Born in Paris. Lived in New York. Studied in London. Worked in Hong Kong. Graduated with two Masters aged 22.
Ba ndeko, bote!
My name is Bénédicte Kinkolo and today I am happy to share my story with you. It’s a story which began 22 years ago, in Paris. Although I grew up in Paris, I also spent a chunk of my childhood in New York. Before settling in France, my mom was in Kinshasa while my dad is from Mbandaka. Like many Congolese families, politics was a huge part of ours while growing up; my grand-father and father used to work in foreign affairs before things got a bit messy. Regardless, I inherited their passion for all things economics & politics and decided to study these subjects for my undergraduate at King’s College London when I turned 17.
“Go where you are not expected and open a path for all of us!”
I moved to London in 2013 and the following year, I moved to East Asia for 9 months to study & work in South Korea, Japan and Hong Kong. I always wanted to go where I knew there were few Africans; just to be able to show that there is no limits to where we can go and what we can do. It was not easy, people underestimate you a lot as well, especially when you are young. I was working as a manager in a NGO in Hong Kong at the age of 19. My age, on top of being Congolese led many people to question my capacity to do things well. Do not allow people to question you in this way; you deserve to be where you are and that’s the only thing that matters.
At the age of 20, I graduated from King’s College London and thought about becoming a corporate lawyer because the money is lit. However, I quickly realized that my heart was always in economic development for African countries. I really believe that the only way for African countries to be strong is through cooperation. I also think that the diaspora can contribute to the African economy through tourism, investments or actually moving back altogether! I needed to put my money where my mouth is so since 2016, I have made it a priority to travel to one African destination per year besides Congo. So far, I have done Morocco, Senegal and Ghana and I am looking forward to my next trips.
In 2016, I enrolled into a dual master’s degree which led me to complete two masters in two years, instead of four years. My first masters is in Economic Development from Sciences Po in Paris. I got my second masters in Law and International Relations from Peking University in Beijing. I chose to study in China because of its ubiquitous presence in Africa and beyond the neo-colonial rhetoric, I wanted to understand this new dynamic for myself. Regardless, China is in Africa to stay and I believe we need to find a way to make this new dynamic work in our favor. My rationale was the following; if Chinese people can move to Congo and learn Lingala and invest there: then we should be able to do the same. I also wanted to learn Chinese and understand the mindset behind their economic success and it was life-changing. Now, I am hoping to soon move somewhere on the Continent and put this knowledge to good use.
A lot of people ask me how come I managed to have two masters at 22. The truth is that I was blindly driven by my ambitions and thus sacrificed a couple of summers and did not take any breaks. I’ve been away from my family since I was 17, I spent last Christmas day writing exams in Beijing instead of being at home with my family. There were days in Japan where I would have killed for mikate but it’s impossible to find. There is also the racism I faced at times in Asia, but I had a rock-solid support system and came out on top. Although I received multiple scholarships from the French, Chinese, South Korean and Japanese governments, my family and friends helped me financially and it is only through their generosity that I was able to do all of this. Gratitude keeps me in check at moments when I think I can do it all by myself; no man is an island, we all need each other.
“Gratitude keeps me in check at moments when I think I can do it all by myself; no man is an island, we all need each other.”
Finally, do not let limiting beliefs stop you; if you want to go to country X but you’ve never heard of any Congolese or black person going there, then BE THE FIRST ONE! Go where you are not expected and open a path for all of us! Secondly, students you have the best excuse to travel; use your school’s resources, semesters abroad, internship abroad etc. Hustle those grades, do your research and apply for scholarships, grants, enter essay competitions! Many of us have families in France, Belgium where you can stay. Use this blessing and find an internship in France or Belgium over the summer to get experience abroad and to improve your French. This alone will already make you a competitive candidate for when you decide to move forward with your career and your personal development. I am craving to see more young Congolese defying the odds! You don’t have to go far to begin, but you need to begin somewhere.
And lastly, feel free to tweet/instagram me @benedicteking for more advice!