“I left Kenya for an island in the Eastern Mediterranean early this year. Previously, I had no interest learning about the history of my country, but since my first study trip abroad, I have become some sort of expert on the history of my country.
More, importantly, I have come to know myself better and appreciate my experiences back at home.”
These are the words of Sharon Kendi, who is currently pursuing her first degree in Cyprus.
Captured below is an interview with the young Kenyan lady, enthusiastic about learning new cultures, and languages in the next four years as she pursues a degree in Tourism Management and Hospitality.
Before embarking on the journey, what are the most important things to put in mind when planning for a long stay abroad?
I would say language(s) spoken in the country. It is important to find out the language spoken in the host country and learn key phrases because there is a good chance English may not be the native language. Other than that, your health should be your highest priority. No matter where in the world you are going, your health should come first. Be sure to plan for long-term health needs before leaving your country of residence. Do not forget to pre-load your cards with foreign currency and connect it to internet banking for easier transactions. Be prepared for charges such as tax, residence permits and entrance fee that might leave a hole in your pocket if you had not budgeted for it.
You have been away from your family before while in High school. How do you take this separation? How do you handle homesick?
For the four years in high school and part of primary school, I was boarding. At the time, I knew I would see my family every few months, and while I had homesick, I was just a few kilometers away from home. That was comforting enough.
Now, I’m miles away from home, and the feelings are even deeper. Being in a foreign land with no family and usual friends, it is even more melancholic. The experience abroad can be thrilling and eye-opening, but it can also be challenging. These challenges may be difficult in adjusting to the new environment, feeling lonely and being unable to understand the new culture or language among many others. But I have learned to cope with the situation. Here are some things I recommend to other students studying abroad:
Stay connected with your friends and family back at home. However, avoid spending so much time catching up on everything happening back at home. Instead, explore and connect with your new space.
Know the city by visiting everywhere and learn the culture and history, then start finding your spots such as; where they cook the food you like most, or where you feel most comfortable.
Redirect your mail so that you will not miss out on anything.
Make a bucket list for exploring the new interesting places.
Get outdoors and meet new people and make new friends. Create a routine and incorporate something fun such as having drinks with friends, so that you do not get bored during your stay.
Keep your hobbies in sport, music, yoga or book reading just to mention but a few. Do not feel like you have to give them up.
Keep your mind active by learning something new every day.
Celebrate your own country’s holidays and don’t forget to record your journey.
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Which culture was most shocking to you?
The most shocking thing for me in North Cyprus is that patriarchy is still largely maintained. Women and girls are yet to attain equality and their rights, far from what other women experience in the western cultures.
Which stereotype was demystified?
There has been the stereotype that the island is administered separately by Greece and Turkey. However, the island is a sovereign state, and any disputes are only between the respective ethnic communities in the island.
What do you love most in Cyprus?
I appreciate the respect accorded to women in Cyprus, even though they rarely have freedoms as in developed countries. The Cypriots are friendly and eager to learn the new cultures and languages of the people coming into their country.
I have come to appreciate the high-security levels in the island. A friend’s experience left me dumbfounded. A few days after arriving in the country, a friend of mine forgot his expensive phone at a table in the library and after being away for a whole day; he was certain he wouldn’t find it and was even reluctant of going back only to be disappointed. When he gathered the courage to go back, he found the phone where he had left it. I have since come to learn that theft cases are rare in this part of the world.
Additionally, people in Cyprus are generous and genuinely interested in helping people. Ooh! They love hugging, and kissing several times on the cheeks to express affection. The experience was both shocking and exciting to me, especially, because I come from Kenya where such affection, particularly, among men in the African culture is awkward and unheard of.
In the words of Mohammed Ibn Battuta, a Moroccan traveler and scholar, “Travelling – It leaves you speechless then turns you into a storyteller.” This…
What do you miss most?
Other than my family and friends, I miss Kenyan food. While I was home, I rarely appreciated the local food, today, the opposite is obvious. As expected the food in Cyprus is different. My taste buds are yet to adapt to it! Most of their food has cheese.
I particularly miss Kenyan tea. Turkish and Cypriots love their tea, and they take it strong without sugar. Back at home, tea has to have milk and tea leaves must be boiled in a cooking pot to taste better. Sugar in tea for most of us is a habit.
How would you like your yogurt; with salt or sugar? Well, in Cyprus, locals love their salt-flavored yogurt. My first experience with their yogurt was horrible, and I almost threw up. With time, however, I have come to adjust- just a little. I still prefer what is ‘normal’ to me.
What is the one thing about Kenya or Kenyans you have come to love or dislike due to the new exposure?
I have come to love the Kenyan unity, our culture, and traditions. It is common for people to ask various questions about my country. Hence I ended up researching more on it. In the process, I fell in love with it.
With the abundance of security here, I ended up disliking the insecurity back in my country. I pray for unity and security as the country prepares for elections, come August 8.
Image: Sharon Kendi