The story of Benedicte Kinkolo- 6 countries, 6 unis, 5 years, 4 scholarships, 3 dissertations, 2 masters degrees & 1 bachelor degree at the age of 22.
Mrsceonaija (MCN) brings you the most inspiring, educative and empowering stories and Benedicte’s story is exceptional. So many lessons and nuggets!
MCN: 1. Please , can you introduce yourself to our audience. Full Name, origin , passion, hopes and aspirations.
Benedicte: My name is Bénédicte Kinkolo, I am originally from the DR Congo, Kinshasa but I was born in Paris and spent a good part of my childhood in New York as well. I am passionate about storytelling; I love listening to people share their journey, what motivates them and what drives them to live a better life. I love photography, writing and films; I hope one day to produce a documentary from start to finish.
Other than that, I am truly in love with the African continent as a whole; my hope is that one day Africans both on the continent and in the diaspora are able to enjoy REAL economic and social development, beyond the narrative of ‘Africa rising’ which seems to sell so well in the West. I love visiting different African countries and finding the similarities and differences between them. I want more people to see African countries as countries worth working in, investing in and as tourism destinations. Basically, I am passionate about a lot of things!
MCN: 2. You recently completed your education. Can you walk us through the journey? What, where and how did you school ?
I went to high school in Paris and was initially meant to attend university in the US. But over a weekend, I got to visit London for the first time and fell in love with the city! So I ended up moving to London for my undergrad to study international politics at King’s College. As part of my undergrad, I was blessed enough to take part of a selective program which led me to study in 3 east Asian universities over the span of one year; I spent a semester in Seoul, Tokyo, and Hong Kong as well as a summer internship. It was exhausting but the most amazing experience I’ve had; in between programs my friends and I would go hiking and traveling so it was pretty great. After that I came back to London to write my dissertation on state failure in Congo and Nigeria. Once I graduated in 2016, I enrolled straight away in a dual masters program which would allow me to complete two masters. I did my first masters in economic development in Paris and the second one is a masters of law in international relations which I completed in Beijing.
- Wow. Such a nomadic experience. What influenced your movements across various schools ?
It’s very silly but I always loved traveling, since I was little. When I graduated high school, I wanted to take a gap year in order to travel the world. However, I was 17 at the time and my parents thought I was too young to travel by myself and thus I would have to go to university. Thus, I compromised: I went to university but I made sure that my program would be as international as possible and would allow me to see the world. And it did.
- What were the challenges your faced on this journey? At the different countries and schools? How did you overcome them ?
Well, the first challenge was my age. I started university a tad bit younger than a lot of people and thus I was often underestimated because of that. Living in London was particularly intense as I had only visited the city once and didn’t know anyone but I quickly got around by simply asking people questions: where can I find a hair salon? Where can I do this and that? There’s a lot of people who are willing to help if we are willing to ask.
The real challenges arose when I moved to Asia, especially when I moved to China. The education system there is completely different from anything I have ever seen in my life; I always thought I worked hard but Chinese students work harder. It was a lot adapting to the rhythm of life there where you are expected to have almost no life. The teacher-student dynamic there is also very different, much more deferential to what I was used to in the West for instance. So, I just sucked it up and forgot about my prejudices and just soaked in the culture – even the parts I was not fond of. It’s the only way to thrive and make a home away from home. The language barrier was stiff at first but I thankfully picked up Mandarin quickly enough to get by without help. I was determined to learn the language because you cannot survive China without Chinese; whereas in South Korea or in Hong Kong for instance, I didn’t have difficulties finding people speaking English.
- How did you integrate across different cultures? Did you experience culture shock?
Funny enough, I experienced a small culture shock in London, especially with the different Black British communities there which are mainly Ghanaian and Nigerian. In France and in the US, I was used to Congolese, Senegalese, Haitians etc. so it was very interesting for me to learn about these diasporas and through them I madly fell in love with Ghana for instance, which I visited one year ago for the first time. Similarly for Nigeria.
However, the true culture shock for me was living an entire year in China. China as a nation and a culture is very peculiar; the country is almost entirely isolated from the rest of the world. They have their own internet ecosystem; there is no twitter, facebook, Instagram there but there is Wechat (which is essentially all the aforementioned platforms into one). People hardly use cash there, you pay everything through an app called Alipay or through WeChat Pay. China is a highly securitized country as well; there are security check points in a lot of places, police have glasses with facial recognitions, there is CCTV cameras everywhere. So you feel much safer than any other places in the world but at the same time you can see the strength of the government. Culturally, I was able to “integrate” into Chinese culture by learning the language; there is no way around it. Mandarin has a lot of meaning, through the characters you can understand the country’s history and why Chinese people have certain behaviors and cultural habits which might be considered off for foreigners.
