the list goes on.
We will nurture these by the rigorous academic standards, the global viewpoints we encounter, the camaraderie, intellectual discussions and support from the various African groups including AfOx and Afrisoc, through our individual coursework and theses, and collectively through the Oxford Africa Conference and similar avenues; and then we will finally deliver them ready, into the hands of the future of Africa.
Papa Kojo Botsio is a first year DPhil candidate from Ghana at the University of Oxford. His research is focused on Education and Welfare Policy particularly addressing the limited access to secondary and higher education for economically and socially vulnerable students in Ghana. Prior to Oxford, he received a Masters in Public Administration (MPA) with a concentration in Social Policy at Cornell University and a BA in Sociology and Anthropology at Swarthmore College. He is also a co-founder of University Avenue, an Education Consultancy that provides University Application Counseling Services for Ghanaian students. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org