For high school students in Madagascar who have aspirations of attending college in the United States, the application process can be extremely daunting. They have to study for and take the SAT, write essays, prepare applications – the same steps that American high school students take, but in a language that for most is their third, after Malagasy and French.
A group of Lafayette students has developed a peer mentoring program to help those Malagasy students overcome the language barrier and other disadvantages to pursue their dreams of receiving a college education at an American school. The nine members of Lafayette Initiative for Malagasy Education (LIME) traveled to Madagascar over the January break to work with a group of Malagasy students. They were accompanied by adviser David Stifel, associate professor of economics.
LIME, in its second year, is a partnership among Lafayette, the U.S. Embassy in Madagascar, and American School of Antananarivo.
In Madagascar, the Lafayette team worked with a class of 13 students, 12 girls and one boy, attending the American equivalent of 11th grade at a lycee (public high school) in the Madagascar capital city of Antananarivo. The students were selected by the embassy to participate in LIME.
“After learning more about the country of Madagascar and the obstacles that prevent its students from receiving an American education, I decided that my efforts could actually make a difference,” says Greg Allis ’12 (Danvers, Mass.), a civil engineering major.
During the fall semester, the Lafayette team, with guidance from Stifel, formulated a tentative class schedule and made a lesson plan to teach the Malagasy students about all aspects of the college application process. They prepared handouts and lesson plans for how to choose a college, the American landscape, the common application, financial aid, the Test of English as a Foreign Language, the SAT, the personal statement, and other topics. They also spent time learning about the culture and history of Madagascar and some basic Malagasy language.
While in Madagascar in January, the Lafayette students worked intensely to help prepare the Malagasy students for the college application process. The language barrier was a struggle, and as a result, the Lafayette students realized that a lot of the materials they had prepared weren’t going to be as useful as they had hoped.
“However, every day the students became much more comfortable, and began to ask questions and excel. By the last day, collectively, their English had really improved and they had a firm grasp on what was required in preparation for college in the U.S.,” says Krissy Schultz ’13 (Simsbury, Conn.), who is double majoring in international affairs and economics.
The Malagasy students worked hard and made the most of their time with the Americans. They frequently turned down their breaks in order to ask for extra help, and they often did extra practice problems and wrote additional essays. In their writing exercise, the Malagasy students often wrote about how they wanted to change the world, improve their country, and help the children of their hometowns.
“The students are remarkably determined, and have come so far in the little time we have spent with them. I truly believe that if they are given the opportunity to study in the U.S. they will excel and overcome all obstacles,” Schultz says.
Tatiana Logan ’13 (Santa Barbara, Calif.), who has a self-designed major in world cultural studies and is interested in becoming an international teacher, says she was impressed by the intelligence and ambition of the Malagasy students.
“They were some of the brightest students I have ever met,” she says. “They all understood the opportunities that education would and does bring to them and their families. Whether they wanted to become a doctor, lawyer, artist, dancer, journalist, or professor, they all found a passion for learning.”
Now that they have returned from Madagascar, the LIME group is committed to staying in communication with the Malagasy students and helping them through the college application process.
For example, Allis says he will be in touch with a 16-year-old Malagasy student named Daniel, who has been asking for more information about an intensive English course that the American Embassy offers.
Allis says that the experience was rewarding for students from both countries.
“We taught the students a lot while we were there, but it still seems like we took the most away from our time there. We had an opportunity to make a tangible difference in a community devastated by political conflict and economic struggles. It was easy to see how much our work meant to them, and that the hope we instilled in them would not be lost after we left,” Allis says.
The other members of LIME are Addie Godfrey ’13 (Princeton, N.J.), Jessica London ’13 (Lake Oswego, Ore.), Emily Noel ’13 (Los Angeles, Calif.), and Chrispin Otondi ’13 (Jersey City, N.J.).