George School–Finding My Second Home

Just over two years ago, Edwin Onyango ’21 had the opportunity to leave his home in Kenya and attend George School through the MPESA Foundation Academy program. “It was a difficult decision. I knew there would be cultural issues, language barriers, and I would feel like an outsider,” said Edwin. “The easiest thing would have been to complete school in Kenya. After speaking with Walter Wagude ’20, I knew I really did want to come to the United States, so I completed my application. Everything happened so quickly after that and before I knew it, I was standing on George School’s campus.”

“Home is not necessarily a physical place but how you feel in an environment or so I have come to believe,” continued Edwin. “It was very emotional leaving my parents and sister, and I found it difficult to believe that this new place would feel like home. But it did. It was certainly a big adjustment and there were challenges, but the adults made things better and let me know that I was cared for. Soon after I arrived, I needed to be hospitalized, first locally and then in Philadelphia. The George School community came and watched over me, including people with their own children at home. It was reassuring to know I had people to lean on when I needed help. Faculty member Erin Sio p’09 was particularly kind.”

Due to the pandemic and related travel restrictions, Edwin has been unable to return home to Kenya and has spent the last two years living at George School. “This has made me attached to the school in a different way,” said Edwin. “During the first summer, Erin taught Walter and me how to swim. The second summer, I had a job with the IT department. My parents were relieved to know I was safe. I loved living on campus and spent hours playing tennis and biking, running, and walking through the woods. I used to sign out a bike every day at the Deans’ Office. Director of Student Activities Shari Rossmann told me that for as long as I wanted, that particular bicycle was available anytime I needed it. It was things like that that made a difference. Not the big things, just small things and who I shared experiences with that made George School memorable.”

“The way I judge things such as, “Do I belong?” is through the lens, “Would I do it again?” Without a doubt, I would choose George School all over again,” continued Edwin. “It was one of the best experiences I have ever had. When I left campus with Tom Hoopes ’83 p’19, ’20 (my dorm parent) to travel to college, I felt the same way as I did when I left Kenya. Over the last few weeks, seeing social media posts from George School made me feel nostalgic and I reached out to Tom.”

Now in his first year at Dartmouth College, Edwin reflects that George School set the standard for the kinds of experiences he wanted to find in a college. “In Kenya, people talk about STEM differently and there is less focus on social science subjects,” explained Edwin. “Part of my education at George School was focused on inter-disciplinary learning. As a result, I realized that continuing a liberal arts education was important when making my college decision. I wanted to explore a wide range of subjects and continue painting. While I am interested in computer science and artificial intelligence (AI), I did not want to give up my other interests. Currently, I am working with a professor on an AI research project in very much the same way I explored AI at George School through robotics. My advisor and head of the math department at George School, Kevin Moon p’13, ’16, was so supportive and helped shape the path I took. He continues to give me advice today which I greatly appreciate.”

Participating in the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Program at George School transformed Edwin both academically and personally by providing a holistic approach to learning. “Previously, I was focused on grades and getting to the next level, but through the IB program I learned it was about the learning lifestyle and what it took to go through the journey,” said Edwin. “The exploration never ends, and you should not do something just for a grade. I will remain an IB student; some part of IB always comes up in what I am doing and the IB curriculum was more aligned to who I was as a student. I made a good choice coming to George School as it prepared me for what was coming next and taught me that taking care of yourself is just as important.”