Undergraduate studies can be exciting – and overwhelming. Brighton Tandabantu reflects on the leadership, confidence and academic development he gained on the four-year journey at UCT.
Walking from a workshop hosted early in the year for the 2017 cohort of Mastercard Foundation Scholars, Brighton Tandabantu felt excited and inspired. But he also felt overwhelmed.
In the first year of pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering, the thrill of starting studies at UCT, of being on his own and discovering a new city and new people was starting to fade. In its place came the demands of an academically challenging atmosphere and the pressure to achieve personal goals.
“I’d just landed at the top institution on the continent, so I was really happy. But the academic pressure was overwhelming,” says Tandabantu. “I was trying to adjust to everything from the classes to the surroundings to the language.”
Coming from rural Zimbabwe, Tandabantu speaks English fluently along with Ndau and Shona. “I didn’t speak English every day back home. But at UCT, I was in an environment where it was spoken everywhere, and I wasn’t confident using it as a full-time language.”
And he definitely wasn’t used to being anything but the top student. “I graduated head of my class with distinctions,” he says. “But I’m not the top student at UCT and that came with an adjustment in how I saw myself. There were moments when I asked myself if I was ever that smart.”
Joining the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program and coming to UCT is an academic and culture shock - not just for Tandabantu, but for other students as well. The programme acknowledges this and provides a range of support including workshops, retreats and a listening ear.
“There’s a lot of general support available. You know you’re in a programme that really cares for you,” Tandabantu says.
For him, it was being able to speak openly about his feeling with the programme’s Careers, Internships and Opportunities Advisor, Jean Alfeld, that made all the difference.
“I needed to talk to someone, and Jean was there for me,” says Tandabantu. “I told her that I felt UCT was a big jump for me. She told me that it was normal to feel overwhelmed and encouraged me to ask for help and be open about my worries. She assured me that it was going to get better with time.”
And it did. Tandabantu was able to adjust his academic load and make time for passion projects like joining the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space, South Africa (SEDS-SA) chapter of the global SEDS organisation.
He found time to collaborate with start-up Student-to-Student, a web-based platform that helps students improve academic performance while gaining presentation and communication skills. And he was also a 2019 recipient of an award from the Scholars Entrepreneurship Fund (SEF).
“All of these opportunities gave me significant team management and project management skills,” he says.
Now in his last year of studies, Tandabantu is occupied with where to go next. Whether it’s entrepreneurship, postgraduate study or a full-time career, he will likely use the leadership, confidence and academic development he gained at UCT.
“I have grown in so many ways since I started with the Mastercard programme,” he says. “I am tempted to say that I am proud of who I have become, but I will say that it has been a fascinating journey and I’m excited about what’s next.”