Queren Kalombo, 17, passed her matric with not only Bachelors, but also as top student in her grade. Her outstanding results opened doors for a bright future studying medicine. But things were not handed to her on a plate, she shares her story:

“High school was hard because I had two brothers to measure up to. Both of them were top students and everyone expected me to be like them. When I didn’t make the top ten in the first term in grade 8, it was the comments that got to me.”

She felt particularly humiliated by one comment. One of the students at her school told her that she didn’t have to worry because she was a girl. “I felt defeated by them, it felt like they were saying because I’m a girl, I wasn’t as clever as my brothers. I was determined to prove them wrong.”

Queren surprised everyone by making it into the top ten and eventually to top student at her school. She credits her father for pushing her to keep trying.

Like most young teenagers, no one wants to be left out. Queren loved her noisy group of friends, but was moved out of her class of friends by her teachers to help her to focus.

“The teachers wanted to move me out of my class and put me in a quieter class. I was moved to a class where everyone was quiet, it was the top class. They were determined. I hated it, I was used to having people being disruptive, but eventually I focused and I became top student in the grade.”

However, she didn’t take her work seriously until another student confronted her.

“One of the students came to me and said: You are actually really clever, but you are not taking it seriously, you shouldn’t follow your friends. I was like: ‘Who are you to tell me?’ but I realised he was right.”

The matric ball might be the one thing that gets grade 12s excited, but it should never be more important than work. For Queren, it was the last of her worries:

“Everyone kept speaking about the matric ball. I was the only person who was not into it. I didn’t panic or care, I focused on my academics while everyone was busy getting shoes.”

Queren had her heart set on medicine, but her world came to a standstill when she received news she did not expect…

“I applied at UCT and Stellenbosch University. I got rejected by both for medicine and accepted for my second choices. I started panicking. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. We called Stellenbosch University, it turned out I was rejected because I was not a South African citizen and needed to apply for a residence permit because I was from the DRC, even though I moved to South Africa when I was two. It was the law of the country.”

After the news, her father went to a lawyer and they sent all her home affairs documents to SU and Stellenbosch reopened her application.

Her family was supportive of every step during her journey. She explains how her brother Jonathan, was her mentor during the year. He gave her advice and on ways to improve her English, using movies:

“He made me write essays. He told me every day to write an essay about the movies I watched. Because I watched movies every day, it worked because my essays improved.”

Ever had those moments in the classroom when you don’t understand a single thing the teacher is saying, but are too scared to ask? Queren would have none of it, she would persist until she understood:

“With physics I would demand my teacher go over sections the class didn’t teach, the others were too scared to ask. I stayed behind to do physics, I did what I could to get an A for physics.”

That contentment, knowing one did their best in the finals, is a feeling she felt as she explains:

“I was happy when I finished. I was grateful knowing I gave it my best. This was all I could give, this was my best. I was proud, some of my friends were disappointed, but I was happy knowing I gave it my all.”

Queren’s parents are both nurses, but her love for medicine goes deeper than her parents’ roots, she explains:
“I’ve never been into a hospital, because I never was seriously ill. When I was in grade 4 I went with my mother to a hospital, that is when a doctor walked up to me and handed me a lollipop. He was so kind and I asked him what he did. He told me he makes people feel better when they’re sick. I was amazed. That’s when I knew I wanted to be someone that makes others feel better.”

She continues explaining that the love and desire to help people never left her, in fact it rekindled after the death of a close family friend.

“A friend of mine from Congo was stabbed, and because he never got any medical attention, he died. It made me want to be a doctor to solve those issues. I wanted to be able to fix that problem, helping people in situations like he was in.”

During the third term of her matric year, she was still not sure where she would study the following year. She continued working as usual on improving her marks.

“I had just come home feeling depressed, but then I saw an email from Stellenbosch University, accepting me for medicine and offered me a bursary. I dropped my phone and ran to tell my family, they were excited and my mom couldn’t stop talking about the bursary.”

She gives her final words of advice to matriculants of 2018 and those to come:

“Don’t ever settle for the mediocre. Always strive to do your utmost best. Keep pushing yourself. Don’t think, because your friends are partying, that you need to do that, stay focused. There will be discouragements or frustrations along the way. Don’t give up, take it one step at a time. Sleep enough to be fresh during the day.”

Hard work and dedication surely pays off and Queren is proof of that. It doesn’t matter your race, age or gender if you truly want something, go after it.