The African School of Economics (ASE) is in partnership with the University of Princeton in the USA. As part of this partnership the ASE receives Princeton students on its campus of Abomey-Calavi (Benin), through the Princeton in Africa Fellowship program. Alex Dobyan is one of those students that has spent one year here. At the end of his stay in Benin, we approached him to tell us more about his experience working on the ASE campus.
Can you introduce yourself, please?
My name is Alex Dobyan, and I have been working at ASE as a Princeton-in-Africa Fellow for the past year. The Princeton-in-Africa fellowship sponsors recent graduates from U.S. universities to work at organizations in Africa for one year.
How was your stay in Benin?
To be honest, it was quite challenging, but also life-changing. I’ve really appreciated learning about the history, culture, economy, and so on of Benin. I also feel like I’ve built a good relationship with many of the students at ASE, which has been great for me. It’s made me feel much more comfortable than I did at the beginning of my stay.
Which other countries have you been to in Africa?
Before coming I had visited Rwanda and Morocco. Since moving to Benin, I’ve visited Togo, Ghana, Tanzania, and Côte d’Ivoire.
How does the overall environment in Benin compare to those countries?
There are definitely cultural differences – in general, East Africa is more laid-back and orderly, while West Africa is more animated and chaotic. I do prefer most other cities I’ve visited like Abidjan, Kigali and Dar es Salaam to Cotonou; Cotonou is just too polluted, and driving feels really dangerous with all the zemidjans. The great advantage that Benin has is the level of political stability and freedom, and you can tell that Beninese people are really engaged and willing to share their opinions.
What has been your involvement in ASE activities?
My two main roles have been working on research with Professor David Gbaguidi, and teaching English, GRE and TOEFL classes for our students. I’ve also worked with the faculty to develop proposals for scholarship and research grants.
What is your overall appreciation of the school's activities, academic and non-academic?
It’s been great to be a part of the research that comes from ASE, which is both interesting and high quality. There are a number of really promising students here too, and I hope they will go far. I think it’s really interesting to see the visiting professors and scholars that come to ASE, and I hope that in the future ASE can bring in more from all over Africa, not just Benin or nearby countries.
Regarding the non-academic activities – it seems like the students here spend so much time studying that they don’t have time for much else! I know there are some initiatives to bring students together to play football or make music but I haven’t really participated.
What advice can you give to ASE students?
First of all, you have to work really hard. If you’re going to the international job market or abroad for study after ASE, you have to work much harder than your competitors to prove that your CV from Benin is just as good as someone from a Western country. Second, you have to take risks and have an open mind. Lots of students say that there are few opportunities in Benin or other Francophone West African countries, and everyone applies for the same jobs. Find ways to either create your own opportunities or be willing to gain experience somewhere new, especially in a new part of Africa that you can use later in your career to gain an advantage.
Thank you for your responses and knowledgeable advice.