By Cherno A. Jallow
“College sucks,” says many a teenager going to college. I was no exception when I was in college myself. But before you know it, the years roll by pretty quickly and looking back at it now, my four years at the University of the Gambia (UTG) are some of the best in my life thus far. It is safe to say that there were some really trying times when I thought, “there was no way I am going to see the finish line”, but somehow I gave things my best shot and almost everything worked out. I am actually a firm believer in the phrase, “it takes a bit of mining to unravel the shining gold.” Four years at UTG not only changed my worldview, and set my aspirations on a manageable path, I also found out who I truly was, and that is invaluable.
This article would be incomplete without a recounting of my time in the PEACE program at UTG. I like to think of my time at UTG as the main meal and my time at St. Mary’s College of Maryland as the fancy dessert. When I first entered the University of the Gambia and heard about the exchange program, the first thing I told myself was that I could never thrive in this environment given just how smart people are around here. Wait a minute! I didn’t think I was smart enough? Yes, you are right. Even after graduating high school as the second best student nationwide, I still wasn’t convinced. But after bagging all straight A’s for my first three semesters and participating in a range of important extracurricular activities, I thought to myself that I had nothing to lose by going for it all—the impressive GPA, sports, student leadership, and of course the fun. Somehow, UTG guided me through on how to balance all four and still succeed.
I got the chance to represent UTG at St. Mary’s College under the PEACE Program only after my third trial. Two years later, the closest comment to my tongue about the PEACE Program is that every step of the way was worth the while. Under the PEACE Program, I count myself really lucky to have learned the following:
- The world out there was much different from what I thought it to be; so the most effective way of getting to know the world is traveling.
- The Gambia, as small and underdeveloped as it may be, is a very beautiful country and I would never trade any place else for it.
- Meeting new people from completely different cultures is a vital ingredient in being able to be open to totally new ideas, to reconcile your new knowledge with what you already know, and to possibly replace your old knowledge (given it was a misconception) with the new.
- UTG has a large population of very brilliant students but one thing strongly lacking within it is idea presentation and application. Those are very important and I thought they should be focal points.
- Language is very important, and there shouldn’t be a limit imposed as to how many languages one should be able to speak. By the way, I am currently learning some Italian.
- My participation seemed to have opened a lot of new windows of opportunity for me and I am a very well-known figure at UTG now. As soon as I completed my final semester, a job as a graduate assistant at UTG was already waiting for me. A few months later, getting a scholarship into graduate school wasn’t as difficult as I thought it was going to be. Hence, my SMCM transcript is never left behind anytime I send any sort of academic application.
- Last but not the least is that I always knew having fun was part of college life. What I didn’t know was that if you thought UTG was fun enough, then you haven’t tried SMCM.
I am currently doing a master in economics at Collegio Carlo Alberto at the University of Turin. UTG has always been a part of my plans and so I would love to go back and work as an academic. A huge aspiration of mine, and one which I definitely wish to see through, is earning a PhD. This might sound a little bit farfetched but I have a huge ambition to work for the World Bank or some UN organization some day in the not-too-distant future.
The role of the PEACE Program in my life and in the lives of others who have participated is just highly remarkable and can’t be overemphasized. My solemn wish is that more UTG students per semester get the chance to go to SMCM and live the ‘life changer’. That being said, I hope on the other hand that more and more SMCM students take the ‘worldview-changer’ trip to the Gambia and to live the beautiful Gambian smile.
Bottom line: As a person, it should be more about giving; and you’ll see then that the getting part would work itself out satisfactorily for you.