How strangers become friends

September 22, 2017

Sometimes, she finds herself becoming irritated when someone arrives five minutes late at a meeting or when events start 30 minutes late. That is Germany’s influence on her. In the Kingdom of Lesotho, the notion of time is different. What do five minutes, fifteen minutes or even one hour matter? To compensate, people are friendly and considerate of each other, they laugh and talk a lot and greet each other on the street. “It’s a different world”, says Thato Mary Mokhothu, who works for the Clinton Health Access Initiative of former US-President Bill Clinton.

She was 19 years old when she left the enclave in the Republic of South Africa and made her way to Bremen. It was the first time that she had been outside of Africa and there were two things that stood out for her in particular in this new, strange world. How tall the people are and how green the country is – the grass, meadows and forests. Lesotho is a brown, mountainous country. “I was used to this color”, she says.

Thato attended the African Leadership Academy in South Africa, an ambitious school whose task is to educate the continent’s future leaders. Here, she met a representative from Jacobs University who told her about the international, English-medium university. Thato applied for the course “Cognitive Psychology and Neuroscience” – and was accepted.

“In the beginning it was very hard”, she explains. “I had no appetite and hardly ate anything in the first week.” But this settling-in period passed quickly. “As soon as I made friends, the homesickness disappeared.” It’s easy to make friends at Jacobs University. “The people come from all over, they are open-minded and tolerant. The campus is small, everyone attends the same events, they live together, discuss seminars with each other and party together. At some point, one becomes part of a big family”.

The close contact with professors and the small classes also proved to be very helpful. “You see your fellow students every day and because everyone has a different background, we learnt a lot from each other.” Internships took her back to Africa – first, to an HIV project in Durban, South Africa and a research project on the influence of nutrition on the developing brain of young children in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

She was also committed to Africa at Jacobs University. Thato was the President of the African Heritage Society, a society for all students interested in the development of the continent. Panel discussions on current topics were organized as well as a fashion show and cultural events. She also sang in the African choir “Mzuka” and later joined the band “Dizzy Trane” singing mainly jazz and pop.

“But my best decision was to join the College 3 team”, she says. Students at Jacobs University live in one of four Colleges on the campus. They are more than just student accommodation. The Colleges are home for several years and students can participate in organizing the everyday life there. “We met up once a week and discussed how we can improve life at the College”, explains Thato. Cheer-up events during exam times were organized, motivational stickers were developed and help was provided in solving practical problems. “The team was great. We could rely on each other completely.”

Thato went back to Lesotho in the summer. The 22-year-old works for the Clinton Health Access Initiative of former US-President Bill Clinton on a project that identifies, tests and treats HIV positive children from remote village in two districts in Lesotho. She travels a lot throughout the country and makes sure that patients who are in the program visit the local health centers and receive care. “I worked in the laboratory for much of my time during my studies. Now I can see what health care at the community level is all about”.

It is a different world to the one in Bremen North, but it is a beautiful world to the open minded. But it will likely not be the last that she explores. Thato has applied for graduate programs in various countries abroad – she wants to study further and get a doctorate in neuroscience.

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