From Tanzania to Indiana: One high schooler’s dream to reach the Ivy League

study in the US
Through hard work and dedication, Ngatunga managed to keep up with all of his school work remotely online, and even catch up with fellow students so he would fit in socially once he arrived in the US. Source: Brian Ngatunga

It all started in a small city in Tanzania called Arusha, where Brian Ngatunga travelled 13 hours by bus from his hometown Mwanza to attend Ilboru Secondary School in 2015. The ambitious kid was also the Health Leader of his student government, supporting local orphanages and administering first aid to students who needed it. 

Ngatunga loved school. He always dreamed of studying in the US. In Tanzania, the government provides school until grade ten — the last two years must be paid for by the family or earned through a scholarship. Although young, life’s challenges did not go unnoticed by him. To go abroad, let alone finish high school, was financially impossible.

Then in ninth grade, an opportunity arose. He was selected to go to the US to represent Tanzanian culture through the LEAF Tanzania International Programme in 2019. The Hanna family from Asheville in North Carolina sponsored his exchange programme, something  Ngatunga is forever grateful for.

Wanting to complete his senior year, he studied hard and was accepted into Kokomo High School in Indiana — one of the few public schools that processes study visas for international candidates. As he could only renew his visa in Tanzania, Ngatunga had to return to his home country in July 2020, forcing him to continue his classes remotely during his first semester.

To study in the US, this meant adjusting to the Eastern Standard Time to be able to participate in class, working extra hard to catch up and reaching out to fellow students to connect with them. Ngatunga achieved all of this by staying at his uncle’s place which had better internet connection than his hometown. 

study in the US

Ngatunga, hailing from Tanzania, was sponsored to study in the US. Source: Tony Karumba/AFP

His is a heartwarming story of a young, hard-working man with his eyes set on excelling academically and giving back to society. Ngatunga has already applied to Harvard, MIT, Cornell, Yale and Duke. “My greatest wish is to earn a scholarship to attend any of these colleges and major in computer programming to become a developer and provide solutions to the challenges present in many Tanzanian communities,” he says. 

When he finally made it to Kokomo High School in November 2020, he worked hard to keep up with his studies and fellow students. We caught up with him to learn what life abroad was like and how he enjoys to study in the US for him now and what plans he has for the future: 

What made you choose to go abroad and study in the US?

I desired to study in the US to explore and experience a new environment while gaining knowledge, new skills and opportunities. I see the US as a great arena for that.

What do you like most about the US?

Living and studying in the US, I have interacted with many people who have moved and impacted my life. I am proud to call the US my second home because of the friendships I have made and the positive treatment and support I have received in this foreign land. People build the community and I love the space people provide in their hearts to me. 

study in the US

A view of the campus of Harvard University, one of the colleges Brian Ngatunga applied to and hopes to attend. Source: Maddie Meyer/AFP

If you could list your top three favourite things about the US, what would it be?

The diversity, the generosity, and the entertainment. 

What are some memorable non-academic experiences in the US that have stood out for you?

Getting involved with Elevation Church was one of my dreams. I was captivated by their ministry, especially in worship music and outreach programmes. I was happy to be a volunteer in a couple of their events, which supplied food to locals in need. 

Tell us your most and least favourite foods.

Without lying, Tanzania’s local food is natural, delicious and nutritious. So I am used to diverse cooking techniques from various ethnic groups and regions. 

However, my favourite local food in the US would be enchiladas. Seafood like shrimp and crab are my least favourite. 

study in the US

Brian Ngatunga is forever grateful to his sponsores for realising his dream to study in the US. Source: Brian Ngatunga

What’s one thing from the US you’re planning to bring back home?

I believe that every day is a day for me to learn and experience more things. Generally, I am inspired to use the education I am receiving in the US back to support my country in tackling various challenges. I aim to be a problem solver and a global citizen. 

What’s one thing from home you miss and how do you substitute it?

I miss food from home and since I love cooking, I occasionally cook meals using East African recipes. I have enjoyed sharing my cooking with my host families, teachers, classmates, and friends.

What advice do you have for international students looking to start a new chapter in the US?

I would advise them not to abandon their dreams and ambitions despite the challenges that may arise on the way to this journey. To study in the US, exposure to various life opportunities and keeping a positive attitude will help accomplish and achieve their goals.