So…Why Are You Here?

A common conversation on meeting a new acquaintance in Nairobi:

New person:  So, what are you doing in Nairobi?

Me: I’m doing a master’s program at the University of Nairobi.

New person: Oh, that’s nice. What other university are you affiliated with?

Me: None. I’m enrolled directly in the University of Nairobi.

New person: [Quizzical look.]

At this point, I usually help them by not making them ask the kinda awkward question: “Why in the world did you come here?” We joke that most Kenyans are trying to study abroad, while I come from abroad to study here. But joking aside, the question still remains: why am I studying at the University of Nairobi when I could have been at UC Davis in California or the University of Reading in the UK, both with globally recognized programs in my field?  Fair question, and the short answer is this:

1. I want to work in Africa, so why study not here?   NGO and government systems, not to mention social systems are quite different here. Why not gain experience learning how to function and succeed in this context?

2. Crop types and growing conditions are much different in the tropics than temperate climates.  I am trying to catch up on “common” knowledge that most people from this region already have. For example, a lot of temperate-dwellers believe that pineapples grow on trees. (They don’t. See below.)  And I can distinguish a couple dozen varieties of apples, but that’s of no use here. However, I’m starting to know banana varieties by variations of the banana tree!

3. And I also have to admit that part of the reason is very practical: a master’s degree here costs only a fraction of what one does in the US or even in the UK.  Funding for graduate programs is getting more and more difficult, so it would have been a gamble, possibly landing me with a lot of debt.

Sooo…. here I am in Nairobi!  The verdict is out as to whether I’m glad I chose this university, but I think it’s leaning in favor of being glad.  I certainly cannot deny that I’m learning a lot both in and outside the classroom, even if the educational system is not my preference (at a master’s level 70% of our coursework grade still comes from a three-hour final written exam for each of our classes).  So far, the professors in this program are my favorite part.  Some still lecture in the old style (I.e., “I talk and you copy what I say”), but this is changing to a more interactive approach.  Almost all of them have done their graduate studies abroad, giving them a great global perspective that is rooted in a thorough understanding of the Kenyan context.  Oh, and did I mention that the class size ranges from 4-12 students for my program?  So at the master’s level, I have found the professors to be accessible and very willing to help. I am about to begin my field research, which I believe will be a huge benefit of studying here!

Below are a few shots from around and on campus.


The drive approaching the campus gate. I’m at a branch campus outside the city, and I am so glad. I love green!


Campus road in to the academic buildings. It’s at least a 15 minute walk to class from where the bus drops me off.


But with the view along the way, I don’t mind so much!


In the laboratory, testing for soil phosphorus levels.


I was actually working too. This wasn’t just posed.

I just realized I don’t have many photos of campus, so I’ll take more and post them later.  Stay tuned!


Posted on June 28, 2013, in Agriculture, Kenya, Thoughts, University of Nairobi. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Birk McGilvrey

    Neat to hear about your daily life! Keep learning!

  2. It’s so nice to get pictures of your daily life at school! :) Keep taking them!

  3. It’s nice to be able to picture you there. Thinking of you as we get ready for VBS on 7/15…

  4. LongdaysAndShortyears

    Hey Emily! So glad I caught this on facebook. Will look forward to reading more.

  5. So happy to see these photos!!!

  6. Emily, good luck in your studies and on going commitment to learning. Margo mcgilvrey

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