In pursuit of academic excellence; the plight of international students in Kenya

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What does it take to study abroad? To embark on a daunting journey to a new land in search of better education, and a successful future? To leave your home comforts, family and throw oneself into the deep murky waters of uncertainty in foreign lands?

International students across the world often tell a tale of courage and utmost audacity. A life of trying to blend in with the locals while away from their citizenry. A story of go-getting. A journey of achieving academic nourishment and an invaluable learning process. An interesting period in one’s lifetime.

Violet Zipporah Kayuma is such a student. Born and raised in ‘the warm heart of Africa’,  Malawi, she attended the lower levels of her education life in the country; juggling between the capital, Lilongwe and Blantyre. She, however, chose to come to Kenya recently to extend her academic career. Destination? Mount Kenya University.

Her reasons are varying. She says, “People often prefer employing someone who has studied abroad. The quality of education offered in Kenya is significantly higher than in Malawi and such an opportunity was therefore very useful.”

Ghali Chauluka, a Malawian citizen at the same university argues, “In Africa, education is similar, whether trained in South Africa, Kenya or Malawi or the US. Kenya has many universities; thus, gaining access to one is much easier.”

Yusuf Usman, the president of the International Students chapter in Mount Kenya University states a shocking difference, “In Kenya, students don’t respect lecturers unlike in Nigeria. In Nigeria, you must greet a lecturer when you meet him or her along the streets. Salutation is observed and you cannot argue with lecturers and professors because of their academic superiority.”

For these students, settling in the country has been very easy. “Since I came last year, the relationship has been fair. Everything is cool in the country and people here treat us well.”

MKU has one of the most vibrant international students’ community in Kenya

As much as learning outside your home nation may sound interesting and a great learning opportunity, sometimes, home is much better in various aspects.

The international students, note plenty of differences between education here in Kenya and their home countries.

According to Violet Zipporah one common vice in Kenya, cheating, is hardly ever in Malawi. “Cheating is a deep culture among Kenyan students. I wonder why, but in our country (Malawi) it is normal for people not to cheat. There should be a system monitoring performance from the primary level to when one graduates. That’s why I prefer Malawian education because one gets what he or she deserves.”

Ghali further adds, “Accessibility to lecturer’s clarification is unavailable here in Kenya. The delivery of information has to be improved. In Malawi, education is delivered through pictorials or other relevant materials. When you look at Kenyan universities is like learning in high schools.”
“Malawian universities have better equipment, furthermore it is compulsory for all students to have a laptop before they join campus.”

Kenya is recognized globally for producing high caliber professionals. Something that most international students in Kenya agree with. “Exposure in Kenya is very high. The number of graduates is very high,” adds Violet.
Contrary to many thoughts and opinions of Kenyans, most international students in the country are hardly given any preferential or special treatment.

They endure the same problems as their Kenyan counterparts on campus.  For Violet, her ordeal explains more, “I have never received any special treatment. Last year, my room had bedbugs and I have never seen bedbugs in my whole life. I hassled for a very long time before the janitor came to my aid.” The students also participate in school activities and functions equally.

However, life has not been a cozy ride for international students. As Violet notes, the challenge of a new language and culture has proven a hard nut to crack.  “Sometimes the lecturers communicate in Kiswahili and if you are not East African you can’t understand, you miss out. Also, when they hear you are an international student, you suffer robbery frequently. Some time back, a friend was robbed at gunpoint.”

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