I was assisting Ben with his school fees in Kenya, and could very well have left my involvement to doing that for another year (this year). It would have been cheaper, and certainly less demanding on me. But in February 2017 I re-read a thank you note that Ben had sent me, likely at his mother’s prompting. He mentioned how much he hoped to come to the US to study. It was almost like a switch flipped in me, and I wanted that to happen as well.
A dialogue began with Ben’s mother, Clene, to see if such a plan could be developed. I had no idea what it would involve, and neither did she. However, it was clear that I would need some kind of guardianship in order to make the necessary decisions and actions for Ben.
In March, I was seeing my estate attorney about some other matters, and asked him to prepare a guardianship letter for me to take care of Ben. Several weeks and several hundred dollars later, I had the letter. But I also had talked with the woman preparing the document, and she mentioned that I needed to contact the Board of Education to start the visa process. She also mentioned that I would probably have to pay for Ben’s education, and that could be several thousand dollars. Up to that point, I somehow thought I could do all this through the high school. Oh how naïve I was!
So, I began tracking down the correct person, and discovered Mr. Hartsell. I worked with him to get the visa process started. There were a few conversations that could have sufficiently put me off that I could have dropped the whole idea. But somehow, I couldn’t let it go.
At the end of June, we finally got the last of the documents that were needed to apply for the visa to the US. The interview was scheduled in July, and Ben’s school let out at the end of July. Our travel back to the US was booked for August 1. At the interview, many of the applicants were turned down, but within about five minutes, Ben’s visa was approved. When his mother collected the passport with the visa, it was good for five years!
We traveled as planned on August 1, and began the process of becoming acquainted. Still jet lagged, we finally managed to get all the paperwork done and money paid to get Ben into school. He got set up with a plan to graduate as a Junior in May 2018. The school has been amazing at working with us to put Ben in the classes he most needs to take.
Then we began the process of trying to get this young man in to college. I haven’t had to apply to college for a very long time, and the procedures and requirements have certainly changed! Fortunately, I knew Meryl. She has worked with her own children and a lot of homeschoolers, and has trained herself to become a guidance counselor of sorts. She sat down with me for an hour to explain such terms as “Early Decision” versus “Early Action”, how to get a scholarship and many other useful pieces of information.
Armed with this new knowledge, and having heard from many people about the importance of community service, I got Ben signed up to help with a Habitat project, working with refugee kids, and made sure he went along with the church youth group to help serve meals at a homeless shelter. At this point, it is October, and he has been in the country less than three months.
In the midst of all of this activity, I’ve also taken a part-time position as an adjunct professor at Johnson University. One day, in September, I was glancing over various bits of information on the Johnson website and noticed there was a US News survey of top colleges. I went to the link, and found some very helpful spreadsheets and resources for exploring colleges. For some weeks, Ben and I were researching possible colleges and trying to figure out what his career goals really were. He has strengths in math and physics and an interest in astronomy. How does that all come together?
Various men that he met began to talk about engineering, and that lead to thinking about aeronautical engineering. I doubt he had ever thought about such a career in Kenya, as that is not a typical major there. The more he thought about it, the better he liked the idea. So, that helped us narrow our search.
At the advice of the school counselor, Ben was dutifully signed up for the ACT and the PSAT. He began attending practice sessions three afternoons a week to prepare for the tests.
During Fall Break in October, Ben’s mother and sister were able to spend some days with us. His sister, Halle, is studying at Wellesley on a full MasterCard scholarship. She knew a lot about how that scholarship worked, and pointed out that Duke University worked with MasterCard in the same way that Wellesley did. She explained that private schools choose who gets the MC scholarships while public schools, like Michigan State or Arizona State leave it to MC to decide who they support. We had Duke on our list, along with a number of other colleges. Suddenly, Duke became a more serious focus.
As we continued to discuss how to approach these applications, Halle suggested that we ask for an Early Decision from Duke. Yikes! I had been warned away from Early Decisions because if they accept you, you have to go there. If you back out, you can get blackballed, and can’t get in anywhere! Upon further investigation, however, if they accept you for Early Decision, they also have to offer you a scholarship that is acceptable to your family. That worked for us!
Halle also remembered that there was an application that had to be completed for the financial aid package. Thankfully, Ben’s mother was still here, and together they were able to complete that! What great timing.