Kevin Atimango is a first-year student at Columbia University’s School of International Public and Policy Affairs (SIPA) in New York City where she is pursuing a master’s degree in Public Administration-Development Practice.
8B: Tell us about yourself…Who is Kevin?
I’d describe myself as a simple lady from a humble background in Northern Uganda. I grew up in a small town known as Gulu during an era of protracted insurgency from the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). At one point, my family was also displaced by war. I lived with my grandmother – who made me into the woman I am today. She believed in education as the key out of poverty and instilled in me the values of hard work and determination.
8B: Education is indeed the key. What was it like pursuing your education in Uganda?
It was challenging but I worked hard and won a series of scholarships. I knew that education was the only way I was going to change mine and my family’s situation. As a witness to how my grandmother – a market vender – and her friends didn’t have access to banking systems, I decided to pursue a career in finance. That’s how I ended up working in development Microfinance in Uganda for the last 8 years.
8B: It’s interesting that scholarships played such a huge rule in your education. What would have happened if you didn’t win them?
I probably wouldn’t have been able to pursue my education. To secure scholarships, I had to make sure that I always had great grades. It also takes a lot of effort to apply for scholarships. It’s just as challenging as applying to universities abroad.
8B: Let’s get into that…What are the challenges you faced when applying to universities abroad?
There are many challenges that come with applying to study abroad. In total, I applied to four universities abroad. Luckily, I got admission offers to all four. The first school I applied to, in 2016, was Westminster University in the UK. I got admission but couldn’t enroll due to lack of funds. I declined two more admission offers – one from the University of California, Berkeley and another from Queensland University in Australia. I was offered partial scholarships by both universities but didn’t have resources to cover the rest.
8B: That’s exactly why 8B was founded – to help finance African students in global universities. How did you come to know about 8B?
In 2021, I applied to Columbia University and got admission. Fortunately, I got a substantial scholarship from the university. While I was excited, I was still worried about how I would top up the remaining amount and cover my living expenses. I reached out to a friend in New York for advice and they connected me to Dr Lydiah Bosire, 8B’s CEO and Founder.
8B: Networking with the right people came in handy there! What happened next?
I got in touch with Lydiah. She encouraged me not to give up the opportunity and directed me to apply for an education loan through the 8B Loans Marketplace. I was delighted to learn that I could qualify for international student loans without having a cosigner. Long story short, I applied for a loan and got an approval. But there was another problem…
8B: Oh, what was the problem?
The school needed a commitment form from the lender to process my Form I-20. But the lender required the Form I-20 to give me a commitment letter. 8B communicated with the lender to help me get the confirmation letter. After that, everything went smoothly.
8B: We’re always glad to help. Did you have any other challenges – such as with your visa application?
I didn’t have a hard time with the U.S student visa application. Having an admission offer from an Ivy League university and proof of funds – thanks to the loan and financial aid from the college – helped. But I still had to figure out other logistics – such as whether to travel with my son. Traveling with him meant processing his passport and visa, booking flights for two instead of one, and looking for suitable accommodation near the university. I decided it was best not to leave him behind. The U.S government allows all children to be enrolled into public schools for free – so I didn’t have to worry about additional school fees for him.
8B: That’s truly amazing. How has it been like having a dependent while studying abroad?
We’ve adjusted quite well to our schedules. My apartment is near the campus, which makes it easier to navigate dropping and picking my son from school. I’ve also signed him up for after-school programs, which enables me to attend afternoon classes.
8B: And how are you doing with your studies?
I’m doing great. During the fall 2022 semester, I worked on two projects: a telemedicine initiative in India and the US Veterans Administration in the US for the social value investing course, and food security and adaptation to climate change in West Africa, Nepal, and Bangladesh. I also conducted class assignment research and wrote papers, including an Environmental Performance Index paper, an Ethiopian National Adaptation Country paper, and Sustainable Development Goals’ Policy brief on Uganda. My anticipated graduation date is May 2024.
8B: What do you dream of achieving after graduation?
My dream is to hold executive positions in organizations, projects, or programs that promote inclusive finance on a national or international scale. I aspire to be in a position to influence the creation of policies that promote financial inclusion and growth.
8B: What advice would you give someone who’s currently considering study abroad and is perhaps getting discouraged?
Don’t give up. Narrow down your list of universities and keep applying. If you’re worried about financing, search for scholarships and apply. If your scholarship doesn’t cover all the costs, check the 8B Loans Marketplace for international student loans. 8B has enabled me to pursue my dream of studying abroad…they can help you too!