For high school students in Madagascar who have aspirations of attending U.S. colleges, the application process can be daunting. They have to study for and take the SAT, write essays, prepare applications — the same steps college-bound American students take, but in a tongue that is the third language for most of them, after Malagasy and French. Lafayette students have developed a peer-to-peer mentoring program to help Malagasy students overcome that language barrier and other disadvantages to pursue their dreams of receiving a college education in America.
It’s called the Lafayette Initiative for Malagasy Education, or LIME. Its nine members traveled to Madagascar in January to work with 13 Malagasy students — 12 girls and one boy — attending the Lycée Andohalo, a public high school in Madagascar’s capital city, Antananarivo. The Malagasy students were selected by the U.S. Embassy to participate in LIME, a partnership among the embassy, Lafayette, and the American School of Antananarivo.
During the fall semester, with guidance from their adviser, David Stifel, associate professor of economics, the Lafayette students mapped out a plan for teaching the Malagasy students about all aspects of the college-application process. They prepared lessons on choosing a college, the American higher education landscape, common application, financial aid, Test of English as a Foreign Language, SAT, personal statement, and other topics. They also studied Madagascar’s history and culture and some basics of the Malagasy language.
“After learning about Madagascar and the obstacles that prevent its students from receiving an American education, I decided my efforts could actually make a difference,” says Greg Allis ’12, a civil engineering major. In Madagascar, the Lafayette students worked intensely with the Malagasy students. The language barrier indeed was a struggle, and 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,” says Krissy Schultz ’13, a double major in international affairs and economics, “the Malagasy students became more comfortable every day, and they began to ask questions and excel. By the last day, their English had really improved, and they had a firm grasp on what was required in preparation for college in the United States.”
The Malagasy students made the most of their time with the Americans, frequently turning down scheduled breaks to ask for extra help, doing extra practice problems, and writing extra essays. In their writing exercises, they often expressed hopes of helping the children of their hometowns, improving their country, and changing the world. The LIME group is committed to staying in communication with them and helping them through the college-application process.
“The students are remarkably determined and came so far in the little time we spent with them,” Schultz says. “I truly believe that if they are given the opportunity to study in the United States they will excel and overcome all obstacles.”
“They were some of the brightest students I have ever met,” says Tatiana Logan ’13, who is interested in teaching abroad and has created her own major in world cultural studies. “They understood the opportunities that education would bring for them and their families. Whether they wanted to become a doctor, lawyer, artist, dancer, journalist, or professor, they all had a passion for learning.”
The experience was rewarding for students from both countries, Allis says. “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.”