Obviously, being black in Asia is a culture shock of its own. People take pictures of you, they will ask questions such as ‘is your skin color real’ or ‘why are you black?’. It gets frustrating at times but that’s the reality you sign up for, especially in rural places in China where most Chinese people have never seen Black people in their entire lives.
- How tough was financing? How did you overcome ?
TOUGH! But from very young, I knew that I could never let money be the reason why I did not achieve my ambitions.
So I did a lot of research, and asked a lot of questions. I made use of all the resources around me offered by the school and I entered essay competitions to see what I could get; from $50 to $5000 I made sure that I would lay my hand on whatever money I could get. But most importantly, I made sure my grades were always excellent. I received several scholarships from the governments in France, China South Korea and Japan. For instance, the Chinese government offers full tuition fees, free accommodation as well as monthly stipend which more than covers your daily expenses. I also received scholarships through the specific schools and programs I applied to. For whatever other expenses that the scholarships could not cover, I was blessed with a generous support system parents, aunts, uncles, sisters, cousins and best friends. There has been many times when an aunt, uncle or my best friends would pay for a train ticket or a flight. They are the reason why I managed to overcome it all. I also worked a few jobs over the summer and through the year; but these were not always successful. It’s hard to work on the side and be good at your job when you finish school at 9.30pm everyday (which you do in Paris for instance).
- What are your fondest memories of the journey ? Will you do this all over again?
The best part of this journey has been being able to see parts of the world that I could not dream of seeing, hiking some of the world’s tallest mountains in Asia, meeting presidents and other world’s leaders. But most importantly, being able to share all of this with my parents! I would do this twice over and would recommend anyone who can to try and do the same.
- How has this experience impacted you positively and negatively? What lessons have you drawn from them ?
Let’s start with the negatives; I have learnt that you cannot do and have it all at the same time. When I was working a job and finishing my undergraduate dissertation, I was not able to properly focus on my babysitting job and as a result I got fired for it. It’s silly but it has taught me that there are choices and sacrifices which need to be made and priorities are non-negotiable. Being so focused on finishing school and being away all the time also meant that I was away from my family and friends constantly. I sat exams on Christmas day and missed a few birthdays. I might have not paid much in terms of money but I definitely had to give in my time and that’s something you do not get back.
In terms of positive, it has taught me that I can do anything I set my mind to, no matter how difficult it is. It has made me flexible and I am able to adapt to almost any settings or countries I find myself in. It has also made me fall in love with the different cultures of this world twice over, and made me appreciate what I do not always understand.
- What next for you ? Where do you see yourself in 3 years?
First, I am going to take the next few months to rest and catch up with my family. I want to sit down and properly research and strategize on what I would like to be in the next years and what I would like to do. Regardless, my heart has always been within the economic development sector and on the African continent.
- Who inspired you to chose this path? And who are your role models generally?
My father gave me the thrill for politics & economics and my mother provided me with a love for traveling. Other than my parents, I really admire Amy Sall, she’s the editor of SUNU Magazine, which mixes aesthetics & African politics through history and she is also an advocate for human rights. I am absolutely in love with Shonda Rhimes, the creator of Scandal, for her insane work ethic and creativity. Lee Litumbe, the creator of the website Spirited Pursuit, is also someone I look up to; she is changing the narrative and the image of the African continent. She inspired me to start blogging as well. I tend to look up to all the women in my life, you can learn from everyone around you.
- What are you most proud of ? And any last words of advise for our readers ?
I am most proud of my resilience in the face of adversity, because there has been a whole lot of adversity on the way. There were so many times where I wanted to quit; especially in the world we live in today, it’s very hard to remain positive and think that your actions could positively help and impact other people.
The only word of advice that I have to give is whatever you are doing: do not forget why you started. It is the why which will keep you up at night when you have to meet a deadline. It is the why which help you get yourself together when you are crumbling down. It is the why which will help you keep going and will make you want to celebrate once you finish. And have people who are able to remind you of this why, once in a while. Most importantly ,be grateful: to God if you believe, to your support system and to yourself as well.