With the experience of an earlier educational sojourn in the South Asian sub-continent firmly in the past, Godfrey Otieno returned again — this time at Jain (Deemed-to-be University) for postgraduate studies and he is enjoying it to the hilt. Yet after switching places, he tells Dr. John Patrick Ojwando, that some things change and others remain the same.
A couple of years ago, then just out of school, Godfrey Otieno resolved that to further his higher studies, a journey to India would be the best option in realising his childhood dream of becoming a techie. The family backed his decision and gave a nod of approval. After all, his uncle had also made a trip to the South Asian sub-continent with welcome returns albeit in a different field – communication.
“Since my childhood, I had a longing to be competent in computers, and it was a choice pegged on more reasons than one. First, I was fascinated with keyboards, and second, my exposure to the myriad happenings in the domain of information technology,” says the budding techie.
“I grew up watching movies and daily soaps mostly on television at home.
Already, Ojay, as he is affectionately referred to back home, knew some bits and pieces about India from the tales and writings on the works of Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa. There was also the enduring reputation of Bengaluru being an IT hub. All these made his decision an easy one.
The youngster from the western part of the east African nation of Kenya, a country known for its long – distance runners and Masai Mara then followed his pursuits by enrolling for his Bachelors in Computer Application (BCA) at an affiliated university college located in the outskirts of Bengaluru, and at the end of his studies, like most of his peers do, he returned home.
His story, however, was to have another chapter. Two years later, he realised that there was still a lot to explore in the domain of computer science. He could see the need to enhance his credentials with new age technological advancements before he could think he was adequately equipped to make a difference when he finally returnend home.
Godfrey worked his way out for a year back home. And when the President’s Scholarship for Kenyan Students at Jain (Deemed-to-be University) came his way, he knew that was it. So it is a homecoming of sorts for the youngster who best likes to be described as “calm, collected, with definite competitiveness in certain areas, but endowed with an incessant craving to help those in need around him.”
Now firmly grounded in Bengaluru, where he is entering the final phase of the Master of Computer Application – Information Security (MCA) degree course at JAIN, Godfrey admits settling to his academic routine has been far easier than when he set foot in the city for the very first time.
“That time (his entry for the bachelors) I was a trifle anxious and nervous although thrilled to get a chance to study for my first degree. But equally thrilling, was what the city of Bengaluru had to offer,” he is quick to acknowledge.
On his return, he believes he has the opportunity to bite into the cherry once more.
“I am experiencing a lot of things I might have missed out on the first time around. The learning curve definitely has gone a few notches higher,” he reflects. Godfrey feels that the rapport he has with peers and faculty members at JAIN have made it a truly memorable experience.
The academic odyssey may not be an entirely uncommon route for a returning student but it is certainly different in some aspects. The start and stop experiences confirm what many educationists have always reiterated; that if the educational experience of a student is satisfactory, then there are high chances of retention, which is evident in Godfrey’s experience. “The thought of returning to a place even if it is the one you have previously studied and lived in, still comes with its demands and makes one tense up,” he says.
The common route preferred by many of his ilk is to go through the learning phase at the university and then put it all behind. But it does not always work that way considering other factors like funding. It therefore does not come as a surprise to find ‘returnees’ (those coming back for their studies) usually go through conflicting emotions – family pressures, the lack of or availability of jobs besides other commitments. Yet Bengaluru is well anchored and rates highly with the students in this respect. Compared to other cities, it continues to attract a large number of both domestic and international students, recording a high retention rate of returnees with a high percentage of these students successfully graduating. This is one of the reasons Godfrey found it prudent to return to India and advance his academic credentials, remain engaged and involved in all the things around him.
Once he had made the decision, the preparations to come to JAIN were not any different from the preceding one. It mostly entailed getting the items he would need such as travel documents, application for a student visa, packing and then setting time aside for family and friends before his departure.
Arriving at the campus, he reported to International Students and Scholars Advisory Center (ISSAC), JAIN to complete his registration formalities.
Even though cultural shock was conspicuous by its absence and his settlement seamless without many challenges that freshmen grapple with, the weather remains what it has always been – harsh and hotter than what he left behind in his home country.
“I have easily integrated again into the system to embrace my daily routine after having spent a good time before,” he says. “I am comfortable moving around and revel in the city’s favourite haunts.”
Away from home, it is the contacts he has made with friends and family that has helped him in coping with the challenges and demands of a new place, an advanced degree and fending for himself.
Ask if he were to change anything, what would it be? “Not really sure,” he reflects. “Since my interest in the city and course remain firm, I am still learning about new aspects of technology every day and my course pretty much deals with computers, so I guess I am on the right path.”
The thrill of being in a new city and studying the course of his choice does not dull the ache for his family. It is yet another phase he is going to spend away from home and is grateful for the newer technologies that have helped keep in touch with his folks back home.
The first born in a family of four (his mother a caterer and father a former immigration official) and based in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, Godfrey has a younger sibling, Michelle.
Growing up as a child, he recalls a fascinating life where he spent most of his leisure time outdoors amidst friends.
“I was born in Kisumu, a city in the western part of Kenya in the larger Nyanza province,” he says. “The place is known for its fresh water fish due to its proximity to the expansive Lake Victoria that straddles three east African nations – Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.”
As for his schooling, Godfrey went to Harambee Primary School, a co-ed school located in Harambee estate in Nairobi. The school has a cherished heritage of producing students who have over the years gone on to perform excellently in the Kenya National Examinations before stepping out to Kericho High School, located in the tea growing highlands of Kericho. His alma mater is well known for its academic success over the years besides an enviable heritage rooted in sporting disciplines such as rugby, football and athletics.
For Godfrey, schooling was fun-filled, drawing on the company of a litany of friends. In primary school, there were regular educational trips organised for the students to various destinations. Excursions meant exposure to newer environments and people. High school was more about competitive events, sports and music festivals. His early educational experiences certainly prepared him to embrace new settings.
But that was then.
Now enrolled at JAIN, Godfrey’s academic journey is preparing him for a different kind of adventure.
After the switch, following a gap of almost two years, he is making new memories in an engaging environment with friendly lecturers and peers. Besides, he believes the extraordinary experience on campus will help him prepare to take up the challenges that life may throw at him and be the difference he would want to see in the world.
The thought of coming back again after a gap of time made me sit up and reflect,” he says. “I knew it would be a fresh start. I would make new friends and settle in a different locale, even though it was going to be the same city I had left behind in the summer of July 2015.”
Asked about his biggest takeaways from the two educational sojourns in India barring the educational milestones, he is quick to point out a fundamental lesson – that of respecting other people’s opinions and their cultures even if you don’t seem to agree with them.
This experience is something the youngster will cherish now and in the days to