Master's of Public Administration student Irina Wandera didn’t initially plan to come to Dalhousie. After she was awarded the African Leaders of Tomorrow scholarship to study public administration in Canada, she was called by Dal’s School of Public Administration with an offer — but she didn't actually apply to the program. In retrospect, she can't believe Dalhousie wasn't her first choice.
"I didn't do my research well,” she says, reflecting back. “Now I know the program here is the oldest in the country and I think it’s one of the best, it’s really broad and holistic, and I'm so glad I landed here."
Getting her bearings
While she’s very happy to be at Dalhousie now, getting adjusted wasn't immediately easy. As an international student who moved to Halifax from Nairobi, Kenya and calls Kenya’s busy border town Busia home, Irina had to tackle the challenge of being so far from away from home in addition to the demands of her studies.
"When I got here I wanted to go back home. I felt a bit lonely and invisible,” she says of her early days on campus. “Back home I was very active as a leader in the community and when I came here, no one knew me, no one knew who I was and what I'd done. So, I had to start from scratch and create new relationships."
Irina persevered and she's glad she did, because she's had the opportunity to meet and learn from some political influencers in Canada including the former Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia, the Honourable Mayann Francis, and to build upon her own confidence.
"The exposure is great. When you travel you become someone different. It opens up your mind and you look at things differently."
Exploring her options
She also believes staying was the right choice because it demonstrates to people back home that she can handle a challenge. That’s an important consideration if she wants to get involved in Kenyan politics. And she might. Irina is intrigued by the possibility of public administration and policy work in Kenya's new political infrastructure: in 2010 Kenya was divided into 47 counties, each with its own elected assembly.
"It has been less than 10 years since we moved to devolved governance so there’s an opportunity to build the new county government administrative structures and I’d like to be part of that.”
That said, Irina might not head back immediately after graduation. She’s keeping her options open for now.
"Working here would be great to get that experience for when I go back home, especially when it comes to comparative administration — how can we be more efficient?” she says. “What can we learn from each other? So that's an option. Another option is to continue with my education, further enhancing what I have so I’m an even better resource when I go back."
It’s not surprising she’s considering further studies, she's had some great experiences here and appreciates the student-focused environment she’s seen at Dal.
"The program is delivered so you have in-class experience, out-of-class experience, guest speakers coming in and some of our professors have actually worked in the public sector. So you're getting real insights from people who know what they're talking about."
This past summer, for example, Irina worked with Nova Scotia Environment for her internship. She was warmly welcomed by the department and gained incredible hands-on experience in policy development and analysis.
"When I was working on a project, I didn’t just work independently, I got input from almost everyone. The final product that came out incorporated all their feedback so it was really nice to see how collaborative work brings about results that everyone can own."
On the road to success
As she begins the second year of her two-year program, Irina is proud of what she’s already accomplished and feels confident everything worked out as it should have.
“In the program, we have a chance to work with partners in the public sector so the solutions we are providing can actually be tested. That's fulfilling. You're not just hypothesizing things, you can see the actual impact. When I go out to work I think I'll be better equipped because of the preparation I’m getting here.”
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