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SFCC International Student from Madagascar First to Win National Scholarship

[SPOKANE, Wash.]  An international student from Madagascar who attends Spokane Falls Community College is the first to ever receive a new national scholarship. 

From his home in Moramanga, Madagascar, Tongasoa Jefferson Julianot Rakotomalala dreamed of attending college in the US. However, none of his family members made it through high school or college, so they discouraged him, believing it was impossible.  

But Rakotomalala – who is 22 – was determined to receive a higher education. He endured late nights and power outages studying for English language exams because being proficient in English was a requirement to be admitted to college in the US. After passing the LanguageCert iESOL test, Rakotomalala was admitted to SFCC for a business administration degree.  

To help cover the college’s cost, he recently landed a $1,000 Community Colleges for International Development (CCID) scholarship (which includes the Community Colleges of Spokane) from LanguageCert, which assesses English, Spanish and classical Greek language skills. Rakotomalala is the first winner of the national scholarship and got to travel to Washington D.C. in February to be presented with the award at the CCID National Conference. The scholarship pays for one-third of a quarter’s cost at the college. 

“The scholarship changed my life,” Rakotomalala said. “It motivated me because I come from a poor country, and the scholarship has helped be a steppingstone to my goal of getting an education.” 

Amber McKenzie, the assistant dean of global education and strategic partnerships with the Community Colleges of Spokane, said international students like Rakotomalala are desperate for financial aid.  

“This fall, 70 percent of international students’ biggest challenge at SFCC was funding and scholarships,” she said. “We’re really promoting opportunities for our students. A lot of students come from countries where it’s a challenge because their money doesn’t go as far here.” 

Currently, Madagascar is the fourth poorest country in the world. Its annual Gross National Income per capita (based on their 2020 GNI) is only $480, compared to the US’s $64,650. The country’s National Education Profile in 2018 showed that only 2% of the population went on to receive a post-secondary education with 15% reporting no education and 43% of children ages 6 – 10 not completing their education.  

Rakotomalala hopes to use his degree to help his ailing country. He plans to build a company in food conservation and transportation to connect Madagascar to the outside world. He credits his college education at SFCC and living in the US with showing him what is possible. 

“I want to share the skills that I get here over there. Since I’ve been here, I’ve seen what can be done in terms of the international field,” he said. “Madagascar people only see (the rest of the world) on TV. I want to show them what to do to make things happen. Success is not ‘I,’ it’s ‘we.’” 

The visit to Washington D.C. was successful in more ways than one. On the trip back to Spokane, LanguageCert upgraded him to first class. He was seated next to the CEO of the United States Brain Injury Alliance, Gavin Attwood, who asked Rakotomalala the circumstances that led him to Washington D.C. According to Rakotomalala, Attwood was “touched” by his story and insisted on giving him money to send to his family in Madagascar. Attwood contributed $500 to Rakotomalala’s family, which was a huge windfall, considering Rakotomalala’s mother only makes $29 per month. 

“I think Americans take a lot for granted,” McKenzie said. “This gives you a new perspective and makes you remember that we are very privileged here. SFCC works hard for our students. We’re very student-centered.” 

Rakotomalala said his education at SFCC has been beneficial and that he gets valuable assistance with homework and tutoring. He emphasized that the staff is helpful and resourceful. 

“I don’t have much money, but I work hard to unlock the door,” he said. 

According to McKenzie, Rakotomalala inspired people at the conference in Washington D.C. so much that they invited him to speak three times as opposed to the regular one time. 

“When he spoke at the conference, there were a lot of tears,” she said. “A lot of educators commented that this is why we do what we do.” 

For more information, contact Strategic Communications Manager Rachel Román at or Amber McKenzie at

CCS provides education and services in a six-county region of Eastern Washington, operates Spokane Falls Community College and Spokane Community College and is the largest provider of Head Start and Early Childhood Education in the region. Each year, nearly 30,000 people – from infants to senior citizens – are provided educational services by CCS. 

Posted On

3/20/2023 3:36:57 PM

Posted By

Rachel Román



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