Meredith Brantland

Student of University of Alberta

Before I arrived in Kenya, I hadn’t truly grasped the reality of the term “culture shock,’ I thought that I was fairly well travelled and that I would be invincible against this phenomenon.  However, after walking through the arrival gates of Jomo Kenyatta Airport, completely lost in a huge crowd and a ruckus of chatter, I realized that I was wrong.  My internship and the Nairobi lifestyle surprised me in many ways both personally and professionally. In a mere four months I faced multiple challenges, felt success both big and small, and ultimately gained more confidence and independence.

I was completely thrilled and somewhat surprised when I got the position of Communications Assistant at Aga Khan University Hospital, Nairobi (AKUH,N). As a recent undergraduate from Canada, I was eager to gain international work experience and gain practical skills for a career in communications and public relations.  My biggest concern was the risk of being delegated the fabled ‘intern tasks’ of fetching coffee, running documents, and photocopying.  However, after my first meeting with my supervisor, my worries were eased.  I was given the task of redesigning and updating the print media and communications strategy for the paediatric’s department of AKUH,N.  During my project, I gained experience in professional communications writing, editing, campaign designing, and proposal writing, conducting presentations and interviews, and writing press releases; in addition to graphic design, photography, media relations, and research; relevant and useful skills for my ongoing career.

My supervisor put her trust in my abilities immediately and I had the freedom to create and carry out the redesign how I saw fit.  She was open to fresh and new ideas and emphasized the importance of independence in the creative process. If I was lost or was curious to what my next step should be, she was always ready with comments or advice yet allowed me to discover my own style. As a young woman about to embark into the workforce, it was encouraging to have a female supervisor at a senior level.  Her experiences gave me insight into the strengths of women in senior positions and the challenges they face. Reflecting back, I learnt many useful skills that have directly prepared me for a career in public relations and communications and I feel confident as I embark on my job hunt. However, the journey to this point was not easy and filled with personal highs and lows as I adapted to Nairobi life and Kenyan culture.

All of my experiences, big and small, in Kenya contributed to the sense of achievement I feel.  I managed to adapt quickly to a culture and environment starkly different from my own. I gained an inner confidence in my instincts and myself. I finished my project on time with stellar reviews and by the end of my internship I had finally figured out how to barter at the market! During my internship I learnt so much about the health and medical field and about Kenyan lifestyles and culture  and ultimately, I gained insight into the working environment I prefer and the direction I would like my career to go in the upcoming years.

The opportunity to work abroad in an international workplace, has improved my adaptability and communication skills.  As a recent graduate, it is difficult to find that first job and I am hoping that my Communications experience in Kenya will help me with that.  I feel motivated to take on a big project or job in a new and unfamiliar setting and, having learnt a great deal about myself, will be able to push myself farther and pursue other opportunities that will continue to challenge me.

Reflecting back to my trip with my sister, I mentioned that it is hard to distance myself and be aware of everything I learnt, directly or inadvertently. She replied, “With time and experience it will become clearer, but I think that you will be able to look back and say that it was an experience that contributed to the person that you are today.” It was then I realized that Kenya was a learning experience that will be beneficial to me in ways I don’t even know yet for many years to come.