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UBC Reports | Vol. 49 | No. 1 | Jan. 2, 2003

UBC English Student Receives Rhodes Scholarship

“It’s not just about being a bookworm…”

By Erica Smishek

Yaa-Hemaa Obiri-Yeboah has covered a lot of ground in her 21 years -- and she’s just getting started.

Completing her fourth year of an English Honours program with a Political Science minor, she recently received the 2003 Rhodes Scholarship for British Columbia. She will pursue graduate studies in English with a concentration in African studies at Oxford University beginning in October.

“It looks like I’ll be spending a lot of time in the library,” the articulate and personable student jokes about her future at Oxford.

“As an international institution, there will be a lot of opportunities. I’ll be in a place where I can grow intellectually and socially, I’ll have access to a lot of people and I’ll have the ability to travel.”

Obiri-Yeboah came to Canada from Ghana as a refugee at the age of two when her parents fled a military coup. She now mentors children in the African-Canadian community and writes opinion pieces for The Afro News, a paper directed to Vancouver’s African-Canadian community.

“I see the African Studies programme as an opportunity to become more political and eloquent on the subject of African peoples,” Obiri-Yeboah wrote in her essay to the Selection Committee for the Rhodes Scholarship.

“I want to shatter stereotypes placed upon African peoples, thereby deconstructing the harmful images that have their roots in the age of colonialism. The voices of African individuals telling their own stories, defining their own identities and speaking the truth as they see and live it must be heard. I want to participate in this process of telling a new story about Africa and its people.”

The Rhodes Scholarships were established in 1902 by English colonial statesman and businessman Cecil Rhodes. They were designed to bring outstanding students from across the world to study at Oxford University, in the interests of promoting international understanding and public service.

The scholarships require a high level of literacy and scholastic achievement, success in sports, strong qualities of leadership and character, and evidence of public service. They provide for all expenses for travel to, and study at, Oxford University for two years, with an option for a third year. The current value of the scholarship is more than $100,000.

“They look for ‘normal people,” Obiri-Yeboah says of the Rhodes selection process. “It’s not just about being a bookworm but of people doing things in their community and in the world.”

Apart from her academic career, Obiri-Yeboah plays field hockey, teaches piano and has spent a great deal of time working in student politics and in writing and speaking on issues related to human rights and the plight of marginalized peoples.

Eleven Rhodes Scholarships are awarded in Canada each year, one of which is allocated to British Columbia.

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Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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