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How a rare moment of defiance led one Kenyan girl to Yale University

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esther prof

Esther Soma, First year student at Yale University

The one single moment Esther Soma went against her parent’s wish, unimaginable opportunities opened in ways she never thought were possible. At only 20 years, Esther has met and interacted with world leaders and global entrepreneurs and is studying at a prestigious Ivy League University.


Growing up in a Christian household in Kenya, disobedience was not a habit that was particularly encouraged. Education standards are highly esteemed (two of her siblings are doctors).


But Esther applied to the Africa Leadership Academy (ALA) while still at Alliance Girls against her parents’ wish for her to finish her high school first before pursuing other interests.


“You would rather try and fail rather than live with regrets,” says Esther – a mantra she has lived by.


Affable, disciplined and self-effacing, Esther wouldn’t be described as a rebel. But just this one time, she went with her gut feeling and got admitted to the prestigious academy.


ALA is a premier pan-African secondary institution based in South Africa that admits only talented and outstanding students from all over Africa. So getting in is not a matter of connections or how rich your parents are.


“The recruitment process was rigorous. Over 200 Kenyan students applied but only 40 were short listed to go through the interview process,” explains Esther, who was born in Kenya but whose parents’ are South Sudanese.


“The recruiters don’t just look at your academic performance, although that is important. We had face-to-face interviews, wrote essays, participated in simulated situations under close observation and other cognitive and creative tests,” says Esther.


At some point during the six-month long recruitment process, the candidates were asked to introduce themselves using an object or build paper towers in teams to test their team spirit.


Only 10 got admission to ALA and Esther was on the list. Not a small achievement for a girl that sat her KCPE at St. Mary’s Ruaraka.


Extraordinary at an exceptional institution

Apparently, according to Esther, an admission of 10 candidates from one country is really high.


“Kenyans (students) are really strong compared to other African countries. I think it’s the education system…but students from Nigeria, Ghana, Morocco and Zimbabwe are also good.”


So as she was just about to sit for the KCSE mocks, Esther left for South Africa for her A-level studies at ALA to join 90 other African students from 43 different countries for two years.


“Apart from the normal A-level American curriculum, we had additional classes like entrepreneurship, leadership and African studies,” expounds Esther.


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