Reflections from a Zimbabwean Grace Scholar: Hellen Jumo

The Grace Scholarship Program is the result of a partnership between PVF and a donor to provide the critical gap funding necessary for bright, low-income Zimbabwean students who are a part of the US Achievers Program (USAP) to study at US and European universities.

We interviewed a few of the Grace Scholars to learn more about their background, experiences in college, and plans for the future. Below is our interview with Hellen Jumo, a second-year student studying Biochemistry at The College of Saint Rose in Albany, NY.

Tell us about your decision to study outside your home country.

Whoever wins the war gets to write the history. Opportunity is missed by some people because it is dressed in overalls looking like work. If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door. A pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity and an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty. – Thomas Edison

Growing up in Zimbabwe, my biggest dream was just to go to school. All I wanted to do was to just make a difference and be the medical doctor I have always wanted to be. No matter how much I dreamed, my dreams were always limited by finances. I believed blindly and dreamed without prudence, hoping that at some point in my life, everything will turn out my way. I taught myself to take on every opportunity that comes my way. I applied to different scholarships and jobs, and in the midst, I came across USAP. It helped me dream bigger and move out of my comfort zone. I realized, I can achieve great things even when the whole world dares to say I can’t. This influenced my decision to apply to study in the United States.

Was it difficult transitioning to a different culture?

This great change in the things I had become accustomed to in my daily life was not easy. I had never experienced a transition like shifting from a rural to an urban setting. Furthermore, this was the first time that I was actually away from home.

I also had a problem in communication, where people asked me the same questions several times before they could understand what I was saying with my accent.

The cultural diversity here is just amazing. I became friends with people who were also international students from other countries. Involving myself in the different clubs really helped.

Hellen (on the right) with some College of Saint Rose students during the new student arrival

What types of activities are you involved in at school?

I got involved in a lot of clubs during my first year to explore and find what I really love. I joined ALANA, which is an organization for Asians, Latinos, Africans, African Americans, and Native Americans, This was an amazing experience for me as I got to learn about others’ cultures. It was quite vibrant. I also joined two Christian clubs, two medical clubs, and a club/organization that focuses on empowering women.

During my first week of classes, I was involved in the Reach Out Saint Rose campaign in which my school goes around Albany cleaning up churches and roads and helping the people who live in shelters, and I am currently involved in volunteering once every week, spending my time playing with children with disorders as well as waitressing during school events.

In addition, I became an International Student Orientation leader and new student arrival assistant for the freshman class of 2021, and I helped new students move in, and I work as a phonathon caller, which has helped improve my communication skills as I get to have conversations with alumni whom I have never met.

What is your greatest accomplishment at school thus far?

There have been plenty of achievements that have made me so proud of myself. For instance, during my first semester, I got the highest grade in Chemistry and was awarded the Chemistry Award at the Annual Honors Convocation that took place in spring. I also received a research internship award as my research proposal was considered the best amongst all the science majors at my school who applied. Leading in most of the school clubs, giving back to the community in Albany through volunteering, and getting on the Dean’s lists are also some of my greatest accomplishments.

What do you plan to do post-graduation?

I want to take a year off and do biological research and then proceed to medical school.

How has the Grace scholarship helped you pursue your goals?

Ever since I began school in Zimbabwe, being sent home because I hadn’t paid the tuition had become the norm. I always had to walk around campus looking sideways, avoiding the administration.

The Grace scholarship gave me the opportunity of learning without fear. It is actually my light in darkness. The best feeling is waking up every morning, going to school knowing you do not owe the school anything. Having to walk around the campus with no fear of getting kicked out of the school was a dream I never thought was possible. Now I believe I can actually concentrate on my education—something I was never used to.

This has been the most amazing experience in my life, and I cannot thank you enough. The Grace scholarship changed my life and made my dream a reality. I no longer have any limit of what I can achieve now.

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