Serah Kivuti – Graduate Student International Summer Research or Residency Award Recipient

Woman at the equator in KenyaMy Summer & Fall experience in Eastern Kenya

I am in Kenya as I write this. From a small room 7 minutes away from home, I can hear sounds of the passing boda-bodas (motorbikes that are used as public means of transport). I call this room my office because it is the only place where I can make some progress on my academic work. When I landed in Nairobi at the start of summer, I was hit by a pleasant and heavy nostalgic wave that seemed to link me up to my life 10 years ago. I was happy that I would be home for the entire summer and fall and yet anxious about the adjustments I would have to make to fit in. I knew that I had to unlearn and relearn ways of being within Kenyan communities. Though Kenya is my homeland, a place that bore and continuously formed me until 2013, I realized upon my arrival that my stay in the US had transformed me beyond my knowledge.

Photo of woman

During my farewell party in 2013, as I embarked on my new adventure as a Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant, I recall how one of the speakers advised me to never forget who I was and where I was coming from; that I should be careful not to be influenced by western ways, and that I should return to Kenya as the girl they had always known – unchanged. I was wrong to consider it possible to resist the impact by forces of human interactions and experiences that propel shifts in the ways we perceive ourselves and the world around us. As I travelled from the airport to the Eastern side of Kenya, I understood that not only I had changed but Kenyan communities too had evolved since I left. Consequently, people’s view and expectations of me had also shifted. This meant a responsibility to learn how to socialize and carry myself out in the contemporary Kenya and in culturally acceptable ways. I knew this was paramount to successfully conducting research in one of the most culturally reserved communities in Kenya.

Woman hikingThanks to the aid I received from Global Engagement Office, paying for flights to Kenya and the commutes to the research site was not a problem. I spent numerous weekends with research participants and collected data mainly via semi-structured interviews and participant observations. Besides, these funds enabled me to install high speed internet that kept me connected to the online world of academia. I often found myself revisiting online texts on data collection and refining my research activities to maximize the achievement of my research goals. Moreover, virtual meetings with my peers and advisor afforded me an uplifting space where I got the motivation to remain focused. While researching, I also made it a point of duty to take care of my mental health by engaging in fun activities such as swimming, road trips, visiting family and friends, hiking, and often just basking in the serenity of the nature-filled sceneries of Eastern Kenya. I am greatly honored to have been one of the recipients of the 2022 Graduate Student International Summer Research or Residency Awards.