I am Oluwabunmi Ajao, a 2016 “Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst” (DAAD) scholarship recipient. I concluded my master's program in Intercultural German Studies at the University of Nairobi, Nairobi, Kenya in 2018.
There are several categories of DAAD scholarship. The one I was awarded is open to graduates of German Language who are citizens and residents of sub-Saharan African countries with at least upper second-class honours and completed their university degree not more than 6 years prior to the time of application. Also, applicants must have a good knowledge of German (proficiency level: at least B2). The scholarship enabled me to complete a two-year master’s degree and a five-month research visit to a university in Germany in the second year of the program. It fully covered my tuition, monthly stipends, health insurance, annual allowance for research and travel allowance (return trip to Kenya and return trip to Germany).
For my undergraduate degree at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, I studied German and French (combined honours). In all honesty, as a young adult fresh out of high school, becoming a polyglot was not my first choice. But finding myself in the ‘world of languages’, I gave learning all I had, and more. I was determined to be the best I could be. My friends in more conventional career paths ribbed me about needing to prove a point, and maybe I did. However, in the end, the hard work paid off in not only my graduating with honours, but also in giving me a sincere passion for my field. Learning with diligence also opened up a world of possibilities for me. I now desired to play a pivotal role in shaping the intertwined spheres of learning, education and development in Nigeria. Getting a graduate degree was one place to begin. With this clarity of vision, I avidly hunted for scholarship opportunities on the internet and via networking. The latter served me well, as I learned of the DAAD scholarship from one of my undergraduate lecturers and career mentor. He also doubled as an adviser, providing necessary wisdom through the degree and scholarship application processes.
The minimum requirement for the scholarship application was to have been admitted for a master's in Intercultural German Studies at the University of Nairobi. I needed to turn in a Letter of motivation, my Curriculum Vitae, letters of reference, school leaving certificate, bachelor’s degree certificate, transcripts, and German proficiency certificate. The criteria for screening applicants was based on academic achievement, German Language proficiency, and the ability to convince the deciding committee on reasons for applying for the program and scholarship. I imagine that most of those shortlisted for the final round of interviews would nearly tie on the first two yardsticks. So, in my preparation, I made sure to carry out thorough research about the university program and scholarship. I also incorporated every feedback from my advisor. These positioned me to stand out in my letter of motivation.
After being shortlisted, I exhausted every resource in practicing for the final round of the remote interview administered by the regional DAAD office, Nairobi. The truth is I had a dream and the scholarship was my only ticket to fulfilling it. Like the mindset I employed for my undergraduate studies, I decided to put all my cards on the table. This opportunity ended up being the best 2 years of my life so far. I was thrown into a world of diversity, as I had course mates from seven different African countries and met people from across the globe during my five-month research in Germany. It presented me with great networking opportunities and refined my dreams; improved my team spirit and intercultural skills; cured me of impostor syndrome tendencies and sharpened my emotional quotient through adapting to a positively demanding learning environment. On my scholar visa status, I was not allowed to work. So, I focused on being present and utilizing all the resources and co-curricular opportunities available to me in the program. Also, my time in Germany closely simulated real-world applicability (an initial ‘pro’ I considered when weighing the opportunity).
In hindsight, one thing I would do differently is to be more open-minded. I say this because there were a couple of generic core course offerings that I found challenging. They seemed to place me way out of my comfort zone. In retrospect, I realize they were challenging only because I let them. If I had to do it again, I would make sure my adaptable mindset was all-pervasive right off the bat and ready to tackle stretching of any kind; no matter how far out of comfort zone it was.
I would like to advise aspiring scholars to know what they want and work towards it with diligence. Never sell yourself short on any application. In addition, having a mentor was a superpower throughout the journey- from the point of application to graduation. Finally, Research! Research! Research! Do your due diligence. In the words of the Boy Scout’s famous motto: BE PREPARED!