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Meet Makafui Hortense Amouzouvi: 2020 Vantage College Excellence Award Winner

Could you tell me a little bit about yourself, and what country and city you are from?

My name is Makafui Hortense Amouzouvi, and I come from Lomé in Togo, West Africa. I am 19 and I speak French and English. Last year, I was the best female science student of my country at my final exam (Togolese Baccalaureate). Before joining UBC, I took my CIE A-levels classes (Mathematics, Further Mathematics and Physics) in ten months instead of two years, at the African Science Academy, and graduated with honours. I am passionate about STEM and aspire to inspire more girls into STEM fields.

What was your response when you achieved the Vantage College Excellence Award? What was your family’s response?

I remember that day, April 15, 2020 as if it was yesterday. As I was waiting for that particular email, I could feel butterflies in my stomach, I never felt scared and impatient like I was on that day. The day had almost gone, but I still hadn’t received any email. I even emailed the Scholarship office about updates, forgetting about the seven hours time difference between my country and Vancouver. Finally, at 10:51 pm the awaited email came. My phone felt off my hands when I just saw the subject: “2020 Vantage One Excellence Award Offer.” I, trembling, took the phone from the floor and opened the email. I scrolled my eyes over the writings looking for a single word that mattered “Congratulations.” When I saw the word, tears of joy flowed from my eyes. I was filled with an enormous happiness. I went straight to my parents repeating this sentence “I got it.” They immediately guessed what I was talking about and embraced me with wide smiles.

Achieving the Vantage College Excellence Award was unexpected and completely life-changing because I had a quite unusual application process and it gave the opportunity to pursue my higher education without worrying about the expenses.

In fact, I hadn’t applied for Vantage College Excellence Award. I was nominated to apply for the Karen McKellin International Leader of Tomorrow Award. A couple of months after, my nomination was switched to the Donald A. Wehrung International Student Award nomination since my personal circumstances more closely met the eligibility criteria.

As an International Student with French as first language, I requested for an English Language waiver by sending my Duolingo scores. Unfortunately, my request was denied because my scores didn’t meet the requirements. Thus, it was finished, I was out of the race. And that was when the International Student Initiative team talked to me about Vantage College Award and the possibility to switch my nomination package to it.

So this award represents so much to me because it symbolizes hope and perseverance to me.

What was it about Vantage College that interested you in the program?

I believe attending Vantage College is the best opportunity I could ever asked for. Growing up, I experienced challenges ranging from finances to language barriers. I missed out opportunities because of my English abilities. So receiving an education that will allow me to strengthen my language abilities as well pursuing my degree is the best opportunity ever for me. Besides that, the fact that Vantage College gives a chance to explore a variety of subjects before choosing my major made it unique and attractive to me.

How have you adjusted to learning virtually? What have been some of the challenges?

Online learning is an interesting and quite challenging way of learning. Personally, I was ready to experience this new method of learning and brave through it but it doesn’t prevent me from challenges such as weak internet signals, lack of appropriate devices or simply the nostalgia of in-person learning. My first week of school was the most difficult one because as I move forward I become better. One particular challenge was working as a team online. We are all located in different time zones so it is a bit difficult to schedule team meetings that suit everybody. It is also difficult to work out subjects like Math or Physics if there is no appropriate device. However, as days go by, I am also learning how to use the resources I have and still make this year a fantastic one. Online learning is a whole new system that we need to adapt to and get the best of it.

What are some of the ways the Vantage One programs could support the students more in their progress?

I wish there could be a platform which all the Vantage students can access. It was a bit difficult to figure out by ourselves the Vantage students and till now we have not met all of our classmates; only few are in the WhatsApp group.

How are you engaging with your peers and building community within your courses?

One important thing I miss about in-person classes, is the network; meeting new friends, hanging out together and building a tight friendship with them. It might be difficult to build the same type of relationship via social media platforms. However, with an open mind, this is actually interesting times to try new things. Thus, I created a WhatsApp Chat for our cohort (Vantage College Science students) where we can connect, talk and get to know each other better. But most of the networking is done in smaller groups such as class groups in which we hold meetings for team assignments as well as playing games or just having fun. I think with a positive mindset; this year can be incredible.

Are there any extracurricular clubs or projects you have been a part of so far (inside or outside Vantage College)?

 I have always wanted to learn how to play the piano, and that was what I wanted to do in my first year. But until that dream comes true, I am exploring other horizons. Thus, I am putting myself forward as a voluntary writer for the UBC’s student newspaper, the Ubyssey. I am really interested in writing for the Ubyssey because I see it as opportunity to practice my writing skills and improve my grammar and vocabulary.

Once you have completed your Vantage One-year, which programs or degrees are you looking into pursuing, and why?

My envisioned course is Computer Science. Only one thing has always motivated me to opt for that career, and that is my country: Togo.

I see a room for growth in the use of technology in my country and I want to study Computer Science to solve the issues I see around me. My goal is to get the degree from UBC and use the skills and experience for technological development in my own country. I also look forward to transferring the education I will receive and the skills I will gain to my future academic work, research or a career in an industry.

Togo is in a deep need for qualified citizens and their skills for its development and I want to serve my country and build it to the best of my capacity

Are there any academic goals you would like to achieves while studying at UBC? What would your dream job be?

First of all, I would like to have a successful first year and get into my dream course: Computer Science. This will place me some steps closer to my dream job: becoming a Computer Scientist. Moving forward, along with strengthening my academic abilities and technical skills, I look forward to becoming better at speaking English, boosting my public speaking as well as my leadership skills. I am also looking forward to representing UBC at competitions, winning awards and leaving a great impact as the first Togolese to bring her flag at UBC.

For any students who are about to embrace virtual learning at UBC, what is some advice you can offer?

University should not just be about the classes we attend, it should also be about the experiences we have, and the wonderful people we meet. So we should not miss out the opportunity of having a group of friends with whom we will make this year memorable. The online learning system should not be an excuse to stay away from people and get a passive university life. Go out of your comfort zone, connect with people, get involved and make this year an amazing one; full of fun and lovely memories.

Is there anything else you would like to share with us regarding your experience

Growing up as a young African girl, I experienced numerous stereotypes emphasizing what a female cannot educationally achieve. This has always motivated me to work hard and to pursue an education which will enable me to break such stereotypes. I've always been influenced and inspired by engineers and scientists all over the world, however, nothing inspired me more than being in a country where girls drop out of school or abandon their dream careers because of those beliefs and discriminations. I believe girls have the same abilities as boys and should be allowed and even encouraged to follow their passions and interests. That’s why one of my goal is inspiring and empowering more girls into STEM fields because they deserve to be scientists and engineers as well.