For Francesca Nyakora ’19, international relations is a way of life: with family in Kenya and relatives working for the United Nations across the globe, her exposure to the world outside of Taft has helped shape her interests and define her passions. It also led her to Yale this summer to study international affairs and global security as a Yale Young Global Scholar (YYGS).
For nearly 20 years, the prestigious and highly competitive YYGS program has welcomed academically talented and intellectually curious high school students to Yale’s New Haven, CT, campus from all corners of the globe. Over the past three years, program participants hailed from more than 120 different countries. Which was part of the program’s appeal for Francesca.
“Diversity is very important to me,” says Francesca. “Not only do I enjoy meeting people from all over the world, but I also enjoy feeling included. In a lot of spaces I tend to be a minority. That wasn’t the case at Yale, which was refreshing. I went there expecting to encounter very bright and accomplished students from all over the world, and from all different backgrounds; my expectations were exceeded.”
The two-week program combined lectures by Yale faculty and field experts, followed by small-group breakout sessions; interdisciplinary discussion seminars, based on reading and research completed before each students’ arrival on campus and taught by graduate student staff; simulations; a speaker series; and group Capstone projects, designed to identify and develop innovative and impactful solutions to global problems.
“The dialog during the program was just amazing, whether it was in class, at a lecture, in a seminar, or just during free time…we never quite stopped talking,” Francesca says. “I found myself debating things and thinking about things that I had never really thought about before—things that don’t really come up in everyday conversation, even though they are currently shaping world history.”
And while conversations and deep dialogue extended across sessions, platforms, groups, and forums, Francesca found that some of the most thought-provoking ideas were rooted in the program seminars, which were her favorite part of the experience, and which explored perspectives on modern-day slavery, asked whether China was colonizing Africa, and asked participants whether NGOs might be a form of colonialism.
“Each of the conversations or debates had a unique effect on me,” notes Francesca. “In both of the sessions on colonialism, we talked about how there is often a power imbalance between the two entities involved in the relationship. I do have African roots, so it was interesting to personally connect and compare my experiences to the perspectives raised during our conversations about China’s role in Africa. I have noticed that there is a larger presence of Chinese workers and Chinese business owners in Kenya, and believe their investment in Kenya is good for the country. But hearing other perspectives on some of the motivations of the Chinese government, was very, very interesting. I expected to come out of those conversations thinking, ‘Are NGOs a form of colonialism? No. Is China colonizing Africa? No.’ And while I still think the answers are no, I realize now that it is so much more complicated. I recognize that there is power imbalance and I recognize that these relationships can be exploitative, but I don’t think colonialism is the right word to use. I think that minimizes the actual act of colonialism. Those sessions taught me that there is so much grey area, and so many informed and important perspectives to consider.”
And for Francesca, learning to be open—to question everything, including her own views and understanding—was one of the biggest takeaways from her time at Yale.
“There are very few things in life that have simple answers,” says Francesca. “By questioning things and forcing yourself to learn more about them, you will change in ways that you could never have imagined.”
Francesca’s experience was funded in part by a William W. Hatfield '32 Grant. Established in 2010, this endowed fund was made possible through the generosity of Guy Hatfield ’65, Ross Hatfield, and the ongoing support of William W. Hatfield's family. The grant celebrates the ideals of Horace Dutton Taft—service above self—and is given annually to one or more students whose commitment to volunteerism brings to life the message behind Taft's motto: Non ut sibi ministretur sed ut ministret—Not to be served but to serve.
Visit globalscholars.yale.edu to learn more about the Yale Young Global Scholars program.