The other day, I wrote about something I forgot to tell a high school student in an interview on a radio show. In response to the question, "How did you get to Oxford?" I was asked endlessly at a scholarship interview about cycling around Australia.
But the main reason was Francis Mburu. I told the story of how Francis helped me on my radio show. I thought I had written about this story in a blog I used to write, so I searched, and sure enough, it came up. It's 13 years old now, but I thought I'd repost it here.
An 'exchange diary' I don't want to forget: thanks, Mburu!
This morning, I found out how to import old university emails into Gmail with their original timestamps. I was tinkering with my old university emails when I had a nostalgic moment. Email is the modern-day "correspondence" and "exchange diary". When I read my old emails, I find that I have thought about such and such things, asked for help, acted, made mistakes, received encouragement, and said "I will try again"—footprints of my life. The oldest email I have is from 2001.
I don't know if it exists anymore, but I wanted to read some of the older ones before I came to Oxford. I didn't want to forget the contents of an "exchange diary" with someone.
Before I came to Oxford, I wanted to do a Masters and PhD course in environmental studies. At the time, I didn't like to have lunch with a specific person, so I would go to different people's tables and talk to them. I had seen Mr Mburu, a Kenyan, from time to time, but I had never talked to him. So I decided to sit in front of him and have lunch with him. He had done his master's at Kyoto University on a scholarship from the Ministry of Education, so he was very pro-Japanese. I didn't think at that time that I would be very much indebted to him.
After some idle talk, I think I told him that I was looking for a graduate school. And he suddenly said:
"Why Not Oxford?
"Why don't you go to Oxford or Cambridge?
I never thought of myself as an idiot. Still, I thought these universities were for geniuses who would go above the clouds or even further into space, so I didn't understand what he was talking about when he suddenly asked. When I calmly thought about the names of the universities he mentioned, I honestly don't think I was even sure at the time if these famous schools were in the US or the UK. So my answer was, of course:
"No way I'm going to go to that. I'm not going to go to one of those universities."
And Mr Mburu said.
"Don't worry; you'll be fine.
To be honest, I didn't do too badly at university; in fact, I was doing so well that I was getting a bit carried away, not as well as when I was 18 when I was described as "hotter than the rockstar in his prime". Still, I was saying some pretty hot things regularly. So, as I sat in front of him, I began to feel the urge. He rattled off all sorts of reasons why I should go to Oxford, Cambridge, Stanford or Harvard. Of course, I didn't know exactly where Stanford and Harvard were. But I started to get on board. I felt like I could do it. But, but...
I told Mburu that:
"The living expenses and tuition fees would be too high for me to pay even if I got in."
I said to Mburu. With the brightest African smile:
"Don't worry; you'll get a scholarship."
I didn't know what on earth made him say that, but no one else would have told me that. I don't remember seeing the Kenyan steppe and the sunset behind him, but he said it with a very generous smile. When I told people I wanted to go to graduate school, most of their answers were "no way" or "what's the point". So, for some reason, I was thrilled that he believed in me 100%.
After that, I met him and talked to him and exchanged emails with him. He was not just a word-of-mouth guy; he showed me how to apply to these universities and get scholarships. The 'Oxford Admissions Scheme' was often carried out late into the night. By the time I realised that Oxford and Cambridge were in the UK and Stanford and Harvard were in the US, it was too late to apply to the US universities. So, as he had initially said, I applied only to Oxford and Cambridge. Of course, I also applied for a scholarship that would pay my full tuition and living costs.
The first and second rounds of university applications...,
the first and second rounds of college applications...,
then the first and second rounds of scholarship applications and interviews....
Six months have passed with my heart "racing". I won't go into the roller coaster ride this time.
The result of this "great operation" was, as Mr Mburu believed, that I passed both universities. And I decided that I would go to Oxford University, my first choice, as an "Oxford-Kobe Scholar" with full tuition and living expenses exemption. I found out later that the competition would have been 100 times more intense if it had been a random selection. I will never forget his heartfelt words, "You can do it", and his very kindness in helping me.
In the world of quantum mechanics, there is another world than the one in which I exist now. I don't know what I would have done if I hadn't met Mburu at that moment. I might have done a PhD at another university. I might have given up my postgraduate studies. Mburu was definitely "observing" my life at that time, and he said, "you can do it". He will always be my "life mentor". I emailed him many times after I came to Oxford. I don't know why we couldn't exchange emails, although I suppose it was partly because he had gone back to Kenya. Of course, I wrote him credit in my doctoral thesis.
To go back to the beginning, if you can read my emails before I came to Oxford, you can read my "correspondence" or "exchange diary" with Mburu and the scholarship and university administrators. One day we will forget the happy, the sad and the hard times. But I don't want to forget this "turning point" in my life. I don't have any records of my past, so I wrote this blog for now. Maybe I'll write more sometime.