June 22, 2024

How I Spent an Immersive Semester in South Africa with Take Action Lab on a Full Scholarship


Hajara from Nigeria 🇳🇬

How I Spent an Immersive Semester in South Africa with Take Action Lab on a Full Scholarship

Meet Hajara!

Hey everyone! My name is Hajara, and I am 19 years old. Last spring, I had the opportunity to spend a gap semester volunteering in South Africa. This incredible experience was made possible by Take Action Lab, and I’m using this article to chronicle my journey.

What is Take Action Lab?

Take Action Lab is the flagship program of the nonprofit Tilting Futures (formerly known as Global Citizen Year). Founded by social entrepreneur Abby Falik, it has been at the forefront of educational innovation since 2010. Tilting Futures initially launched the Global Citizen Year Fellowship program, providing immersive, educational gap year opportunities to 1,000 young people worldwide from 2010 to 2020. The second program under Tilting Futures was the Global Citizen Year Academy, which supported over 1,500 students in 80+ countries with its signature curriculum from 2020 to 2022.

Take Action Lab combines the best parts of the Academy and Fellowship, emphasizing both learning and on-site volunteering. Approximately 50 gap year students (aged 17-21) convene in South Africa to live and learn together while apprenticing with organizations committed to advancing universal human rights through initiatives such as food security, education, women’s rights, youth empowerment, and services for refugees and migrants. 🌟🌍

Life Before

I graduated from high school in Nigeria back in 2020. Due to the pandemic and imposed quarantine, I was unable to enroll in university. While researching online for ways to keep myself busy, someone informed me about the Global Citizen Year Academy. Eventually, I earned a certificate in ‘Leadership As a Practice’ through this program. After completing the certificate, I also took in-depth coding classes and participated in other programs.

Why and How I Applied

I am deeply passionate about how we can work to solve global issues through the use of technology, and TAL’s specific focus on human rights, while being in a country like South Africa with such a deep history, appealed to me. So, when I heard Take Action Lab was being launched, I knew I had to apply immediately!

The application process was quite similar to that of GCYA, requiring essays and a video response. Although the questions have changed, they still strive to gain a sense of who you are, if your values align with their mission, and what type of impact you want to create through your answers. Fun Fact: I actually sent in my application a few hours before the deadline, so I did not have time to even look over my answers. It obviously all worked out in the end, but please start early!

There are three stages in the application - Fit, Feasibility & Finalize. In Stage 1, you take an eligibility quiz to find out if you are able to apply. To pass this, you have to be 17-21 years old by the start of the program, a high school graduate, English-language proficient, and able to commit to a full-time program (i.e., not enrolled in other courses). You can then go ahead to fill in the application. If your application indicates a strong fit for Take Action Lab, you will be invited to Stage 2, Feasibility. Here, TAL works with you to confirm you can travel abroad and thrive in the program, which means you have three weeks to submit your passport, a completed health history form, and the financial aid application (if you need it).

Stage 3 is the final step. The admissions committee will review the applications that made it through Stage 2 and curate a truly exceptional class from all over the world. Individual merit, the support they are able to provide, and the balance of the class are taken into consideration in the final selection process. If you’re chosen to join Take Action Lab, you will receive an offer letter welcoming you to the program and outlining your tuition and financial aid package. All that is left to officially enroll is to sign your offer letter, have a parent/guardian sign your offer letter, and pay the deposit (if you have one).

Financial Aid

I received a full scholarship valued at $28,000 to participate in Take Action Lab. This scholarship covered tuition, room & board, curriculum & cultural activities, and provided a stipend for the entire semester-long program in Cape Town. Keep in mind that TAL is need-aware and demographically-aware in determining financial aid. Additionally, there are merit scholarships available to applicants:

  1. Global Changemaker: As a program applicant, you’re automatically considered for this merit award of up to $10,000. We select students who exemplify Tilting Future’s values of conviction, courage, equity, empathy, and curiosity.

  2. School Partner: Tilting Futures partners with several school consortiums, including United World Colleges, GEMS Education, and COBIS. If you attend an associated school, you’ll receive $1,500 towards your tuition.

  3. Educator Nomination: If an educator nominates you for Take Action Lab, you will receive $500 towards your tuition.

Touch Down in South Africa

Congrats, you are in! Before you actually leave for South Africa, TAL organizes a compulsory four-week online foundations course. This format is very similar to GCYA, with you and your cohort being taken through the tumultuous history of your host country. You'll also receive insights on basics like the weather, what to pack, and how to prepare for co-living and apprenticeship.

Let it sink in that you’re really here in the beautiful city of Cape Town! In the first week, the TAL staff organize an 'in-country orientation' where you'll be shown around and equipped with the skills needed to immerse safely. By now, you would have received information about your rooming and apprenticeship assignments based on the answers from a questionnaire provided earlier.

TAL students live in various shared houses located in the Observatory ('Obs') neighborhood. Each student has their own private individual bedroom with a bed frame, mattress, bed sheets, blanket, pillow, pillow cover, desk, mirror, and wardrobe/dresser. Each shared co-ed house is unique, but all are equipped with common recreational/lounging areas, shared bathrooms (showers and toilets), a kitchen with a range, tableware, cookware, cooking utensils, microwave, refrigerator, kettle, toaster, laundry facilities (washing and drying machines), smoke alarms, security alarm systems, and Wi-Fi internet.

Note: Meals are not provided, so it might be time to brush up on those recipes! However, each student receives a stipend for purchasing food and groceries. Cooking for myself daily got a bit overwhelming sometimes, so I found myself eating out once in a while.

Life During

Each week was never the same during TAL. You had your apprenticeship for 4 days a week, working 5-8 hours per day. In my case, I interned at an NGO that focused on the rights of female refugees, youth empowerment, and addressing xenophobia. As an assistant, I helped design posters, plan fundraisers, purchase materials, and more. If you believe your apprenticeship isn't the best fit for you, please speak up early! The TAL staff are incredibly supportive and friendly.

We also had weekly 'learning connects' or workshops where we discussed complex systems, heard from speakers, and visited new places. Most of the speakers talked about South Africa's history, social justice, and related topics. Additionally, we had optional bi-weekly excursions to explore beaches, hikes, and other must-see attractions. Given the program's nature, we also had a culture series where we immersed ourselves in local aspects—food, music, history, dance, and art of SA.

Transportation to your apprenticeship is your responsibility. My fellow volunteer from TAL and I used Uber every morning. While it might seem daunting, the TAL staff guide you through all possible means of transportation in South Africa. I lived in a house called 'The Red House,' where about 17 people stayed for the duration of the program. Despite the diverse cohort, we worked through any issues and cultural differences.

Life After

I firmly believe that Take Action Lab is one of the most impactful experiences I've ever had. The program provided me with the opportunity to connect with people from over 24 countries around the world. This experience significantly shifted my perspective and beliefs. After TAL, I became a member of the alumni channel, allowing me to connect with fellow participants across all of Tilting Futures’ programs. Additionally, I volunteered to be an ambassador for TF, encouraging others to apply, guiding future applicants, and participating in webinars. Currently, I am back in Nigeria, attending university.

Tips for Future Applicants

If I were to apply again, I would definitely do so earlier, but I'd still allow myself to speak through my answers as much as possible. Sometimes, overthinking what you're writing can cause you to lose your voice. To those reading this and selected for the Fall 2024 cohort, my advice is to keep an open mind and be yourself! You will learn a lot from this life-changing experience and will absolutely love Cape Town.

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