Article written by Jane Nduta Wambura
It has been close to a month since the opening of the StudyPortals headquarters and yet I still have not got over how great the event was! When I received the call from StudyPortals to give a keynote speech on behalf of the other student ambassadors, I was honestly both excited and scared to speak before Queen Maxima of The Netherlands!
I was tasked to write a speech that went through several edits and rehearsals. I knew I had to tell my real-life story that shaped the significance of studying abroad.
The education system in Kenyan public schools
Firstly, I was born and raised in a village called Mukurwe-ini in the Central of Kenya. I began my education in the same village, in a public school whose systems almost caused me to dismiss education as a very rough and unfair process. I remember having to first shave my head clean, since it was an admission requirement, and constantly eat from the same staple meal every day for lunch. I was lucky enough to get a different meal at home since other students could not really afford it. The educational structure of the school was also packed with assignments and little play time. To the present day, I can still recall how I barely had holidays or free time since it was packed with assignments and study!
At home, I remember I was studying under a kerosene lamp either very early in the morning or late at night under the supervision of my mother for 12 good years. However, amidst these circumstances, I had already pictured myself as a doctor! But how would a girl like me, raised single-handedly by her elementary school teacher become a doctor under such limiting circumstances?
Why did I choose to study in Porto?
I owe it to my mother for never giving up on me, and pushing me to achieve my dreams despite the difficulties I went through. I complained a lot until I settled to the idea that giving up was never an option for me. I worked hard and managed to secure a place in the university which was by then elusive. From the university, I settled into a comfortable work life that barely pushed me to dream beyond my daily routines. I knew I wanted more and my decision was affirmed when I sought to study my M.Sc. in Clinical Nutrition in Porto, Portugal.
Why Porto? Having read testimonials of other students, I was drawn to the city because it covers diversity and quality of education in my area of expertise. I also had an urgent need to experience new cultures and to visualize the world in the eyes of new people.
Honestly, I was scared to leave my secure predictable daily routines in Kenya! Anyhow, I travelled thousands of miles from Nairobi to Porto; interestingly, when I first attended class in the university, I found out that the students in my Master’s class were from six other nationalities! I had never experienced such a cultural shoulder to shoulder exchange of knowledge. I was swiftly able to represent my country, and my mind was opened into new views of the world that knocked out my previous geographical judgements.
It is during these first days of arrival in Porto, that I was surprised to find systems that would work efficiently alongside warm Portuguese locals. Having never left Kenya since my childhood, I had never experienced literally no traffic, let alone making it to appointments on time. Never would I also have imagined that a stranger would stop their tracks to show me directions let alone have genuine concern about my whereabouts. Suddenly, my life turned around and I didn’t know how to handle it at first.
How studying at a university abroad changed my life
Amidst language barrier, I was introduced to a conducive way of life that I only thought was meant for others. I can now speak Portuguese, have travelled to some European cities, and I have countless networks from all over the world, and most importantly, have come to realizethat culture is not just defined by the languages, the food or the appearances of people. Culture is a deep non-judgmental empathy of the roots that characterize people in the world. I would never have known all these if I never would have taken the opportunity to study abroad.
Prospectively, I will bear the title of a doctor soon, as I gear towards pursuing my PhD studies because this chance has undoubtedly escalated my thirst for more.
If I could re-live the early life of that young girl who struggled, I could encourage her, and affirm her that one day, geography will not just be a science that she learns in school, but a source of fountains of knowledge that will keep propelling her to higher heights.
Live your dream by studying abroad!
As a student ambassador, I would like to reach out to students globally who wish to study abroad, and to assure them that making the decision to leave their country could be the game changer for their dreams. Scary as it may sound or seem, the experience is beyond classwork, and dares you to think, see, perceive and understand the world differently.