Your browser is unsupported and may have security vulnerabilities! Upgrade to a newer browser to experience this site in all it's glory.
Skip to main content
Boitumelo Aug 23

Boitumelo secures uni place after arriving in the UK as a refugee from Botswana

We are throwing the spotlight on some of the inspirational stories behind our 2022/23 REACH and Construction Award winners this summer with BOITUMELO MOKALAKE next up.

Having arrived in the UK as a refugee from Botswana, Boitumelo overcame a nervous breakdown at the start of his studies, whilst also managing his ADHD condition, to gain a Distinction in his Access to Higher Education Humanities Diploma. He has now secured a place to study Philosophy at the University of York. Here, he shares how important his tutors Alison Willis and Sean Ledwith were in helping him to fulfil his potential and talks about the role our Learning Support Centre played in his inspiring journey…

Tell me a bit about the circumstances that brought you from Botswana to England at the age of 10?

Socio-economic circumstances forced my family to migrate to the UK a few decades ago. I moved to the UK in 2012 to join my mother and little sister and have not been back to Botswana since.

Did you come here with family, or did you have to leave family behind?

I left a lot of family back in Botswana. However, my mother and younger sister had already relocated to the UK.

A lot of family members have died over the years while I have been in the UK including my grandmother, whom I was unable to say goodbye to.

What have you enjoyed about our Access to Higher Education Diploma in Humanities?

I have enjoyed studying English Literature and History under the best tutors in the world - Alison (Willis) and Sean (Ledwith), who believed in me when I had very little belief in myself, and to whom I feel I am forever indebted. When I started the course, I was in the midst of a nervous breakdown and struggling with depression and anxiety, triggered by a sporting injury I had sustained in competition that forced me to step back from my martial arts journey – a sport that I had dedicated the best part of my life to.

This was particularly hard because martial arts had been a big part of healing from my past traumas. Under these circumstances, there were times I felt I would not make it through the course, however the belief, support, patience and encouragement I received from my tutors was impeccable.

They inspired and challenged me to produce my best work and become the best version of myself I could be at this point in time. I also loved and appreciated the Learning Support Centre on floor one, which is where I spent the majority of my independent study.

As an adult with ADHD, the support I received from all the staff at the Learning Support Centre played a key part in me successfully completing the course. Learning and deepening my understanding of post-colonial and feminist concepts has also broadened my curiosity and desire to learn more about the history and current state of marginalised groups. I never thought I’d be able to articulate these big ideas in an academic, consistent and coherent manner.

In what ways do you find York College welcoming to people from different ethnic backgrounds?

I found the access course to be very inclusive and loved the course structure and the reading list of authors from a diverse background, from Emily Bronte to Linton Kwesi Johnson. I also found Alison’s perspectives and approach to teaching Literature to be overwhelmingly inclusive, fostering the development of a complex, intersectional way of thinking and open mindedness that naturally created an all-encompassing environment for learning.

Understanding the dynamics of the common structures of power and domination at the root of misogyny and racism has been eye-opening and empowering.

Have you supported other refugees in college?

I have aspirations of joining the York Mentorship Programme and working with students from a disadvantaged background.

Does it help having people around who might have been through similar circumstances to you?

What helped me the most was having compassionate tutors that had the capacity and sensitivity to put themselves in my shoes and tried to understand my journey. For this I am forever grateful.

What made you choose York College, as I believe you live in Harrogate, which is quite a journey in?

I loved the Access to Humanities course structure in York College, and knew it was what I needed for both my personal and academic growth. I also had a chat with Alison before and, from day one, I knew she was the kind of teacher I needed to bring out the best in me.

How good are the transport links?

They are fantastic (apart from strike days!). It is half-an-hour by train and then a 15-minute bus journey straight to the college. I really enjoyed my commutes to College and back.

Would you recommend it to anybody in Harrogate considering coming to York College next year?

Yes, 100% I would recommend York College to anybody in Harrogate or across the UK. It is worth the travel, as it offers a unique learning experience.

Tutors, such as Alison and Sean, go out of their way to facilitate your learning and growth, not only academically, but personally as well. I can honestly say York College has not only facilitated the development of my academic voice but, most pertinent to my journey on this blue rock, it has made me a better human being.

How big a role has York College played in helping you secure a place at the University of York to study Philosophy?

Without my tutors’ support, I would not have made it to university. I strongly believe, if I was in a different learning institution, I would have dropped out a long time ago.

They believed in me, they listened to me, they cared about my wellbeing and challenged me to produce my best work.

Do you have a career in mind for when you finish your studies?

For me, studying is for my own personal growth and an obligation I owe to my ancestors. I hope to serve mankind and empower others, as Alison has empowered me.

How did it feel to win the Progression REACH Award?

It felt fantastic to know my efforts were recognised. However, I felt the recognition should have been given to my tutors Alison and Sean who worked overtime and tirelessly to make sure I was on track.

Alison is the best teacher I’ve had the privilege of learning under. She believed in me when I didn’t even believe in myself and I will be forever grateful to her for her love, support, patience and for challenging me to produce my best work and find my academic voice.

She encouraged me to think deeper and, most pertinent to my journey, find the intersectionality of feminism and post-colonialism in my analysis. Choosing to study at York College as an adult learner with ADHD was one of the best decisions I have made on my journey across this blue rock.

I’m also grateful to Sean, my history tutor, for making history great again. I’d like to thank him for his patience and for always challenging a brother to be more analytical in the work I produced and deepening my understanding of a Marxist analysis.

Every student needs an Alison or a Sean or, even better, both. I’d also like to thank the rest of the staff at York College for always being kind to me and creating an inclusive environment.

If you’re thinking of returning to academia as an adult, I would 100% recommend York College and, if you are on the atypical spectrum, you will love the Learning Development Centre, which is perfect for the neuro-divergant.

Thank you for sharing your inspirational story with us, Boitumelo, and best of luck with your degree studies at the University of York.