A Tanzanian student finally touched down in the Hoosier state after his plans to attend Kokomo High School this year were jumbled due to COVID-19.
Brian Ngatunga was finishing his junior year as an international student in North Carolina last spring when the pandemic hit. His original plan was to stay in the U.S., as he would be attending Kokomo High School in the fall, but that plan quickly fell through when his VISA was set to expire and the embassy had paused all services.
His only option was to return home 8,000 miles away and wait for an appointment to have his VISA renewed. That appointment finally came on Nov. 9, and Ngatunga arrived in Kokomo on Nov. 13 in time to attend the tail-end of the fall semester at Kokomo High School.
“I am so thankful that the embassy was able to resume the services soon. So I went there, and because of COVID precautions we were only nine, and I’m thankful that my VISA appointment interview went well,” he said.
The day he went to his appointment at the embassy, it was a torrential downpour. Ngatunga wrapped all of his documents in plastic to keep them try, though he had no protection for himself. He said he arrived looking like he’d been swimming. That walk to the embassy was symbolic of the dedication and perseverance the senior had maintained over the last several months.
Since he was unable to attend Kokomo High School in person, he attended the fall semester virtually while in Tanzania. The virtual option was concerning to him, as internet in his home city of Mwanza was spotty, and data was expensive. However, he was able to stay with his uncle in Dar-es-Salaam, the city where the U.S. Embassy was located, which had better internet access.
However, the service wasn’t anywhere close to perfect.
October and early November brought heavy rains that knocked out the internet, causing Ngatunga to miss classes and play catch up. While his teachers were accommodating, he admitted the virtual coursework – which included several AP classes – was overwhelming. Still, he never lost focus.
“I’ve really learned perseverance. I’ll be honest; perseverance is something that I hate, but it’s something necessary to have,” he said. “ … As humans we feel like, ‘OK, I’ll go home. Maybe after two weeks I’ll just go to the embassy and be there with the appointment and come back to the U.S.’ But no, so I really found myself being in a state of perseverance, just waiting, just embracing the current moments that I was in and just not giving up.”
Ngatunga made a concerted effort to get to know his classmates in his virtual classes and stay engaged. Since Tanzania was seven hours ahead of Kokomo, he logged in to attend classes from 4:10 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. He’d always turn on his camera, make himself known, and if he missed a class due to a power outage, he’d watch the recording of the lessons so he wouldn’t miss a beat.
It paid off. When he finally was able to arrive at Kokomo High School, he picked up right where he left off. He felt like he already knew and his peers and teachers and could recognize them.
“(While doing virtual classes), the teachers would put us in [groups], and so I would interact with them. They would see me. So the good thing is I really let myself be known by tuning into my classes and putting my camera on and also just sharing my insights, taking part in discussion,” he said. “So when they saw me, they’re like, ‘Yay, Brian, you’re here.’ So it was just like moving from virtual to in person.”
The spring semester starts Jan. 11, and the senior has a full schedule. He will be taking AP calculus, AP English literature and composition, physics II, physical education, Spanish I, U.S. government, and yearbook.
While he has two host families in Kokomo who he spends time with on weekends and holidays, Ngatunga lives in the International Residence Hall in downtown Kokomo with approximately 15 to 20 other students from around the world, including Spain, Japan, Mexico, South Korea, Albania, and China.
Living in the dorms, he said, is helping to prepare him for college.
“First of all, the dorm is really preparing me for college because I will have people to live with … but just that space of us being together, having dinner together, living, helping each other with homework and all that stuff gives me an environment of having a good picture of how college will be,” he said.
One of the reasons he chose to spend his senior year at Kokomo High School was due to the selection of AP classes, and with a full plate this spring, he said that too will prepare him for college.
Ngatunga has applied to Harvard, MIT, Cornell, University of Pennsylvania, Yale, Duke, and Northeastern University.
While the senior still is getting to know Kokomo, he called it a “warm, calm city.” Despite having a lot to explore still, he said he knows it’s a good city because of the good people it’s filled with.
“I love the people. A city is made up of people, and I love the people that I’ve been interacting with. My fellow students at school, they’re so happy to see me, my teachers. It’s a blessing, and I believe that a place is really built by people and not necessarily by buildings and all that,” Ngatunga said.