By Mukurima X Muriuki in Los Angeles.
I was born and raised in a humble family of 6. Growing up in Kenya, my parents would always teach me how to be resilient and to never give up even when odds were stuck against me. They inculcated in me a belief that if I worked a little harder, played by the rules and allowed God to be on my side, I could be more than a conqueror.
Even though my parents insisted that I dream big, the environment that I grew up in did not allow for a grandiose kind of thinking my parents wanted me to have. For example, I never thought for a moment that one day I could get a scholarship to study abroad, leave alone boarding a plane or live in a different domicile. I believed attaining dreams meant going to university, getting a good degree and securing a decent job. Or maybe, my thinking was a little warped.
I worked hard in school and earned a place at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, to pursue a degree in Geomatic Engineering. As a second year, I remember there was a conference at the University which was attended by delegates from all over the world. I attended a Panel discussion relative to my field and I remember this mzungu lady who made a presentation about using technology to conserve our environment. This blew me away. It resonated with what I wanted to do later on in life. Immediately after her presentation, I patiently waited for her to finish addressing all the questions from other students and faculty.
The waiting process made me more anxious. I realized I did not know how to approach her, or what to ask her! When my turn finally came, I calmly thanked her for such a wonderful presentation, how articulate she was and that the topic she covered rhymed with my aspirations granted that I wanted to explore a career in the field of Geographic Information Science (GIS). She was short of time and she made me know if I reached her via email, she would be more than glad to talk to me about GIS. She gave me her business card and then continued fielding questions from the other students.
No sooner had she given me her business card, than I was on my way to Gachororo shopping center, looking for a Cyber Café, so that I could send my new found contact an email. I was feeling excited, but at the same time hesitant, not knowing if she would ever get back to me. As I had anticipated, I did not get a response. One week went by, and by the second week without a response, I decided to send her another email. And just like the first, this too, went unanswered. I did not know what to think or conclude, but I felt this was a wakeup call that when someone gives you a business card, it is a polite way of saying ‘goodbye.’ Or so I thought
Two years later, as a Fourth Year student, I remember checking my email one day and guess who had replied to my email! Yes, it took two years to get a response. She had written to me informing me of an internship opportunity with Esri, one of the most famed international suppliers of GIS software. She wanted me to send an application. I was elated. When I informed my parents about this opportunity, they were somehow skeptical about the whole thing. But when I wondered, did they not tell me to dream big! But it was all in caring for their daughter. They were just wondering how this random mzungu lady would want their daughter to go for an internship in the United States, at a globally recognized company!
We did our due diligence and did background information on the company. 2 months later I was waving good bye to my family at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, going to America, a country I never knew would ever be associated with my career. I was to do a 6 month internship and then thing go back home.
The first thing I noticed when I landed in Los Angeles was how much bigger everyone was! Everyone was also walking very fast. No one could understand my English and the guy meant to pick me up had my name all wrong. Everything was different. I settled in at the company interns’ apartment and did my 6 month internship. The experience was like no other. I learnt so much, took so many pictures to show family and friends and also did my fair share of traveling.
After my 6 months I went back to Kenya, graduated with degree in Geomatic Engineering, and secured a job and life was alright. A year later, I received another email, from the same lady who had gone for 2 years without responding to my email! This time, she had even better news. Her organization wanted to offer me a scholarship for my graduate studies. When I relayed the good news to my parents, I remember, for the first time seeing a tear in my dad’s eye. After all the logistics and planning, I relocated to California where I did my Master’s of Science in Information Technology and Geographic Information Science. I was also given the opportunity to work for the same company.
I wake up every day not thinking that I am lucky, but knowing God has blessed me. American gave me that chance I would never have dared to dream of. Your dreams are right within where you are. Tap into them.
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