From time to time throughout the year, the Chevening Secretariat will host conferences for the scholars. The scholar I will feature today is someone I met at a conference the at Durham University (they have a great campus by the way.) This young lady and I just clicked on the day, after a group discussion. When I posted a shot of her and some other scholars on my Instagram account, a friend of mine remarked that she was simply slaying the photo! I had to agree, especially because while at the conference I had remarked on her stunning fashion sense. Brilliant, beautiful and fresh from a fantastic trip and smashing presentation at the World Trade Organisation, I am pleased to introduce you to the fabulous Ofentse Lekwane. I am excited to have you meet her through my blog series, #ScholarProfiles, which showcases some of the outstanding people I meet on my Chevening Journey.
Ofentse is from South Africa, and is pursuing an MSc in Management (specialisation in Entrepreneurship)
at Durham Univer
sity. It’s not only her vivacious personality that makes her unique. Ofentse is 1 of 3 girls in her family, and all of them were born with albinism. Albinism is a genetic condition that results in the lack of melanin pigment in the hair, skin and eyes. This can cause vulnerability to sun exposure and even visual impairment. Statistics suggest that one in every 17,000 people has some kind of albinism. Persons can carry the gene for albinism even if they have no physical manifestation of the conditions. Ofentse informed me that the condition is common in parts of Africa, however, it seldom affects all siblings in a family. This is the case in her family, and she believes that statistical improbability, a miracle really, effectively makes her parents SUPER-FOLKS.
If Ofentse’s parents are super-folks, then that about confirms to me that she is a super girl. She is vivacious and always positive. Let’s see what we talked about.
Let’s talk first about South Africa
Tell me a stereotype that generally comes up when you tell people where you’re from?
I’ve heard that South Africa is dangerous. Some believe we keep wild animals such as lions and elephants for pets.
What’s the local language in your country?
We have 11 official languages and are hoping to formalise sign language and make it 12.
What’s the culture like in your country, is it diverse enough would you say?
We have 11 different languages, each of which is attributable to a different culture and/or ethnic group. We are aptly called the ‘rainbow nation’ my country is a melting pot of cultures.
What’s the most popular food, music and dance?
This differs per culture, but some common cuisine across cultures include:
Food: Pap (crushed maize cook as a starch) and Braai meat (commonly known as Barbeque in other parts)
Music: Too many variations, but our homegrown genres include Kwaito and House
Dance: We dance in our sleep, so I could never do this one justice.
Tell me two things you would like others who haven’t visited your country to know about the country and its people.
Having travelled a bit I can officially say we have some of the most hospitable people in the world. South Africa is an absolutely beautiful country. Very scenic natural surroundings like in Nelspruit, wildlife experiences in Kruger National Park will leave you spellbound, beautiful architecture from Pretoria, and we have some of the world’s best beaches which you can check out, especially in Cape Town. South Africa also boasts fantastic nightlife and cultural experiences in Johannesburg.
Ofentse, let’s hear about your Chevening Journey.
It has been humbling and scary and enriching and overwhelming. One of the steepest learning curves I have embarked on.
What has been the highlight of your Chevening Year, so far?
Definitely meeting and interacting with people from all walks of life. Dealing with people from different contexts and with different ideas, habits, religions and languages can be overwhelming and humbling. On one hand, you learn to adapt, while on the other you are challenged every day about things that you thought were simple, but that others see differently. It’s a learning curve but it teaches you respect, improves your listening skills and makes you more open-minded and curious.
How would you recommend Chevening to someone else who is interested in pursuing graduate studies in the UK?
What attracted me to Chevening was its openness to taking applicants from different fields and career backgrounds. For me, this marked its status as an organisation that values individuality but also the benefits of cross-pollinating. See, when you do what Chevening does and put people who are extremely different together, while the end result is sometimes risky and always less predictable, when done in the right way it often leads to magic.
Also, outside of giving you access to a great country and top class education, the scholarship also gives you access to a great network of people and resources. If you use it well you can learn, share ideas, and build valuable relationships. Everyone on this scholarship is already a leader in their own right and so as a Chevening scholar, you are always co-existing with talent.
You are studying entrepreneurship. Why did you choose this field?
I needed to understand the building blocks of enterprising, idea conception and the nurturing process for good ideas. Using knowledge from the programme, I have a plan to even out the playing field of entrepreneurship in South Africa. I want to get myself, the youth, black marginalised communities and females more active in entrepreneurship and to ultimately shrink the hold of big corporates in South Africa in exchange for Small and Medium Entreprises. This way we can get some home-grown innovation, wealth redistribution and autonomy.
Some persons are preparing for Chevening interviews right now. What tips would you share with them?
If you made it to the interview round, chances are your application was great. The interview is merely a space for you to showcase your application in person. This is your chance to show all of your dynamism and character, so do not hold back. Just be the amazing person they were imagining you to be when they read your application.
What encouragement would you give to young people, and especially young women for the future?
Don’t let anyone tell you where your place in life is, just find a spot you like and OCCUPY!
Thanks for sharing with me Ofentse. I do want to echo her advice. Don’t play small in this world. Find your place, your space and Occupy.