Pako Lekoko came to the University of Kent to study a BSc in Actuarial Science with a Year in Industry in 2015. After graduating, she enrolled on the KBS MSc Business Analytics programme with the aim of getting back into the management consulting industry.
Why did you choose to study in the UK?
The UK has the reputation of the best place to be if you want to get the best education. So I'm like: “OK, I am definitely going to the UK – I am going to get the best education in the world!”
And why did you choose to study at the University of Kent?
There were a number of reasons for choosing to come to Kent. One: it is warmer in Kent than some other parts of the UK. And two: the fact that there are beaches around, as I wanted to live close to the sea. I have lived in a landlocked country – Botswana – all my life!
Another reason is that the Actuarial Science programme at the University is one of the best in the UK. I thought, if I'm going to be doing such a hard subject I want it to be in one of the best institutions that offers the best programme. Also, the University of Kent offered a year in industry, and that was a big factor for me because I wanted to get some experience and actually know what it is I would potentially be doing after graduating.
I had never been to Canterbury before choosing it. I had a friend who came to the University who I spoke to so I could find out more. The fact that she is my friend and was at Kent did not sway my decision. It was about the programme. It was about the environment – I didn’t want a busy place like London. I wanted somewhere a bit more peaceful, where I could look out and see trees.
What was your experience like, studying in a country so far from home?
When I’m in a new place, I soak it up. I love being in new environments. We’re often told, “Oh, you’re going to a new place, you’re going to be so homesick”, but my approach is if you’re somewhere new, find out what it’s like, take it all in. If you spend all your time thinking about somewhere else then you’re probably going to miss it. You steer where you stare. So, embrace being present in the environment that you’re in.
I was very surprised when I arrived in the UK at how pedestrians are respected! That was one of the first things I noticed and I was like: “The cars are going to stop for me? I can cross? Are you sure? OK!”
I didn’t come with any preconceived notions. I’d travelled before coming to the UK – South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia and China. I went to China on a cultural exchange programme in high school for a month. It was fun, it was different and I ate so many new foods.
From those experiences, I knew that each place and culture is different, so having a ready template of expectations would have probably been useless.
Did you travel to other parts of the UK during your time here?
I travelled to Liverpool, Manchester, London, Leeds, Birmingham, Reading, Edinburgh, and Dunblane, where a friend was doing their placement. One thing I learnt during my time exploring the UK – there are so many Batswana in the UK!
How was your undergraduate degree at Kent?
In first year, it was quite relaxed! I lived in Wincheap and had the smallest room in a four-bedroom house. I hated that, but I made it work! In second year I lived with a group of friends. Then I went on my year in industry. My placement was at Deloitte; I did eight months with them in Botswana, one week in South Africa and two months in Leeds.
On returning for my final year, I at least knew what on earth I was doing! Because of my year in industry, I was shaping up to be the kind of professional that I wanted to be. The house I lived in in my final year was so much fun! I was living with some of my closest friends from university. It was great. We were all together and it was like a little family.
How was your time as a postgraduate?
In one word – amazing. During my postgraduate programme, I became more of me than I ever was before. To a large extent, I feel like the programme was created specifically for me because it delivered the content I signed up for and catered for exactly the way I learn best – practical learning that was mostly assessed through coursework.
In addition to what happened in the lecture and seminar rooms, it felt like everything outside of them conspired to bring me into a greater, more self-aware, fearless, and confident version of myself. I would not trade that period in my life for any other. Doing it was one of the best decisions of my life.
What have you been up to since graduating, and what’s next?
Oh man, a lot! Immediately after finishing my dissertation, I revived an old business I had and gave it a major facelift. I maintained the name, Zaidi, changed the branding and the whole mandate of the business. Zaidi now helps university-level students with essay, dissertation and report writing coaching. We also provide employability services to customers such as helping them create and edit CVs, cover letters, job applications and LinkedIn profiles in a way that accentuates their strengths and highlights them as great candidates for a specific job. We also proofread and edit documents, as well as offer training in Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and more coming up. People can find us on Facebook and Instagram @zaidi_bw. We should be launching our website soon and automating some of our services to allow people to access them at their own convenience.
I was also largely focused on leading the mentorship programme I founded, The Runway, which prepares Batswana students to live and learn away from home and then return with much to contribute. It is a fully fledged society that has over 80 members, is successfully running various programmes and continuously holds development workshops for different skills.
I was headhunted by a Management Consulting firm in Botswana called Growth Matrix Solutions, a relatively small company that packs a major punch in providing diverse business solutions by leveraging technology.
At this time, I was not looking for employment and had decided to use my skills to be a freelance consultant that specialised in Data Science, Analytics and everything around it. The company was very intentional about giving me the working conditions I asked for, allowing me maximum flexibility and support to become the professional I want to be.
I will easily say that they gave me the type of working experience I had been praying for. In bringing me onboard, I had, and still have, the privilege of creating my own job description, which continues to be very flexible based on available opportunities and what I want to get involved in.
In less than six months, I have worked with a client that is the biggest contributor to the Botswana economy, Debswana, and went from being a junior consultant to a senior member of the team with my own admin assistant and am getting ready to blaze new trails for the organisation by leading the creation of a new service capability within the company. I am both nervous and excited about this.
What’s next? Continue to have fun while pushing the limits of life, taking risks that my spirit agrees with, and expect it all to be very rewarding in every way possible.